Monday, June 27, 2016

The Politicization of Plagiarism

Private property began the instant somebody had a mind of his own. 

- E.E. Cummings 

Good morning. I know, I know. Three cheers for the lamest, least enticing blog post title ever. 

I feel like last week was a big week even though I didn't do much. The only thing concrete I can say I accomplished was taking Reagan to get a few pre-Kindergarten shots, &, yes, making a little headway on my research paper.

Reagan found this compass on the floor in the doctor's waiting room. Before we took a selfie with it, I did scrub her hands & the compass thoroughly.

Just y'all wait. One day soon I will wear make-up, & I will take a picture to prove it.

The wait was a little longer than Reagan or I expected, given that we were only seeing the shot nurse.

Post-shots celebration at CC's. 

Have you been to the new CC's in Monroe? Their coffee is better than Starbucks. I am a coffee purist. I will drink a latte from Starbucks, but their coffee is usually too strong for me, so strong, in fact, that I feel forced to temper it with milk or cream or something. CC's medium roast is really fantastic. Coffee need not be polluted with anything; it smells and tastes best in its natural state, hot & a little bitter. Also, & I don't want to spark a bathroom debate, but CC's has two separate, gender-segregated restrooms, which I prefer to the one restroom, one toilet situation in Starbucks because, well, men splatter pee everywhere. I mean politics aside, strangers' urine is not cool.

To include Henry (& offer proof that I am maintaining standards of basic hygiene) here are a few pics Henry took one day while I sat with my recently washed hair in a towel, as one does when it's too hot to contemplate the blow dryer:

Aside from the shots, I can't recall much else about last week, at least not outside of working on my research paper, & a couple of political bombshells. Normally there's nothing much happening in late June. It's too hot. Naturally since I have a paper due soon & should devote each day's few free moments to that, the Congressional Democrats held a sit-in (I use that term loosely . . . there was a buffet) all day Wednesday & then, AND. THEN., in their wisest & bravest move since electing Margaret Thatcher, the people of Britain turned out in droves to voice their displeasure with the unfeeling bureaucrats who run the European Union. To those who don't follow politics, this is like the Super Bowl spontaneously happening.  

John Lennon was wrong, y'all. You don't want to live in a world in which all the people are living for today, & there are no countries, & there are no possessions. The tip off should be the part about, "no need for greed or hunger . . ." & everyone "sharing all the world." People are greedy; people don't share well. It's human nature. Possessions are good. Countries are good. Individual families are good. Local government is good. Bureaucrats hundreds & hundreds of miles away in Brussels are bad. France is already insisting on a new British Prime Minister, but that is not your call to make, France; this insistence highlights one of the myriad of reasons the British freed themselves. I am so bloody happy for them.

That this vote was so contentious & so much hate has been spewed is unfortunate. I despise the fact that anyone who sees value in sovereign nations determining their own course is labelled a racist.  You oppose borders? Unlock your front door. Throw it open. Then we'll talk about how evil borders are. Should the Canadian Prime Minister tell us when to hold elections? Should U.S. tax dollars be pooled with Canadian & Mexican tax dollars, & then distributed as a small group of people who lead the North American Union see fit? Do you see? More government is never the answer. Ever.  
Those who readily label their political opponents racists do not throw open the doors to their homes, share their possessions, encourage the collective pooling of resources; they espouse a Utopian vision of collectivism that is funded by someone else, where the homeless are housed somewhere else, where someone else foots the massive bill that comes when people are "sharing all the world." The European Union is a mess, & everyone knows it. 

Were I in charge (of the world, of course, not just the EU), I'd send every solider home, seal off every border, tell everyone to stay put, & solve their own problems. We, the nations of the Western world, have been in the Middle East for decades. Nothing is changing, aside from our debt rising & our soldiers dying. We cannot handle our affairs at home, but decade after decade, we are so pompous as to think we're going to solve problems in the Middle East that have plagued that region for centuries. They were fighting over there, torturing & killing homosexuals & Christians, demeaning & beating women, long before America even existed.

