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Circadium: Why Kant you be ethical?

August 3, 2006

Why do I get so frustrated, and why do I get so surprised at my students who plagiarize their papers? I mean, it is one of the more exciting aspects of teaching, and gives me a chance to put on my detective hat for a few minutes. Mister Super Sleuth of Google, searching the world for the true origin of the peculiar phrase used by a wayward student.

Now I didn’t go to the most fancy of schools, and we certainly weren’t such smart students. We were moral, I guess, but we weren’t obnoxious about it. But I don’t think it even crossed our minds to rip off a paper from somewhere else. It was before the internet, and that helped, I guess. But that gate swang both ways: it was harder for students to cut and paste, but it was also harder for profs to research those who might be cheating. Anyway, we would have had to be pretty desperate to take such a shortcut. And if we got caught, we knew we’d probably get bounced right out of school. I remember one kid submitting a poem for a journal that turned out to be heavily dependent on a Dead Kennedy’s song, and we talked about it for a week.

But these kids today, I tell you. Blatant, bare-faced rip-offs of articles. In one paragraph, they can barely spell ‘utilitarianism’, and in the next, they’re writing as well as John Stuart Mill. Better, actually, *since they actually took a whole paragraph from his book*. Students without any ability in English composition will suddenly produce a random and perfect sentence that has almost nothing to do with their paper. They’ll do a compare/contrast with three different methodologies, and each one is in a different typeface, taken from a different website. It’s embarrassing, really.

Time consuming, too. It actually takes a lot longer to substantiate a ‘zero’ than it does to grade a paper straightaway. Gets the blood pressure up, too, and makes me rant around the house, bending The Wife’s ear with yet another tale of intelligent professor and ignoble student. “What’s wrong with these kids today?,” I say, once again. I’m such a grumpy old man.

A couple of days ago, it was a webzine article carefully culled of all ‘big words’ and streamlined a bit. Still didn’t fulfill the assignment, but what the heck. Tonight’s was more peculiar: I’m 99% sure it’s from a paper-selling service, but I’m not about to spend the $9.95 to find out. The giveaway? The first page was some confusing and circuitous rambling about some social issue, and the second (and final!) page was a dense nonsequitor repeatedly invoking Kant. The funny thing is, the plagiarized part was grammatically sharp and philosophically involved, but didn’t actually make any sense.

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3 Responses to “Circadium: Why Kant you be ethical?”

  1. [REDACTED] says:

    Here’s a couple questions:

    1) If a student turned in a paper that was completely plagiarized from several different sources but perfectly and sensically fit the assignment, what do you do? You’re teaching ethics, not writing, so obviously they understood the issues and did the research, right?

    2) Is there are correlation between the students’ outside lives and their tendency to plaiarize? Are the plagiarists ones that are busier with jobs and maybe kids of their own? Or are those students more likely to work hard and not plagiarize?

  2. kate says:

    Oooooh, I like those questions, Schuyler.
    Mike — I officially want to donate the $9.95. I MUST know.

  3. Dawnrw says:

    It may not be a writing class, but it’s an ETHICS class! Cheating by definition is less acceptable in ethics than in algebra, isn’t it? Maybe you could require your plagiarists to provide the ethical case for stealing the work of another and calling it their own as their next assignment. Then you could open our eyes to their insights.

    By the way, Mike, I love the new Circadium column . . . almost as much as I loved the regular installments of Undercover Couple.

    Kiss your wife and babies for me. I sure wish I could hug them myself.

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