November 26, 2012

The Plague Of Plagiarism

On November 24, 2012, NPR reported on Germany’s plagiarism problems in politics. In the report, NPR noted that Germany does not have as strict plagiarism policies as the United States, and it seems that German students have been taking advantage of it. In fact, the Education Minister, Annette Schavan, is the primary focus right now as it has been alleged by private citizens that she plagiarized part of her doctoral dissertation. If this turns out to be true, she should be ashamed of herself. To be the Education Minister and to knowingly have cheated on a dissertation is absolutely disgraceful behavior.

German politicians are not the only individuals who have plagiarized. American and British politicians and writers have also met this scrutiny. However, if the Education Minister did plagiarize, she will have set an egregious precedent. To be the Education Minister, the person in charge of education and learning, and to have plagiarized while in school is baffling. The Education Minister is one who claims to have education in her best interest, yet she may have cheated to obtain her degree. Plagiarism is not education nor learning.

To have possibly cheated on her doctoral dissertation is even worse. I mean, if it were Freshmen Composition, it may have been an accident, a lack of understanding, but if she did in fact plagiarize parts of her doctoral dissertation, then she has no excuse. By then in her education, she should have known better.

The real issue is what does this teach young students? For most, this will teach them that cheaters will receive their comeuppance. However, this will reach those who are looking for an easy way out, too. For all, this shows that the leaders cheated and lied. This is unforgivable.

I know it seems weird to write about plagiarism on redOrbit, but redOrbit is committed to education and educating, right? So I figured that we needed to discuss the issues and implications of plagiarizing. I am an Associate Professor of English, which means that I have to deal with plagiarism on a regular basis. I spend much of the semester helping students to avoid plagiarizing and teaching them how to give credit to their sources.

The simplest solution to avoiding plagiarism is to simply write your own work. If you actually write what you are supposed to, then you do not have to worry about plagiarism. I also teach students to give credit to any sources they use whether that use is word-for-word or paraphrased. Any idea that comes from another source must receive the proper credit in a writing. So, I first teach my students to write their own stuff, and then I teach them to give other sources credit should they use other sources in their work. This is a fool-proof method to avoiding plagiarism.

I am also a writer. Not only do I blog for redOrbit, but I also write fiction and nonfiction. Plagiarism is an egregious offense in my world. To plagiarize is the intellectual equivalent of stealing all of my earthly goods. In fact, it is worse. Someone who plagiarizes might as well just beat me to a pulp. To steal someone else’s words and hard work is absolutely the antithesis of learning. It’s despicable.

I believe in the power of words and the power of our ideas. I believe we should have the confidence of those words and ideas. I believe that learning and education deserve dedication, tenacity, and hard work, which means I believe in the importance of doing our own work. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is not acceptable, not learning, not power.

Image Credit: Pavel Ignatov / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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