It's Thursday night and you just got in from four hours of baseball practice. All you want to do is grab a bite to eat and go to bed. As you sit down at the table to eat some cold pizza from the night before, you spot a piece of paper among your folders and notebooks. It says: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Literary Analysis, due: Friday.” You panic; you have no time and are in no mood to write a coherent essay on what the Mississippi River represents in Huck Finn. You have an idea: all you need to do is type the title of the assignment into Google and voilà! – a thousand published essays appear before you. All you need to do is copy and paste one of the essays into a Word document, put your name on it and the date from a couple of nights ago (you don't want to look lazy), and print it. You just got an easy A in less than 10 minutes!
This is the mentality of thousands of students across the nation. In today's fast-paced society, some students don't have time to sit down for an two hours and crank out a literary masterpiece, so they just look for ideas on the Internet and, after changing a couple of words, pass it in as their own. Others are just lazy and don't feel like writing an essay. Regardless of the excuse, it's clear that plagiarism is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
In my school, the punishment for plagiarism is not as harsh as it should be. The handbook states that use of “plagiarism in the completion of homework and other school assignments violates the academic integrity of the school…If you are discovered, you will be addressed by the teacher who will make parental contact and should make an office referral which will lead to a one-day suspension and a grade of zero for the test or assignment. A notice will be sent to the assistant principal and parents attesting to the circumstances.” I find that a “one-day suspension and a grade of zero” are much too lenient to students that would dare to steal others' work and pass it in as their own.
Since every instance of plagiarism is different, there can be no standard punishment or formula for determining the punishment. If a student takes one sentence from someone else's essay, I don't think that that student should immediately be thrown to the lions. Instead, he or she should lose a number of points on the essay and be lectured by a teacher or administrator about the immorality of plagiarism. However, if a student copies and pastes an entire essay and turns it in as his/her own work, the punishment should be substantially harsher. Courses of action could include the normal detention/suspension/zero-on-the-assignment/talking-to-parents punishment, but could also include positive reinforcement like a requirement to attend a seminar on how plagiarism is wrong and another on time management to prevent plagiarism from being an option. Finally, if the student copies a published essay by an esteemed scholar and not just a random student-produced essay, charges should be pressed. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm quite sure stealing published work infringes on copyright privileges and should warrant a punishment, like community service or a fine. There would be a hearing or possibly trial and all that legal stuff, so I certainly think if students are informed about these consequences they'll think twice about plagiarizing.
Having these punishments is one thing; enforcing them is another. While we have websites like Turnitin.com that check for plagiarism, some teachers don't use it and even the ones that do use it have students that are still able to circumvent the program. Nevertheless, as a first line of defense, I think that all teachers of classes that consist of essay writing (English, history, etc.) should be required to use these websites on every major assignment they give (like a literary analysis or biography). This software is still not sufficient to completely eradicate plagiarism because students are still finding ways to do it. Therefore, I think that the majority of the fight against plagiarism should be fought by teachers. Teachers, not websites, know their students best. Teachers know their students' vocabularies, writing styles, sentence structures, and other unique aspects of their writing. So, when a teacher sees a word in a student's essay that s/he is sure the student wouldn't know, the teacher can simply ask the student what the word means. If the student doesn't know, the teacher should look more into the situation and check the student's sources, etc. Schools could even offer classes to teachers on how to spot plagiarism. If we use a combination of the available technology and our teachers' relationships with their students, the issue of plagiarism will certainly diminish and we will create a future generation that will be able to think for themselves and come up with their own advancements.
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