Plagiarism: The Academy’s ‘Axis Of Evil’ (G.W. Bush ’64, 2002)

The number one target on our faculty’s “Axis of Evil” lately seems to be plagiarism. Each history teacher made us sign an anti-plagiarism sheet in his classroom at the beginning of the year; we had to acknowledge that we had read the same sheet online later. Each English teacher was required to conduct an anti-plagiarism workshop for his students last week. Through this workshop, I discovered that it is department policy that we are not permitted to send English papers home until the end of the term, if only for pleasure reading and nothing more. Moreover, showing a paper to friends, even if they are cited for a possible contribution, is frowned upon by the faculty. Also, it appears that some of these rules established in the anti-plagiarism workshops and listed above are neither standardized nor enforced uniformly. One teacher’s “workshop” consisted only of: “Plagiarism—don’t do it, guys,” while another’s was an in-depth discussion of what the exact definition of plagiarism is, comparing constructive restatement to theft. [Source: Remarks overheard while utilizing the lavatory, OWHL Men’s Room, Used 20 September 2003] Defining plagiarism as “the use of the words or ideas of another as if they were one’s own,” the school reasonably promulgates the policy that a writer will be severely castigated for the serious and unethical action of copying another’s work. But, is it in all instances really a crime that merits such a degree of seriousness? [Source: Said, by Someone, Somewhere, Sometime] Of course, in the case of Doris Kearns Goodwin, the answer would irrefutably be “Yes.” A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, she copied the words of others verbatim, without any references or quotations. She attributes her mistake to sloppy note-taking. She is liable nonetheless. [Source: Hearsay from my homies on the street, Salem Street, 21 September 2003] In the 9/21 New York Times, this author recently discovered that martyr Nathan Hale’s famous last words, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” were probably reworded from Cato, a play by Joseph Addison. Addison’s lines are: “Who would not be that youth? What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country!” Ironically, Nathan Hale may have been disciplined had he attended Andover; yet, as sadly he did not, we instead decide to immortalize his memory with a memorial dorm as well as a statue. [Source: Statue in the Sanctuary, Interview, 20 September 2003] All of us are hopefully familiar with JFK’s cliché, “Ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.” Interestingly enough, the most probable antecedent to his catch phrase is from Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr. in 1884: “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” Kennedy’s image escaped from such plagiarism unscathed. Figures this would come from a Choate graduate. [Secondary Source: My roommate, who claims to have read a book about JFK in third grade, Interview, 19 September 2003] Recently, accusations of plagiarism have been flung at historian Steven E. Ambrose like cannon balls. He was indicted for borrowing directly from other writers and for fabricating quotations. Critics have even gone so far as to say that his book, Undaunted Courage, was nothing but an amalgamation of other books on the same subject and offered no neoteric insights into the Lewis and Clark journey. [Source: Lewis and Clark, Interview, 18 September 1802] Why are the memories of two individuals glorified and the reputations of two other individuals sullied? It seems there may be a dividing line between ethical paraphrasing and unethical replication, as JFK and Hale seem to have fallen into the ethical category, while Kearns and Ambrose clearly did not. Such a line between the two actions should be addressed by teachers, students, and intellectuals alike, instead of ignoring the line’s existence and formulating blanket anti-plagiarism rules such as the ones listed above. Perhaps, workshops should be geared towards showing students how effectively and ethically to critique another’s essay, or perhaps the prohibition against parental involvement should be loosened. What if parents and peers help prevent plagiarism? In any event, individual teachers should make absolutely certain they have reasonable plagiarism policies, and acknowledge that, as it says in The Blue Book itself, “All scholarship is based upon the ideas and information of others; the honest person makes clear exactly what the source of any borrowed information…” As Kennedy, Hale, Kearns, and Ambrose show, the first clause is just as pertinent as the second. [Source: Brownies given to me by a proctor, 22 September 2003] I am willing to admit that plagiarism in academic life is commensurate to murder and grand larceny in civilian life. On no uncertain terms should it be permitted. It is not only dishonest to teachers and peers, but also to one’s own self. Moreover, plagiarism is nefarious and counterproductive in general. Nevertheless, still I believe that we must not, in a righteous attempt to eradicate plagiarism, eradicate peer and parental editing. Overbroad, overly stringent plagiarism rules seem to be driven essentially by fear––fear of the Internet and fear of teenagers, fear that students will begin to destroy the concepts of creativity and originality and steal freely from the Internet. That is not to say that such rules are unnecessary; they are essential, but nevertheless they should not be a blanket prohibition of individuals other than English teachers’ critiquing one’s work. Friends and parents can be helpful. Irrational fears like those of peers and parents find their foundation more in hyperbole than solid ground. If we let such fears reign freely, we may soon institute rules to protect ourselves from those scheming clouds plotting against us from their heavenly perch. [Source: Rampell, Palmer. The Phillipian. 26 September 2003]