The pressure to succeed is overwhelming in many walks of life. From the workplace, to family life and especially in the schools, there is an underling human desire to do well in our endeavours and to advance from this success. In our school environments, this drive for quality achievements makes it harder for students to be original and genuine in their written work. The lure of the Internet, and its instant access to “help” can lead many students to “beg, borrow, and steal” the thoughts ideas and words of others.
Why would a student, of any age, believe that using material that is less than his or her own is acceptable? In Jewish schools, as in many schools everywhere, it is tempting and relatively easy. But as with much of the decision making by young minds not fully developed, there is a belief that their choices will not be detected. They get away with it!
Today students deal with more pressure than ever to succeed. Competition for top grades, scholarships, and admittances to elite or specialized programs is fierce. The expectations many parents place on young scholars can make some students seek alternatives to meet their goals. Perhaps this is how we can understand how mass acts of cheating have become commonplace in Jewish schools. Perhaps integrity, honesty and the other values we believe we are instilling in youngsters are being compromised for the sake of better test scores?
Plagiarism is Wrong.
Are we educating our children, teens and young adults appropriately to not choose the stealing of others’ intellectual material? From a young age, children usually learn not to steal, borrow items without permission or copy someone else’s work such as a drawing or creative endeavours. When do we help them understand that the written word, originated by others, is also to be safeguarded?
Our scholars can point to:
You shall not steal; you shall not deny falsely, and you shall not lie to one another.”
Under Jewish law, even lying about something you are passing off as your own is ultimately stealing. We have “genevat da’at” as a category of deception in Jewish law and it is taught at an early age. When do we teach that this same concept goes beyond money and property and applies to what we typically call “plagiarism”?
This same technology that makes plagiarism relatively easy, provides tools for the academic world to detect the offenses. Usually, the sites like unplag.com or alike ones gives teachers, professors and other professionals quick and easy tools to identify copied work, to see miss cited passages, and how to take safeguards to protect their own work. But plagiarism checking software are not a panacea, Carl Straumsheim has prooved it on insidehighered.com. Professors and teachers want to see students show respect toward the handling of sourcing and the following of the rules.
This kind of information needs to be brought right to the classroom to shed more light on the problems of plagiarism, the degrees of offenses and ultimately the consequences of the actions. Students need to study plagiarism, in part and in whole, to better protect his or her own work, the work they produce, and the work they learn from. Not only would students benefit from exercises in detecting plagiarism but also in more specific writing strategies that help them develop their own thoughts and ideas.
In our Jewish schools, the teaching of religious based doctrine is a good place to help youngsters understand why stealing of someone else’s ideas is wrong, and against Jewish principles. Under “genevat da’at” the broader concept of “stealing “ is addressed. Using examples such as commonplace situations where people use deception to deal with social situation. For example, telling someone the wrong date for an event when you really don’t want them to attend, or giving someone a false compliment on their appearance, are forms of lying and deceit. These behaviours may make us look smarter, or give us more credit in the eyes of others.
Avoiding the Temptation of Plagiarism
Young people, particularly teens, are prone to believing they are bulletproof and able to make their own decisions wisely. We can teach them about the dangers of smoking, drugs and unprotected sex, but it will never stop them from indulging…and seeing how far they can get away with it and to reap the rewards. Taking a shortcut by using other people’s work is easy, and there are plenty of services for affordable rates encouraging students to buy their papers or buy a writer for their assignments. Perhaps services within educational institutions that better help students with their tasks are the solution. Or maybe gearing assignment towards more attainable goals is where the problems will find solutions. Using peer pressure and more group assignments might also be a way to ensure each member contributes their own portion under the scrutiny of others.
Plagiarism is not going to go away. Since imitation is a form of flattery, it will always be tempting to include material that has made an impression on you in another way. Some would argue that there is never truly an original thought or idea because we are product of the world of thoughts and ideas around us. Regardless, putting in print something that truly didn’t originate with you, or to not cite the owner of the words or thought, is just wrong. Our students in Jewish education need to be more aware of this. Consequences must be faced to maintain integrity and Jewish ideals.