Cheatin’? No Problem

Cheating anyone? Now you can go for it!

In late October, the east Newfoundland school board adopted its western partner’s two year old cheating policy, which, essentially says, “No problem!” According to a news article, Jeff Thompson, director of programs for the Western School District where the same policy has been used for more than two years, said, “I believe it’s a misguided discussion. In fact, I would argue that academic dishonesty, right now, is being addressed in a more substantial and formalized way with our new policy, than it has been at any time in our history.” He never goes on to state what this more substantial and formalized way is, or what it means, but maybe the reporter simply didn’t require more than byte of information.

Now I took this information from an on-line news report, 99% verbatim. That’s plagiarism, no? If the reporter feels ripped off, I suggest he get over it and just give me another chance to rewrite this blog with no penalty.

Essentially, that’s the policy that Mr. Thompson is referring to, and if it’s good enough for all Newfoundland students, then it certainly should be good enough for me: to hold me personally responsible for cheating is simply not fair!

Radio talk show host and former Ontario politician John Tory aired this topic recently, essentially agreeing with the ‘anti-zero’ policy, but suggesting maybe a partial deduction rather than a complete lack of penalty. I respect Mr. Tory’s opinion, but I was surprised: His reputation as honest human being and politician is impeccable, and yet he seems to be making an allowance for cheating. Likely, he finds it favourable as do others because it seems to be a compassionate policy for children. However, it is then unfair to those who abide the rules. If this teaches honesty, I’m at a loss as to how, though most of the show’s callers agreed with Mr. Tory. I won’t speculate as to why that was so, but I admit to being surprised.

When I’m not writing a blog or otherwise employed, I instruct essay writing at college level. I like to think that most students are honest, but there are always those who plagiarize, and it seems to have increased in the past few years. The other day I discovered one young girl plagiarizing on an informal assignment, one where an informed opinion was just fine. It was not necessary to research the answer and in fact, no outside sources were allowed. Lately, however, I find students consulting them anyway, sometimes buying subscriptions to essay writing websites to minimize the chance of being caught, as was the case here.

When I informed the student that I had discovered the plagiarism, providing evidence of the stolen passages and their source, she e-mailed back that she was ” totally shocked,” to receive “a grade of zero after my hard work doing this response.” Yet, she goes on to “admit I use[d] on line resources just to fully understand the readings.” This is acceptable for her because she was “able to create [her] own response based on that.” This is her justification for breaking the rules.

She then focused on my reporting the outright plagiarism: “You found two instances of the content taken from other resources just to add up with my response but what about the rest? This is unfair for me.”

Apparently, using two quotations with no citations doesn’t really count because she didn’t plagiarize any additional quotations. The student disregarded the prohibition against sources, thereby gaining an unfair advantage, did not cite them in -text, did not include the sources in the Works Cited page, and used someone’s exact words twice with no acknowledgment. But in the new moral reckoning, she is the aggrieved party. It is she who has been treated unfairly.

In an amazing reprise of Mr. Tory’s suggestion, the student asked me to “consider the rest of my response, not just giving a grade of zero (something like a deduction or minus to my grade).”

It is difficult to separate what students write on their own from what was written as a result of the outside source collaboration. How can an evaluator possibly know where the one leaves off and the other begins?

And if I could, how much time must I expend on a non-productive activity? I had already spent half an hour researching the plagiarism, and another half an hour presenting it. How much more time must be spent? Uncovering cheating is depressing and sullies the experience of teaching. I have no wish to reward those who cheat. The other students who failed honestly with 20% or 40% should confess to cheating, even if they have to lie: not to do so is to fail outright; confess to cheating and you get a rewrite.

I don’t know if the following is apocryphal, but a few years ago the story went ’round that a professor discovered that 50% of his students had cheated on an major essay, or exam, I forget exactly what it was. The class in question? Ethics.

And so it goes. (that’s another rip off by the way. Am I allowed two?)

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The dictator is dead; Long live the dictator

Today the news features headlines such as “The last hours of a tyrant,” covering the capture and death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Pictures show a normal human body, not especially powerful, rather soft, bloody and as one poem I read long ago described the victim of an accident, “ridiculous in death.” This dictator, like others before him, looks more like the weakling than the bully. Who would not stand up to him in a street fight, or a work place argument? And yet….and yet. He was indeed the bully, commanding millions, a being whose word was feared, a bringer of death not just in his own land, but across the boundaries of the world’s nations, who had the honour, hollow though it has become, of being treated like royalty and addressing the leaders of the world, many no better than he, in the General Assemblies of the United Nations. His presence helped to shape the ugliness of our world and contributed to the lurching path with which we plot our present course in history. Like so many others of his ilk, his name and fame will live beyond his puny self for years to come: not so for my mechanic, my doctor, my teachers, my parents, all of whom advanced the cause of humanity quietly by living the life of the decent, hurting few and helping loved ones and friends. They lived their modest lives and became quiet clay. Why not them, instead of the monsters, to stride, colossus like across the pages of history? Instead it is they, blighting civilizations until in Ozymandias fashion, their legacies collapse and, are ultimately buried in the graceful sands of a healing desert. But even before the sands can do their work, lo and behold, a successor arises, and we forget that underneath the phony medals and the cloak of invincibility, there is just another weakling, and once more, we allow him to become the bully.