When a Teacher Plagiarizes

I have made the assertion that there are people that I have plagiarized in my life. There’s my uncle Mike, who was a teacher like I am now. There was Ed who we lost this past year whose life will always be a living example of what I try and do. Both men have/had something I wanted and wore life the way I want to wear it. So, I copied them. And they let me.

But that is not the type of plagiarism that I am talking of in this post.

To “plagiarize” someone’s actions and traits is simply emulating those people – doing what they do in life situations, acting as they would act, prioritizing as they would, and proactively acting on situations as they would.

There are artists and athletes who idolize and emulate practices that their heroes have done in the past. It’s a form of respect and admiration.

But I want to talk about plagiarism in its denotative sense.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary gives the simple definition of plagiarism as:

“: the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person : the act of plagiarizing something.”

“Words” or “Ideas.” Passing them off as your own.

Vanilla Ice will forever be associated with a “hit song” that literally lifted a bass line from a collaborative effort from Queen and David Bowie, both legends in musical arts. “Ice, Ice, Baby” still plays every so often on the radio and when I hear it, I think of what an interesting tool it is to teach students about plagiarism. That, and it’s stupid to infringe on the work of icons who literally span generations with their art.

What Vanilla Ice did and what Robin Thicke was found guilty of recently is called copyright infringement. It is nothing more than plagiarism – taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own.

Plagiarism might one of the worst offenses a professional can commit in many fields, especially if it deals with writing, research, or education.

Imagine if a journalist, novelist, speechwriter, speaker (Melania Trump), or any other professional who uses words for a living were caught intentionally plagiarizing. It could be the death knell for a career.

But for the case of a high school teacher, conscious plagiarizing can be even more egregious.

And there are reasons why and it has to do with the role of a high school teacher and the state of respect that is afforded to high school teachers in general in today’s society.

If a student commits an act of academic infringement on a paper or simply “copy and pastes” an assignment from a website or another source without giving credit, the punishment can be quick and severe.

  • A “0” for the assignment.
  • Suspension
  • Revocation of a recommendation to the student’s top college selection.
  • A reputation.
  • A spot on a record that can be checked.
  • Loss of trust.
  • Class rank loss.

There are even instances when the student has committed academic infringement and another student, jealous of the offending student’s recent acceptance to a college, calls the college and gives the admissions board a tip to check.

Get caught plagiarizing in college and you are expelled. No refunds.

Yes, it’s happened. There exists that kind of competition in high schools, the same competition that may tempt a student to get “help” from someplace else.

But if a teacher does this type of action then much worse can result because it is not an infringement that occurred; it’s a besmirching of a profession that not only takes extreme pride in the pursuit of intellectual honesty, but promotes that very same honesty and integrity in students and their work. In fact, the profession calls for teachers to expect that intellectual honesty from students.

We as teachers must practice that intellectual honesty because we are setting a standard for students to emulate (or “plagiarize” in a way) in the future.

To commit conscious plagiarism is giving students the very permission to do the same because an example has been set. And it undermines the integrity of the profession and the very teachers who spend enormous amounts of time making sure they are grading and helping students create better ORIGINAL works.

When a teacher plagiarizes someone else’s work and words it also works against the respect that today’s teachers are fighting so hard to gain and maintain. There is an election in less than three weeks that literally can change the terrain for public education and create a change in momentum for how the public respects teachers.

An instance of plagiarism by a teacher does not help this one bit, especially if it was done intentionally with deliberate tactics for a large audience who may be deciding on whom to vote.

Simply put, it weakens a profession.

And angers me to no end.

Meredith McIver’s Apology Letter for Melania Trump’s Plagiarism – The First Draft

The_Trump_Organization_Logo

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

My name is Meredith McIver and I am the scapegoat for the plagiarism scandal surrounding Melania Trump and her speech on the opening night of the 2016 Republican National Convention.

I know I have severely disappointed all of you. I have made you question who I am and how I have done the things I did. I am embarrassed that I have put you in this position. For all that I have done, I am so sorry. I have a lot to atone for (1).

I do not plan in any way to whitewash my sin. I do not call it a mistake, a mendacity; I call it sin. I would much rather, if possible — and in my estimation it would not be possible — to make it worse than less than it actually is. I have no one but myself to blame. I do not lay the fault or the blame of the charge at anyone else’s feet. For no one is to blame but Meredith McIver. I take the responsibility. I take the blame. I take the fault (2).

I see the anger in people, betrayal, it’s all there. People who believed in me and supported me and they have every right to feel betrayed and it’s my fault and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologize to people (3).

In my business, when you make a writing error, you’re expected to make a writing error, it’s accepted. My error was much more serious. I made an error of judgment (4).

