Academic cheating and plagiarism: the obesity of the mind

There's a perennial journalistic genre, effective because news readers skew older: why kids today suck.

The latest reason is because, as students, they cheat and plagiarize so much. The New York Times has dealt with this pressing issue a couple of times in the past month.  Here they handled how to keep kids from cheating on tests, and here about  plagiarism via cutting and pasting.

First:  is this new? No, of course it's not new. Schoolwork is hard and challenging, and when it isn't hard and challenging it's boring and repetitive. Many students want to evade its demands a lot of time, and pretty much everyone does at least some of the time.

Also not new is the posture that none of that work is necessary, and is actually hazardous to the sensitive youthful psyche. The argument now is that, since sampling, collaboration, and pastiche are the way we live now, and so schools should reflect that reality.

And the last thing that isn't new is that that posture is one taken by lazy and corrupt fools who are desperate to be liked. Every student knows that "work in groups" really means "rely on smart and motivated students to do most of the work". And a bland defense of "that's the way we do it anymore" is at least worth a try, to see if some clueless instructor actually buys that story.

When people sample, pastiche, reference, and satirize, they don't claim the original works as their own.  They may proclaim a kind of dominance over them, or label them as superceded and irrelevant, or use them as springboards for their own creativity, but that those bits are not the actual creation of the compiler is usually not at issue. Allusion is the highest form of literary connectivity, after all. We can't write without all those other writers.  This, too, is nothing new.

So don't give me "the information doesn't seem to have an author for these kids." When they turn their papers in with the plagiarized material, they do claim an author:  themselves.

People cheat because they are tempted to do so, just as they eat too much because they are tempted to do so. So we don't learn and we get fat. We are weak and fallen creatures. Our job is to work to surmount our fallen state, develop habits that allow us to work honestly and fairly, and to give credit to the hard creative work of others. Hard, certainly. Fraught with the possibility of failure, definitely. Impossible?  I don't think so.