We are so cowardly & so obsessed with political correctness that we won't even acknowledge the issues in the Middle East are religious in nature, & that's putting it mildly. If our leaders are not even willing to say that, they ought to have the decency to stop sending men & women over there to - what? - babysit? Force democracy down their throats? The dominant religion in that part of the world is openly hostile to democracy. They're not fans of women doing much at all, much less voting. Until we're prepared to address the root of the problem, bring our soldiers home. We are attempting to fix deeply entrenched cultural & religious issues with political & military solutions, & it is not going well. Until someone has a better plan, bring home these men with wives & children who miss them & pray constantly for their safe return. 

So there's my foreign policy: everyone go to your room, calm down, & work out your own problems, because I am not mediating. I am not footing the bill. I am done. Britain is done. France is, well France is silly & will likely to continue to make some poor choices. We already do business with governments who allow, & sometimes order, heinous acts, so the argument that we have to stay in other nations for human rights reasons is null; we turn a blind eye to plenty of human rights issues, both abroad & right here at home. Our president just travelled to Cuba & posed for pictures in front of a mural of Che Guevara for Pete's sake. We do plenty of business with governments who sanction horrific things. Our own veterans are dying in our streets, we are nineteen trillion dollars in debt, & yet anyone who suggests we prioritize these items & maybe, maybe, not throw open the doors to the world's poor is labelled an insensitive racist.

We are not the world police, regardless of what John McCain & Lindsey Graham think; we can't right all the wrongs, house the world, feed & clothe & provide medical care to the world. It's just not possible. We can cry about it & call people unfeeling racists, but it doesn't change the logistics. The people of Britain have been slapped in the face with the logistics over the past few years, & they said, "No more." I applaud their decision. It's obviously lit something of a fire under me. I mean, they fought two world wars in order to throw off the Germans; you can't blame them for again saying, "No, no, we don't have to check with Germany first before making decisions." 

I don't have the time to delve much further into this, however it does relate to the topic for my research paper. No, really. Nice lead-in, right?

There is an episode of The Golden Girls in which Dorothy reconnects with her former high school English teacher on whom she once had a crush. His name is Malcolm Gordon. He insists she call him Malcolm, but of course throughout the episode she giggles incessantly & refers to him as Mr. Gordon.

As the episode progresses, it becomes apparent that Mr. Gordon, who is now a reporter, has sought Dorothy out primarily because he needs some help writing an article he's been assigned. I'll spare you some of the details & tell you that the episode concludes with Dorothy reading the published copy of Mr. Gordon's article, & sadly realizing that he essentially submitted an article she wrote, but he didn't add her name.

I'm in the middle of writing my research paper, which, if you haven't guessed (or noticed me whining about it on Facebook), is about plagiarism. We were given free rein over our research topic, so long as it relates to teaching college composition. A few of the articles we were assigned to read deal with plagiarism, & they led me to a few additional articles I found interesting, & thus a research topic was born.

In the midst of my fervor over the British asserting themselves, I was writing a little, & still digging for more material, & I found the research equivalent of the perfect pair of jeans. The title of the article is, "Imagine No Possessions: Librarians, the Net-Generation Student, and the Imminent Victory of Plagiarism." Swoon.  

Plagiarism is a plague on the academic community at present. Technology has changed not only how easy it is to plagiarize, but it has & continues to change students' ideas about plagiarism. What I am attempting (slowly, with many interruptions) to argue is that plagiarism is not as simple as students knowingly breaking the rules. It is more than a morals (or lack thereof) problem. 

