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Friday, September 23, 2016

Is it Really Yours? An article on plagiarism in school

                As teachers, we usually give out projects to the students. Especially now that the grading system has been transformed into a new system whereby a product (project) is required for each subject as a separate grading component. As such, teachers are on the look-out for unscrupulous projects which are submitted by either lazy students or those who just cannot get the lesson right.  In either case, these students turn in a project, be it written or otherwise, which are not of their own creation. They present a project made by somebody else and pass it as their own or make direct quotations verbatim and not citing who the author is or giving an idea made by somebody else and pass it as their own.  As teachers, we should be vigilant and cautious that no student does this in our own subject. We have a term for this. We call it plagiarism. According to Wikipedia, plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "stealing and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" and the representation of them as one's own original work.[1][2] The idea remains problematic with unclear definitions and unclear rules

                As a precautionary measure, our student handbook categorically forbids any student to turn in something which is not his or hers.  The handbook has also scheduled a penalty for such an act.  I have been in the academe for more than thirty years and I have witnessed how students have violated this part of the student handbook. When I was still the Lower Level Coordinator, which I believe is the counterpart of today’s SFO or to be more direct, the Student Prefect of Discipline, I have had, in one or two occasions, been confronted with a case of plagiarism.  There was even a case where almost the whole class was charged with the offense. I do not exactly recall now how the turn of events went but I know that the students received a spanking (figuratively, of course) for what they did.

                How should we handle a case of plagiarism? What we should always remember is that we are a school, a learning institution entrusted with the education of the young. We are not dealing with professionals who have a sense of full responsibility for their actions. These are minors to whom we have been given authority to form their education for them to have a well-meaning, well-lived future.

                Having said that, what is my opinion on erring students? My personal belief with regard to plagiarism committed by students is very simple.  For the school to focus on being punitive sanctions does not address the problem. It would even seem that teachers are trying to get back on the students, some sort of vengeance, if you would.  A harsh observation but could be a possible argument used by the offending child’s parents against the teacher.  More than anything else, it may even send the wrong signal to the student. Let us take an offending child meted out a three-day suspension because of the said misdemeanour. What does (s)he think after the sanction has been served? (S)He might think it was relatively easy.  After all, a three day suspension is nothing but a reprieve from the classroom. Hence, said student is off the hook easily and still has not learned to do the assigned task properly. What would I have done?  I would simply just hand back the project, tell the student that he/she turned in a wrong paper or project and give him/her time to repeat and do it correctly. I will tell the student that I know for a fact that (s)he did not write/create the project and tell him/her why. If it is a term paper, I will tell him the parts which are plagiarized, show him where it could be found (remember, the burden of proof lies always on the accuser) and teach him/her the proper way of doing the project. If after this, the student still turns in a paper or project that is not his/her own, I hand the same back and refuse to accept the work until it is done properly.  It may be a long, tedious process but I would have taught the offending child an important lesson in life rather than giving him punishment for a deed which (s)he is bound to repeat again and again for after all, it is just a matter of serving a three day sentence and for something nobody taught him/her to do properly.

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Twenty years of teaching must sure amount to something. A new friend in cyberspace suggested I ought to have a journal by now. I agree.

Taken by my friend Arlene Lawson in her room at Century Park Sheraton in May, 2000.
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