50th Edition, Education

Plagiarism makes good copy: “No one ever told me it was cheating”

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By Debbie Andelman
and Lani Wishnie, Volume 22
February 16, 1983

Pla-gia-rism (plá jə-ris m) n. The act of stealing and using the ideas or writings of another as ones own (derived from the Latin word ‘plajiarius,’ meaning ‘kidnapper’).  As Dorethea Gaudet, librarian at Newton South High School states, “Plagiarism is the greatest crime in the academic world.”
Although everyone may not feel so strongly about the issue of plagiarism, the fact is that it does exist, and for many it is a problem.  To what extent does plagiarism affect the academic performance at Newton South, and what is being done about it?  What can be done about it in the future?
Some teachers feel very strongly about the dangers of plagiarism, and make it a point to discuss all aspects of plagiarism and cheating in class.  At the same time, there are those who do not address the subject at all, leaving the situation up in the air.
Many students believe that unless a teacher formally states his views about plagiarism and cheating prior to assigning the first research project, the student may reserve the right to plead innocent out of ignorance.  Even though in most instances it is obvious that the student is aware of the crime that he has committed, there exists the cases in which the student has simply never been formally educated about the more vague aspects of plagiarism and proper documentation.  As one angry student who was falsely accused of plagiarism states, “We were never taught what constituted plagiarism and how to document.”
Contrary to popular belief, plagiarism is not merely copying word for word from a book or encyclopedia.   The term ‘plagiarism’ also includes such acts as paraphrasing written documents and using others’ orally stated ideas without proper documentation.  Many students at Newton South have admitted to paraphrasing and copying from encyclopedias without even a hint of guilt.
The greatest difficulty in dealing with plagiarism is its ambiguity. In investigating a possible case of plagiarism, the question arises as to whether the student has plagiarized deliberately or innocently.  Although it is harmful for the students who remain unaware of the many elements of plagiarism, those who plagiarize purposely harm not only themselves but others as well.  In many cases, it reaches the point where the honest student receives a lower grade than that of the student who cheats.  One sophomore remarks, “It makes me very angry when I study a lot for a test and get a C on it, while I watch kids use crib notes, and they get As.  Furthermore, it makes the teacher think that the other students are really smart.”
Robert Goggin, English teacher, feels that plagiarism is blatant cheating, and that cheating is comparable to robbery.  Goggin says, “I feel that it is my responsibility to protect the honest student.”
Since there is no policy regarding plagiarism, the decision as to how to deal with the situation is left up to the teacher.  In general, if it is not resolved between the teacher and the student, then the department head, the housemaster, the guidance counselor, and the parents are consulted at a meeting during which a decision is made as to whether or not plagiarism has taken place, and what will be done about it if it has.
Many teachers feel that Monarch notes are another form of plagiarism.  Although teachers have varying beliefs concerning the usage of Monarch and Cliff notes, the predominant opinion is that the notes usually prevent the student from expressing his own ideas about the literature in composition writing.
Steven Leonard, Newton South English teacher, states, “Monarch notes allow the student to get many different points of view about a novel.  The important part is that the student is always thinking.  However, Monarch notes should be used in addition to the assigned book, not instead of.”
Judith Malone-Neville, Cutler Housemaster, disagreed.  “Monarch notes are fine for a summary of a long, hard book; but, unless they are used properly, they are dead wrong.” Half of the problem in dealing with plagiarism is convincing the student that they themselves can do the work, and do it well, according to Social Studies teacher Dr. Philip Burnham.
There is no presently enforced policy that deals with the problems of plagiarism at Newton South High School.  When asked about the possibility of requiring that something be said in all classes about proper forms of documentation and what can and cannot be labeled as plagiarism, David Youngblood, Head of the English Department, answered that, “yes,” it does exist.

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