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Subject:

From:

Zola Gordy <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 10 Sep 2003 09:52:59 -0500

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Thanks to Mary Latela for this inspiring op-ed on cheating. I'll share it with all our faculty.

-Zola Gordy
Maple Woods C.C.
KCMO

>>> [log in to unmask] 09/09/03 05:53PM >>>
Greetings ... here's a controversial (I think) op-ed
piece about preventing cheating, placing the
responsibility squarely on the shoulders of educators.
peace!
Mary Latela

NYTimes - September 9, 2003
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
HOW TEACHERS CAN STOP CHEATERS
By MARK EDMUNDSON
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.

"Academic cheating is a major problem and has negative
results on everyone involved."So goes the first
sentence of a recently composed essay on cheating in
academia. To get the whole essay, though, you'll need
to pay for a membership at DirectEssays.com, an
Internet operation that promises access to "over
101,000 high-quality term papers and essays."

For $19.95 a month, you can see the anticheating tract
in toto, and a lot more besides. DirectEssays is one
of several Internet operations selling term papers
that students hand in as their own work, and business
is booming. Cheating, especially Internet cheating, is
becoming more and more the way of the academic world.
A recent study found that 38 percent of the students
polled had committed "cut and paste" plagiarism that
is, copying sentences or even several paragraphs from
the Internet and implanting them in their own work.

Forty percent of respondents admitted to copying
without attribution from written sources books,
journals and the like in the past year.The study,
which involved more than 18,000 students at colleges
and universities of virtually every sort, gave
evidence of a worrisome trend: in the last such
survey, taken three years ago, only 10 percent of
students admitted to cheating. As the new study's
organizer, Donald L. McCabe of Rutgers University, put
it: "There are a lot of students who are growing up
with the Internet who are convinced that anything you
find on the Internet is public knowledge and doesn't
need to be cited." No one likes academic cheating
apparently not even the writer who was willing to sell
his anti-cheating piece to DirectEssays.com.

The question is what to do about it. Many professors,
seeing the problem as integrally related to the
Internet, have looked for technological solutions. A
science professor at my university caught 45 cheating
students with what must have been a brilliant computer
program. Other professors use Web sites like
turnitin.com, which has programs to help detect
student plagiarism.Still, I think professors need to
stop looking exclusively for technological solutions
to a problem that often stems, in consequential ways,
from the way we do our jobs. Perhaps the current boom
in electronic cheating can give professors
especially in the humanities, as the sciences are
often bound to traditional test-giving and test-taking
a chance to pause and think and ultimately to teach
in a better way.

I'm not just talking about refusing to give the same
exams year after year, though that would surely help.
(When students call a course a "gut," often what they
mean is that the exams haven't changed in a decade,
that all the fraternities have them on file and that
they're to be had for the asking.) The rise of
plagiarism should also get us to reflect on what we
are setting out to do in the first place. A good deal
of what humanities professors now ask for from
students is analysis. In literary studies, professors
are prone to require close reading of major works. We
cultivate attentiveness to written words; careful
consideration; coaxing forth disparate meanings. We
try to make students responsive to the complexities of
literary sense. And this emphasis on attentiveness to
words is now practiced not only in the English
departments, but also in philosophy and religious
studies and history.We teach other scholarly
disciplines as well: awareness of historical context,
the relation of the work at hand to current theories.
But most of all, I think, we teach reading. The
ultimate goal, one might say, is to help them become
more like what Henry James says every consequential
writer should be: someone on whom nothing is lost.
This is a fine thing. But it is not nearly enough. In
teaching only reading and the scholarly arts,
humanities professors do just half of their jobs.

It's not enough to ask for a careful description of
erotic imagery in or of the version of nature that
Wordsworth develops in "Tintern Abbey." We need to go
further and ask if those works provide usable truths
for ourselves and our students. Should we consider
endorsing a religion of nature, as Wordsworth did?

Should we be willing to live out his faith in the
current world? These are not at all empty questions, I
think, when many take ecological issues to be among
the most consequential for the world at large. Is
Shakespeare's Juliet a confused and starry-eyed girl,
lost in love, or a figure of enhanced freedom, somehow
vital and generous despite coming of age in the
brutish world of Capulets and Montagues? Is she worthy
of admiration and, maybe, emulation?I have been lucky
enough to have teachers who were willing to pose such
questions (after offering rigorous analysis) and it
made a vast difference in my education.

It was a turning point in my life when a high school
teacher looked up from his copy of "One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest" and asked whether the protocols of the
mental hospital, as Ken Kesey depicted them, might
have had more than a little in common with the
grinding protocols of our own high school. At that
moment it became liberatingly clear to me that books
have a capacity to criticize and challenge life as it
is, and often to gesture toward something better. But
humanities teachers today are not likely to pose
questions about the bearing of books on immediate
experience. They prefer to operate at a safe and
scholarly distance from the works. The question of
what actual human value a work might have to the
students sitting in the room rarely arises.

Condescending analysis is the order of the day. There
are many reasons that professors are uneasy talking of
personal transformation, but a big one is the overall
shift among universities to making the object of a
liberal arts education not so much the development of
the individual's inner life as it is the acquisition
of skills. More and more we try to give our
"customers" what they seem to want: marketable
knowledge, powers that will hold them in good stead in
the work force.

Analytic powers are economically negotiable in ways
that self-knowledge can't always be. Unfortunately,
there is nothing easier or more tempting to plagiarize
than assignments that are exclusively detached and
analytical. I'm sure that there are plenty of essays
to be had over the Internet on Wordsworthian nature
and Shakespearean eros. But you cannot buy your own
opinion from someone else. If professors asked
students not only for analysis, but also for personal
reasoned responses, they would, I trust, get fewer
purloined papers.

Students would be more inclined to believe that the
work had to be theirs and that what they had to say
actually mattered. I'm not na*ve enough to think that
more personal and immediate teaching would put
DirectEssays.com out of business. But it would make a
difference, I'm sure. Speaking of his exchange with
his pupils, Socrates, the founder of humanistic
education, once observed: "What we're engaged in here
isn't a chance conversation but a dialogue about the
way we ought to live our lives."

The closer we professors come to following Socrates,
the less cheating we're likely to see. Mark Edmundson,
professor of English at the University of Virginia, is
author of "Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company | Home |
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