Tuesday, May 6, 2008

3 Remarks on Plagiarism

Probably most of you get through each day, and to sleep each evening, without thinking a whole lot about plagiarism. I'm usually that way, myself. However, as a writing instructor, my students occasionally bring it to my attention, through their decision to cut and paste, and present it to me as their own writing. It's hard to understand why a young, strong student would choose to sabotage himself that way.

Later today I'm meeting with two students, both of whom will fail the university course they take with me because of their decision to cut and paste, with no citation. Both would have easily passed if they had not made that decision. This particular course requires a lot of writing, and is prerequisite for other courses in the communication major, so having to take the whole course again is not something to take lightly.

I've been thinking over the past few days what to tell these young people in this meeting. I want to shake them tell them how disappointed and insulted I am by this action. But I don't think they really care how their teacher feels about their decision. I resist the very strong temptation to yell at them, "Do you really think I'm a total moron?!?!??!?"

Here are some remarks on plagiarism, a very stupid thing to do.

1. Plagiarism is essentially disrespect. Students who engage in this convey to themselves that they are incapable, that they are not strong enough to do the real creative work of life. This fundamental lack of self-respect is a heavy burden to carry, and it's not easy to let go of it.

2. Writing is an important way a person develops her voice. This is the voice to tell one's very own stories. Choosing to use wikipedia's voice makes it harder to find one's own way. Does anyone really want to go through life as a wikipedian, totally ignorant of one's own personal style?

3. Plagiarism distracts, and it's a deterrent to developing one's own creativity. The sad part is that it really doesn't save the student time and energy, it's simply that the student chooses to be a spokesperson for wikipedia, for free. Their own creative force is ignored, shoved down under more layers of stuff.

Life is too short for plagiarism. I think the reason people cut and paste is FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. Express yourself, not wikipedia.