Thanks in part to the Internet, students' ideas about intellectual property are often skewed. Many do not understand that in the same way a piece of land can be owned, words & ideas can be owned, & thus must be used with the author's permission, or, at a minimum, used only when the author is given proper credit for his or her work. Students entering college today have no memory of digging through a card catalog & locating, photocopying, & citing a source; they've never, in some cases, put their hands on a hard copy of anything. Their limited knowledge of research is of finding things online, & many do not grasp that what they find online is attributable to a person, & that person's work is often copyrighted.

In addition to the double-edged research sword of the Internet muddying the citation waters, attempting to teach students about intellectual property often flies in the face of what they see around them, & what they're hearing elsewhere in academia. George Germek, the author of the article I mentioned above, argues that plagiarism is evolving, & there is a dangerous, "growing cultural acceptance" of the practice. He throws down the gauntlet early in the article, citing known plagiarizers such as Joe Biden & Doris Kearns Goodwin (she's a presidential biographer) (I hope you know who Joe Biden is).

In addition to public figures who have knowingly plagiarized, Germek discusses what I suspected he might when I read the beginning of the title of his article (Imagine No Possessions . . . ), & that is a  sometimes not-so-subtle push to move away from the traditional definition of plagiarism, & even, as one Syracuse University faculty member whom Germek quotes suggests, "discard the term plagiarism altogether," because of the politicized connotations of the word. I know. I know. Someone in the English department get this woman a copy of 1984.

I agree with Germek when he asserts that the growing cultural acceptance of plagiarism in colleges and universities, "is threatening academic integrity on global levels." We've progressed (& I use that word to mean what it usually does, which is regressed) from trophies for participation to assigning no Fs because they harm self-esteem to PhDs arguing that we eliminate the word plagiarism from our vocabulary because it is laden with negative connotations. While we're at it, let's ditch failing and thievery, since that is essentially what plagiarizing is.

I have an editor who went to some trouble to see if I might be allowed to use the words of others. This collectivism mindset regarding copyrighted material in academia does not seem to have spilled over into the publishing world, & I doubt it does, as authors, regardless of their politics, are fiercely protective of their work, & rightly so.

Academics are cutting off their noses to spite their faces with this issue. Some are apparently willing to undermine the credibility of their own (degree-granting) academic institutions in exchange for the adoption of a new (& laughably ridiculous) way to view plagiarism, beginning with not using the word plagiarism. The degrees they confer will become worthless when it is discovered that their honors students cannot write, cannot form their own original thoughts, but can merely copy & paste, & were taught to do so without crediting their sources.

Buried under the heap of discourse on this matter is the fact that it is a grave injustice to allow students to believe artfully rearranging others' words is writing; the process of writing is an act of creation, just like painting. You learn things in the process, about your subject matter, about yourself, about your medium, & that process cannot be replicated or appreciated when inferior substitutes are allowed to pass as "writing."

Technology no doubt plays a role in muddying the waters on this subject. People often (erroneously) assume if something is online, it is (or should be) free, & students easily make the leap from free to free to use as my own. Technology is not, however, the biggest hurdle in the uphill plagiarism battle. Clearly, in my opinion, more dangerous than technology are those openly advocating for the erasure of lines that delineate intellectual property, the author(s) of which must be credited.

Lines are good. Boundaries are good. Borders are good. Property is good, be it physical or intellectual. When you're sharing all the world, all the world becomes worthless. If I could slap my name on A Farewell to Arms & legally suffer no ramifications, I'd be really tempted to do that. It is a well written book. I could likely convince a few folks I really did write it. It'd be fun until Hemingway's estate came after me, which, given his communist sympathies, would admittedly be ironic.

I didn't think I could find a way to turn my enthusiasm over Britain's recent reclamation of its sovereignty into a research topic, but it appears I have done that, & I admit it's one of my greater academic feats. How great exactly remains to be seen.

I hope to have a few words for you next Monday; I'll either be in a euphoric mood, or I'll be completely panicked as my July 6th deadline nears & will likely say Hi & simply ask for prayers & volunteers to babysit.  


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