I read an article the other day in Reader’s Digest that disappointed me even worse than the last presidential election, and that takes something really special. Apparently, the entire controversy went down several months ago, but I’m still going to write about it because it was one of those things that made me think, “What the hell???” and I’m not going to be able to move on otherwise…

CNN.com – Teacher resigns over plagiarism fight – February 7, 2002
Basically, this tale sums up my entire viewpoint on the over-involvement of parents in their children’s education, and that’s right, I said over-involvement. Although the link above doesn’t point to the exact article that got me started on this one, it should give you enough background to get plenty peeved about the topic. 😡

(For the actual story, check out the July 2002 issue of Reader’s Digest, with the pretty lighthouse on the cover…)
The story begins with a fairly common setting: a high school biology assigns her 10th grade class a research paper due at the end of the semester. I didn’t get the specifics, but from previous recollection, I would assume that it was your basic, 5-10 page paper on a topic of your choice, which might seem like a big deal, except for the fact that you’ve got four months to work on it. Well, as it turns out, kids will be kids and as most high school students tend to do, the assignment got put off until the last minute and thus became impossible to complete. Impossible, at least, without the use of the Internet…

Well, when the teacher had finished grading these assignments, they did all end up getting turned in, but unfortunately, roughly a quarter of them had been plagiarized. This smart young lady knew exactly what was available to her students and decided to do a little homework on her own, which directed her to a site that had been setup exclusively for the purpose of uncovering plagiarized school papers over the Internet. As anyone would only expect, she assigned each of these students failing grades, but it was then that things got a bit ugly. The parents of these students all complained to the schoolboard who, trying to keep the parents (who pay their salaries) happy, told the teacher that she needed to reconsider her harsh judgement. She was pretty much forced to give all of the cheaters partial credit, but unknowingly she also lost their respect in the process.

When she returned to school the next day, she faced an entirely different classroom of students. They no longer viewed her as an authority figure and refused to listen to her, making her job impossible and eventually leading her to resign a short while later. If you’re reading this the same way that I did, this woman was more or less fired by a group of children whose parents had a little pull in the system. They were too lazy to do the same work that the other 75% of their classmates had done, so instead they cried to their parents, winning them both a passing grade and a new teacher to boss around…and that just makes me sick.

The article continued to give various defenses for plagiarism, although they sounded more like excuses to me. We shouldn’t be checking these students work because it violates the honor code among them and the faculty? Well, aren’t they already stomping all over that one by cheating in the first place? These schools are so concerned with churning out their numbers and keeping everyone happy that they couldn’t care less about the actual quality of the education they’re instilling in our nation’s youth. I understand that it’s not the majority that’s the problem – three-quarters of those students were willing to do as they were supposed to do, complete the assignment on their own and maybe even learn a thing or two about the topic. What did the rest of them learn? Hmmm…how to manipulate the system, cheat, steal, ruin the career of an innocent woman and the most important concept of this day and age – if you bitch about something and have enough people on your side, no matter how ludicris it actually is, you will get your way…

I think this one hit home the most for me because, as an editor myself, I have to worry about plagiarism on a daily basis. Honestly, no – I don’t check anything that my regular contributors send to me for authenticity because I trust them and believe that they’ve got a little more integrity than that, but I have had to deal with plagiarism on several occasions and let me tell you, there’s no faster way to get your name on my shitlist than to try to pass off someone else’s work as your own to me. It’s a waste of my time, it’s really a waste of your time and once it ends up in court, it’s a waste of everybody’s time…and for what? Just because you were too damn lazy to think up an original piece on your own? If that’s your solution, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing in the first place, and I’ll even be so bold as to carry that back to the school setting – if you can’t do it yourself, don’t even bother showing up in the first place. Just explain to your teacher that you’re simply too incompetent to do the work for yourself and then skip out early to claim your spot outside the coffee shop downtown…

Final thoughts? Well for starters, DON’T PLAGIARIZE!!! Yes, it really is that simple. Don’t think that you won’t get caught because you will and it’s really very obvious why – when you get away with something like this, you’ve gotta tell somebody else. Soon the trickle-down effect kicks in and eventually your story hits the ears of somebody who actually did do the assignment on his own and he’ll be more than happy to send you up the river in a heartbeat. As for parents, how about letting your children deal with their own mistakes? It’s great that you’re concerned that your son is failing, but where were you when he needed help, before he decided to cheat? As I always say, some people have to learn the hard way and maybe he’ll catch on the second time he takes Biology that it would’ve been easier to just write the stupid report himself. Yeah, it might turn out to be a shitty paper, but at least it’ll be his shitty paper… 🙁

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