Friday, December 10, 2010

Plagiarize Your Eyes

I once had a young student from Russia, very bright, but not such a great writer. Being resourceful, she compensated for her lack of skill by simply copying things off the internet. Once, she brought me several extra credit papers, one about the joys of Shakespeare.  No, no, I told her, people often think I'm an idiot by virtue of being an English teacher, but I'm not as dumb as I look. Also, I've seen your writing before and this isn't it.

One day, I was in the office and a bunch of kids, for some reason, had a paper she'd gotten an A on. I read it and noted that it was an AP who'd given her the A. I looked up her class, knocked on the door, and pulled her out. I told her I knew she hadn't written this paper, if I could figure it out others could too, and that she could get in deep trouble for pulling such nonsense.  That didn't phase her at all.  She had but one thing to say:

"You aren't going to tell Ms. Clueless, are you?"

I told her no, I wasn't, but that if she ever handed another such thing to me, she would rue the day. I figured if she'd fooled Ms. Clueless, she deserved her victory. But unless you're a politician with big pockets, it's tough fooling all the people all the time.

A few years back a kid in my beginning ESL class showed me a paper she'd written about Thomas Edison.  It was clearly copied from some ancient bio, but she got a B with the comment, "It could use more pictures."  Another day I was sitting in the teachers' lounge and picked up a paper that clearly seemed the work of a hack article writer--but this one had numerous corrections on it by some overzealous pedagogue.  The corrections all seemed unnecessary to me, phrasing things differently but not absolutely better. I'd not have made a single correction, but gone to the computer to try to figure where it was filched from.

How common is plagiarism, and how many of us are guilty of tolerating it?
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