Monday, November 07, 2005

The Hammer of Death.

I'm an easy-going teacher. Not an easy-going person -- my partner reads this and he'd know I was lying if I claimed that -- but a relaxed and generally happy teacher. There's only one thing that makes my eyes cross and steam shoot out my ears and relentless hell-hounding ensues: plagiarism. Intentional blatant plagiarism, the kind that suggests "she doesn't know what she's doing and she'll never figure out that this is downloaded directly from Wikipedia." I go mental and it really ruins a part of my day. Today I got such a paper -- and remember, the other 40-odd were maybe not fabulous, but were honest attempts to do the work -- and I flipped. When a first-year student starts telling me detailed ethnographic information that was not in the class materials, stuff that I would have to look up, well, naturally I do. And nearly always, I discover a badly paraphrased download. This one would have been a crappy paper even if it had not been lifted from the unattributed work of other scholars. The kid confused an army forming in England with one forming in the British colonies -- you would have thought that the lack of a monarch in Boston might have been a clue here -- and misindentified the winner and loser of the military engagement we'd spent all week discussing. Where does one start? With the fear of doing poorly that drives nearly all these episodes? With the lack of honesty and willingness to gain an undue advantage over one's classmates? With the cluelessness about how a good cheat might actually look?

To make things worse, I've learned to be very explicit about the eligible sources one can use on my papers. I also carefully explain what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and what happens when one is caught doing it. (Fail the paper, sent to the Dean, etc.) And I note that I'm a professional researcher by trade -- if they can find it, I can find it. So students have ample warning. Why why why?

I will be talking to him on Wednesday, after he finishes another exam. (Don't want to freak him out before his exam. Is that being kind or stupid?) These conversations usually go badly and I dread them. Students here deny deny deny even when you've got the print-out from the site they've used. Downloading from the internet, you see, is just using "facts" floating freely in the ether, like Melville's loose fish. The idea that someone creates those entries, orders details into narrative, and that this is no more acceptable than lightly rewriting an encyclopedia article...that seems lost on desperate belligerent students who see their semester spiraling down the drain. I lose all patience quickly and pack them off to the Dean. In an ideal world, I'd have the time to insist that they do the work correctly, themselves, again. But I'm lucky to be getting 4 hours of sleep a night these days and redeeming the lost lambs has to be someone else's work. I've got 48 others in my flock that deserve all I can give them and that's who I'm got to concentrate on serving.


Bad Alice said...

I'm not an acadmic, but I was married to one once, and this kind of crap just seems to happen all the time. My ex-husband was even accused of racism at one point, I think, because he had the balls to call someone on plagiarism. There's no end to the nonsense.

I think packing them off to the dean is a fine solution. It's a serious violation that some students just don't take seriously.

listmaker said...

Pack him off to the Dean. There are always those who will try to take the easy way out. I don't know if it's arrogance or ignorance that makes them think they can get away with it.