Links of interest:

A discussion of why value-added growth models aren’t quite useful.

The story of an adjunct who is fired for publicly identifying plagiarists. I think it is a bit odd that the failing grades were put on hold. I can understand the termination.

High school social skills matter a lot. “Lleras found that such social skills as conscientiousness, cooperativeness, and motivation were as important as test scores for success in the workplace.”

And one that I’ve been finding new blogs to follow on Education at has lots of other topics aggregated, but I like the education one the most.

Education Myths

Education Myths by Jay P. Greene was in the “New Books” section of the college library, so I picked it up, started reading it, checked it out, and finished reading it.

It is an interesting book in many ways and I agree with most of his points or, at least, he makes them well enough for me to tend to agree. Sometimes I think he lacksadaisically says, “Oh that won’t wash!” (in more lofty terms) and I caught him at it once or twice where I thought, “Well, whyever not?”

One irritant though. He never refers to himself as “I.” So when he says “Jay Greene at University of Texas” or “Jay Greene with the Whatever Institute,” if you’re not watching, you’ll think he’s talking about someone else’s work. But it’s his.

I was already bothered by it when I read The Constructive Curmudgeon’s post asking if there is such a thing as self-plagiarism and wondering how self-referential academic writing should be. My reading of this book informed my comment on that blog.

It just irritated the thunder out of me. Why couldn’t he just say “I”? Is it because then it would sound as if he were self-plagiarizing because so much of the work is his in another form? I don’t think so. He does sufficient presentation of the other side’s opinion that, even if he does it in his studies (which I can’t frankly imagine unless they were for student papers and set up), I found it novel.

I haven’t read his studies or any of those he referenced. I did stick a bookmark in, though, to remind me to look up the studies he referenced in one chapter to make sure that they actually said what he summarized them as saying.

You can’t know the authors’ intentions.

That’s what I’ve always told my students. Sometimes the authors may not know their intentions.

Then I go and read about the exact same words in two different textbooks in The NYT, to which I was directed by Joanne Jacobs.

If these textbooks were essays turned in to me, they would fail. Even if they are “over 1,000 pages long,” which was one of the excuses given for the inexcusable.

Plagiarism is plagiarism. For Raytheon’s CEO, for Harvard sophomore with big book advance, for freshman students at local community college, it is all the same. And it’s simple. “Is this the exact same or way too similar thing someone else wrote?” (That includes metaphor usage, as per the Red America guy from the Washington Post.)

So how can someone decide that what is in these textbooks isn’t plagiarism by saying it wasn’t the writers’ intention? How do they know? Are they the writer? Does anyone even know who the writer or writers is/are or was/were?

Mr. Boorstin’s co-author, Mr. Kelley, said he was “outraged” by the identical passages, but he said he did not consider them plagiarism, because the authors never intended to lift another’s work.

It doesn’t matter to me whether you “intended” to lift another’s work. What matters to me is whether you did or not. Raytheon’s CEO Bill Swanson, Harvard’s Kaavya Viswanatha, ex-Washington Post blogger Ben Domenech all did. So did whoever wrote at least one of these textbooks’ additions. It’s plagiarism. Period.

Thoughts on Education

Critical Mass and Sigmund, Carl and Alfred have two posts which brought me to say, “I need to think about these things.”

The following is a quote from a quote in the Critical Mass entry:

It’s heartbreaking to read the comments that students who’ve been betrayed by their universities write at Rate My Professors. These students almost always begin by mentioning their excitement about taking the course, their interest in the subject. They then flatly state that exposure to this professor has killed forever their interest and excitement. A series of questions usually follows. Why is this person teaching? Why does this person get paid to teach? Why is a university classroom like this one? I thought it would be different, going to a university…

This article comes in reaction to Frisch, the adjunct who blog commented in extremely inappropriate terms about a blogger’s two year old child.

