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Plagiarism and Competence

One of the common causes of student demoralization in American schools and colleges is the way we require of them things we fail to teach them, then punish them (sometimes) for their adaptations. Cheating is wrong, but I’m not sure it’s more wrong than putting students in a situation where even those who would be honorable feel compelled to do it.

Here’s the opening of an article on plagiarism in the college ranks:

Some student plagiarists are out of their depth in college and panic-stricken in the face of a writing assignment, especially when it has to do with analysis of books that impose an adult-level intellectual challenge. These are the plagiarists of desperation.

Thomas Bertonneau: The Mind of a Plagiarist

He has much more to say than just what I’ve quoted and I don’t want to ascribe my view in the opening paragraph to him.

I do want to emphasize this point: sins are multiplied in children by adults who don’t fulfill their own duties to the children. We will have less plagiarism if we teach students how to write, think, research, and inquire. The Lost Tools of Writing is our attempt to contribute to the solution. For one thing, you can’t plagiarize when you write the way LTW teaches you to, and if you come up with some way to do so, it will leap off the page like highlighted text.

For another, LTW does away with the need to plagiarize.

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