Someone over on LJ posted a link to this news story, and I just had to shake my head.
To summarize, Christine Pelton was a science teacher at Piper High School in Kansas. Her sophomore biology class had a big project (called the "Leaf Project") to do, for fifty percent of their grade. Ms. Pelton was determined that no one in her classroom would get away with cheating, and before the project began, all the students and their parents had to sign a contract which included, among other things: "Cheating and plagiarism will result in the failure of the assignment. It is expected that all work turned in is completely their own." And as anyone who's made it to the sophomore level of high school (and certainly anyone who functions in the adult world, as all these students' parents theoretically do) should be able to figure out, if you fail a project that's fifty percent of your grade, then even if you ace everything else, you're gonna fail the class.
Well, apparently this was a bit too complicated for some of the students and their parents to comprehend.
When the papers came in, Ms. Pelton noticed some lines which didn't sound like something her students would say. She turned to the internet, and discovered that twenty-eight of her students (almost a quarter of the sophomore class at Piper High) had committed plagiarism.
From one student: "I was kind of upset ‘cause I was pretty sure I did’t do it," he says, claiming he copied from the Internet but didn’t plagiarize.
"I put that as two different sentences," he says. "So it’s not like I copied it straight from the Web site. I changed it into two different sentences."
Oh, well, so long as he split the line he copied word-for-word into two sentences.... [eyeroll]
Bad enough that twenty-some percent of the sophomore class were cheaters. Just to compound the problem, when Ms. Pelton did as she had said she would from the beginning, and failed the projects of the cheating students, their parents -- rather than being outraged at the cheating and grounding their kids till they were thirty -- rose up in angry protest against Ms. Pelton and took the matter to the school board.
Then to pour gasoline onto the situation and set fire to it, the school board caved in to the parents' demands, and intervened. They declared that the Leaf Project was worth a much smaller percentage of the students' total grade, so even the students who'd cheated and failed the project would pass the class if they'd been doing well otherwise.
Wow, I'll bet those students will learn a huge lesson from that.
Seriously, just what the heck did those parents think? That they were doing their kids any favors? That they were teaching them anything positive? That they were helping their children? Really? Let's look at some statements from the parents:
"The problem in her classroom wasn’t with the students, but with the teacher," says one parent.
"Plagiarism is black on this side, white on this side, with a whole lotta gray in the middle," said another parent.
According to some of the parents of the students she failed, Pelton missed a "teachable moment."
"She’s uncovered plagiarism," says a parent. "That’s great, that’s wonderful, let’s give her an attaboy. Let’s stop, put on a seminar, teach these kids exactly what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and then let them take their new knowledge, go back, and rework their projects and resubmit them. They missed their teachable moment; I truly believe that."
Any bets on how many of these students, or their siblings, or the students' kids later on, will be in the middle of a similar cheating/copying/plagiarism situation again some time, arguing indignantly that they did absolutely nothing wrong, that the people using the P-word are being harsh, being mean, that they're envious or hateful or just looking for attention? These students, and their parents, sound exactly like the people who were standing up in defense of the literary plagiarists over the last few months. And the people who were defending the plagiarist writers sound exactly like these parents. It all comes out of the same pot, it's all born of the same ignorance and the same sense of entitlement, the same belief that anything they do to get ahead must be just fine. And so long as parents are teaching their kids that they can cheat and they can plagiarize and they can get away with it, and that their parents will support them and help slay the evil accuser when they get caught, we're going to have more and more plagiarizing students. And plagiarizing writers.
This is the next generation. They're being trained right now. Some of them are going to end up in our field, and their life experience so far is going to have taught them that the smart people take the easy way and that cheaters win and that whistle-blowers get smacked down.
Lovely. I can't wait.
Epilogue: Christine Pelton resigned her teaching position when the school board interfered with her decision about how to handle proven cheaters. She's no longer teaching, but has opened a day care center in her home. The education establishment is much poorer for the loss. [sigh]