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The War on Plagiarism

Posted By: Russ Hunt on November 21, 2008
The hysteria about internet plagiarism (and other forms of "cheating") has lots in common with the War on Drugs, especially its dreadful consequences for society at large. To assume that the appropriate response is the criminal justice model is to make what is an educational problem into a moral one, and to ignore the way in which the system students find themselves in promotes a model of education as competition for scarce resources -- primarily certification -- with arbitrary rules. It ignores the systemic issue. If I wanted to learn how to do something, and were taking a course to learn it, would I cheat? What does this tell us about the situation our students are in? Do we fix it by enforcing those arbitrary rules with ever more draconian punishments? You'd certainly say yes if you thought the War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentences a really good idea.

There's a pretty considerable literature which casts serious doubt on the efficacy or wisdom of the criminal justice strategy, and suggests some pedagogical responses that make much more sense. See, for example, Rebecca Moore Howard's _Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators_ (1999), or Sean Zwagerman's recent _College Composition and Communication_ article, "Sean Zwagerman. The Scarlet P: Plagiarism, Panopticism, and the Rhetoric of Academic Integrity" (June 2008), or even my ""Four Reasons to be Happy about Internet Plagiarism" (2002-3) .
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 The War on Plagiarism by Russ Hunt on November 21, 2008
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