The only student of Frisch’s that I’ve heard about said that she acted appropriately in class and engaged in debate. The student was a conservative and disagreed with what she said/taught, but said that the classroom was carried well.

I wonder, sometimes, how much of the students’ complaints are actually about the teachers and how much is about how much work the class was. (I give A LOT of work. But there is a rationale behind it that fits my philosophy of education completely. I wonder if I should make a bigger deal of telling my students about it.)

And this is a quote from what was at Sigmund’s, but is actually written by The Irascible Professor.

We’ve taught you to glory in self-expression while we’ve disdained troubling you with the tedious details like spelling, punctuation, and grammar that make clear expression possible. We’ve so inflated your grades and your self-esteem that they far exceed your achievements and abilities. American students, for instance, are more confident and comfortable with their math skills and prowess than their international peers, even though their actual math skills and prowess don’t rank anywhere near the top of the international heap.

He is speaking to students, the students I get in my freshman English classes often, the ones who think they should be able to get an A because they are native speakers. But they don’t do the work. They don’t make the required corrections. They don’t do the research for the research paper. They plagiarize their work, without citations…

I am amazed that almost every semester my students come in to class obviously expecting to get out of class, to finish it. And every semester half of them drop.

I do require a lot of papers- five plus two short research papers on the same topic- but I also let them rewrite papers and I average the original with the rewrite. And I only ask them to fix their errors on the rewrite. It doesn’t have to substantively change. (Unless they were WAY off topic.) The idea there is that they learn more from doing what they did the correct way than they would from doing grammar problems from a book. It helps them to have experience having written in their own style, but correctly.

I guess I think that high school and lower may have given the students an inflated sense of their ability, but college tends to pop that balloon pretty quickly.

Unauthorized Collaboration

I had three students who are apparently friends who decided to work together on their homework. I am not opposed to study groups. But when 30% or more of the answers are the exact same words, there’s a problem. And they missed the exact same five questions in the exact same way.

I called and left messages requesting call backs. I could have waited until tomorrow, but I didn’t want them to collaborate (and risk another zero) on tonight’s homework. Only one student called me back and she was none too happy. Her mother called me back also. I’m not allowed to speak with students’ parents; it’s against the law in Texas. That didn’t go over too well.

I decided that I would offer them a chance to do one half of the work over, using different sections to answer the questions. I picked nine different sections, so that each student would have to work alone and their wouldn’t be any accidental unauthorized collaboration.

Only one student called me back, though, and I am afraid all three of them will think I intended them to do the same three and not get back to me about what their actual re-work possibility is.

I don’t want them to drop. They have great potential. I just want them to do their own work and not receive a group grade. I hope they won’t let this permanently discourage them from the class.

I called the student who did call me again. I left a message encouraging her to stay in the class. I hope she will.

Semester of Plagiarism

I’ve gotten three plagiarized papers from the same student now. He was careful to tell me that this third one wasn’t plagiarized. It was. And it was easy to tell. From a student who has had trouble putting together a coherent paragraph I received an eight page paper for a simple five-paragraph assignment. Clearly plagiarized. And easy to find. Though I did find a site which also plagiarized the plagiarism that my student plagiarized.

And another student turned in plagiarized work. It was a single paragraph that set me off. It wasn’t like the rest of the paper and, sure enough, it was plagiarized. 0. Easy to grade, once I get to that paragraph.

I hate plagiarism.


Half of the papers I graded today were plagiarized. (I have now finished one class. The ration was 2:3, with original papers winning.) Some took whole paragraphs from one source and attributed them to another, so that I wouldn’t notice the plagiarism. Some cited the sources used, but did not put the quotes in quotation marks.

I am afraid that I may have missed a few plagiarized papers on the last research paper because I did not spot check them all. (Spot checking is where I put in two or three of the most advanced sentences in the paper and see if it comes up on Google. Unfortunately many of them have.)

I am still working. This is depressing though.


for the first time ever.