Michelle Obama’s speech was the best of this decade!!!! I’m sorry to the Trumps if I let you guys down!!!! I’m sorry to my friends at Trump Organization. I will apologize to Mrs. Obama 2mrw. Welcome to the real world!!!! Everybody wanna booooo me but I’m a fan of real good speeches!!! No disrespect but we watchin’ the show at the crib right now cause … well you know!!!! I’m still happy for Melania!!!! Boooyaaawwww!!!! You are very very talented!!! That’s what it is!!!!!!! I’m not crazy y’all, i’m just real. Sorry for that!!! I really feel bad for Melania and I’m sincerely sorry!!! Much respect!!!!! (5)

Sincerely,

Meredith McIver

 

 

 

 

  1. (Tiger Woods – http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/02/19/tiger.woods.transcript/).
  2. (Jimmy Swaggart – http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jswaggartapologysermon.html)
  3. (Lance Armstrong – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/cycling/lancearmstrong/9810801/Lance-Armstrongs-interview-with-Oprah-Winfrey-the-transcript.html).
  4. Bernie Madoff – http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/06/29/bernie-madoffs-apology.html
  5. (Kanye West – http://www.mtv.com/news/1621410/kanye-west-apologizes-to-taylor-swift-for-vma-rant/

What Jay Z Could Teach Melania Trump

Imagine reading this post while listening to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” (1) in the background. Or better yet, in case you want to ponder this post’s words with more time, put in Robin Thicke’s last album (2).

Four score and seven minutes ago (3), I watched a video of Melania Trump’s speech last night at the opening night of the Republican National Convention held in Cleveland, Ohio which is in Cuyahoga (4) County, the most staunch democratic party stronghold in Ohio.

Allow me to frame my watching the video. It has to do with the claims for plagiarism in Mrs. Trump’s speech. And as an English teacher and AP instructor, I would have to write a “D-1” (a discipline referral) for this particular instance. Why? Because it is flat-out plagiarism.

Look at the transcripts of Mrs. Trump’s speech aligned with what Michelle Obama said at the 2008 Democratic National Convention when her husband was to become the nominee. (The excerpt was taken from CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/19/politics/melania-trump-michelle-obama-speech/index.html). I don’t want to be accused of plagiarizing myself.

Here is Melania Trump, on Monday:

“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily lives. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son,” Trump said.

And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

And here is Michelle Obama, on August 25, 2008:

“And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.

And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and to pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

Of course, the Trump campaign tried to dissolve the accusations and the controversy by citing the similarities of the message that Mrs. Trump was conveying as a mother who has worked hard to become who she is. Trump’s campaign presented Melania as someone who came to this country as an immigrant, looked at America, told it to tear down its walls (5) of any xenophobia, made something of herself, and prospered because she thought that America was a place where the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and the wretched refuse of its teeming shore could come (6).

Yet, it is not the blatant use of the First Lady’s words that really boggles me. It is the arena in which it was done, the context of the delivery, and the surrounding drama of the RNC.

On a day where speakers were attacking the present administration over security issues like terrorism, Benghazi, and schisms between law enforcement and citizens, the eyes and ears of America were very focused on Mrs. Trump’s speech. Even those who do not want Trump as president in any way shape or form (like many at the RNC) wish to see and hear what original ideas that Trump may have for “Making America Great Again (7).”

People want to see what makes Trump someone who is different, someone who can create a brave, new world (8), someone who can help us be free and show that America is free from the mighty mountains of New York to the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania and from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado to the curvaceous slopes of California (9).

But in many ways Mrs. Trump failed because the words she used were not even original.

And that speaks volumes and may make this a day that lives in infamy (10) rather than one that lives in victory.

One of the lessons that I try and impart to my students deals with plagiarism and originality. I tell them that you must give credit to those whose words and ideas you use. If you do not, then it is plagiarism. Just ask Vanilla Ice or Robin Thicke. It can ruin your credibility professionally speaking, especially if you are a writer or an artist.

Melania Trump could have taken a lesson from the social icon Jay Z. Yep, Sean Carter.

Artists like Jay Z give credit where credit is due. It’s called sampling in the music industry. One is not just copying another’s work, but rather putting a new twist on that work creating a new experience and still giving credit where credit is due. (Shakespeare did the same thing, but in his time it was allowed to happen without giving credit, but then again he never really owned his own plays.)

If Mrs. Trump wanted to use Michelle Obama’s words to show her own story, then she should have given the First Lady credit for the words but then showed how those words applied more to her own story than to that of the FLOTUS.

That would be original. Then Donald could come do what Donald does best which is wear iconic baseball hats that he makes more famous than any other Yankee can (11) and then show how everyone can leave his/her hard knock life (12) to live long and prosper (13).

 

Footnotes:

  1. The song “Ice, Ice Baby” stole the central riff from “Under Pressure” which is a song by Queen and David Bowie.
  2. Robin Thicke was just found guilty of plagiarizing literally many rhythms from Marvin Gaye.
  3. “Four score and seven years ago” – Abraham Lincoln from The Gettysburg Address.
  4. “Cuyahoga” is a damn good song from the Life’s Rich Pageant album by R.E.M.
  5. “Tear down this wall!” – Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall
  6. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – Emma Lazurus from “The New Colossus”.
  7. “Let’s Make America Great Again” – Ronald Reagan campaign slogan.
  8. “Brave, new world” – Shakespeare from The Tempest.
  9. “Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. from “I Have a Dream”.
  10. “A day that will live in infamy” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.
  11. “I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.” – Jay Z from “Empire State of Mind”.
  12. “It’s a hard knock life!” – from the musical Annie, later sampled by Jay Z in “Hard Knock Life”.
  13. “Live long and prosper.” – Dr. Spock from Star Trek.