Alas. I have finally had, within my class, an entire paper stolen off the net and presented to me whole, without even alteration of “in response to my column” or contractions, which are disallowed in formal essays, as one of my student’s own work.

So it is. He receives a 0. And I am abashed and dismayed. I had hoped that my long and heartfelt soliloquy on the topic would disabuse students of the desire to pursue such theft.

I am quite sure, as well, that his pre-writing was also retrieved in whole from the net, though, since it was not for a grade, I did not check.

But allow that a simple glance at the first page gave me a sentence which was delightfully articulate and thus, unfortunately, wholly unlikely to belong to this student. Without reading anything else, I opened Google and put in the sentence, in part, but not in whole. Immediately the article that was plagiarized appeared and I recognized the block quote in the paper as the block quote in the article, just from size and shape and the first three words. I went back to the paper and saw that, indeed, every word was taken in whole, not in part, from this source. And the source was an expert on the topic, writing on it in publication.

Then, after having seen that the entirety of the first page, in 12 point Palatino font, was from a single source, I thought to check the next page and see if it was from the same source. For the sake of the grade, it was irrelevant. The first page was sufficient to record a 0. But looking at the second page I discovered that the student wasn’t quite as blatant as to have stolen the whole from a single work; no, indeed the second page found two source unreferenced but completely plagiarized. One was, accurately enough, labeled echeat. The other, the second paragraph from that page and the first full paragraph from the page following, was what ought to have been a direct quote from And then the quoting from echeat again.

The plus is that the student at least found multiple sources to plagiarize, rather than foolishly lifting an article entire from its home on the net and dropping it into print space as his own. The negative, clearly, is that he didn’t do his own work, but took the excellent language and sometimes interesting suppositions of others’ work and claimed it as his own.

While I have students who are immigrants here who have established a formidable command of English, the student who thus plagiarized a work off the internet is not one such. Indeed, his written language skills are rudimentary, which flaws he is graced to brush off as “differences in English usage,” as if I did not know the minor contrivances that British English makes as opposed to American English.

I am appalled. And my grammar for this blog entry is stilted, playing muchly upon the stylistic tendencies of Liaden grammar. It allows me to rant and rave and yet appear slightly disaffected. I grant that I do not write with the correct melanti, but, I enjoyed the change of voice.

I instructed my students, not too long past, of the fact that as a younger student I had no particular voice and borrowed from whatever style I was presently reading. When an instructor at SLU chose to question my writing, and indeed accused me of plagiarism, I pointed him to my journal and the ever changing voices there, running as it did through the short sentence style of Louis L’Amour and the more involved and florid style of the regency romance author Georgette Heyer. (The latter of which reading, I am pleased to note, stood me in good stead as a graduate student reading in the nineteenth century. In fact, when a basic vocabulary was passed out to the class at the beginning, there were only two words listed in it which I did not already have a firm grasp upon. Truly, no reading is wasted, though others may think it so.)

When we were discussing it in class, I submitted to them that I might well have been plagiarizing, though I knew it not. And I gave them examples, such as have recently been seen on the net from Red America’s plagiarizing. My students have, as had I in the far distant past, been told that borrowing some words, or indeed the pattern of phraseology, was not plagiarism. I think that no one thought to tell us that borrowing an analogy, for example, even if we re-phrased it in a manner uniquely our own, was in fact plagiarism. I told them that no one was likely to come out with my example, since the paper was long gone into a trash heap somewhere, but that they should avoid even the semblance of plagiarism. If there is any doubt, I told them, attribute. It may be that a job later on is dependent upon your attributions.

And, even more sad, to my personal discommodance, is the fact that I must drop a note of apology to Scheiss Weekly, since I was perfectly convinced that my excellent lectures on the subject precluded my receiving any plagiarism, when, in fact, it is most likely the quality of my students alone that has preserved me in the past from such blatant theft.