Who are You Cheating?


Research is well underway in one of my 12th-grade classes, so the subject of plagiarism was only a matter of time. Most times I deal with this indirectly because I do not make the assumption that my students willingly cheat, but when my co-teacher and I presented a mini-lesson today on quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing all of which require citation, the students started in with the questions.

“What’s the big deal about citing?”

“So what if I don’t cite my information?”

“Is cheating that big of a deal?”

Mrs. Ridgeway and I told stories of students we knew who had been kicked out of college for copying and pasting parts of a paper without giving credit to the original source, turning in someone else’s work as his own, and even a high school student taken to an honor council for turning in a paper without proper citation. Our students initially thought the stories were false; there’s no way this could really be true. They then went on to say how “stupid” and “ridiculous” high schools and universities are over plagiarism and cheating in general. Some stated that if this happened to them, they would be irate, challenge the system, and even sue. I don’t want to give the impression that this was a hostile conversation with our students – far from it. This was an open, honest, and friendly discussion about academic integrity, yet I came away amazed and saddened at how many of the next generation think cheating is not that big of a deal.

And it’s not just my class. Earlier this week I received an email for a teacher at a private school who is now requiring students to sign a statement saying they have read the assigned novel. A teacher from another discipline came to me today asking what the English department policy is on plagiarism. Another colleague also told me today about some of her students cheating on a homework assignment. These conversations are daily occurrences not just my school but at schools in general.

So what is the big deal?

Plagiarism is more than words on a page; it is stealing what someone else has written.

Academic integrity is more than cheating on an exam; it is cheating one’s self from learning.

Reading Spark Notes in place of reading a book is more than just getting by; it is a lie.

The big deal is that stealing, cheating, and lying in the smallest increments are big deals because they affect personal integrity. I, along with most of my colleagues, ask that parents support us as we promote academic integrity in our classrooms. We are being sticklers on these issues because little things matter in the classroom but more importantly in life.

How can you as a parent or educator reinforce academic integrity with your student(s)?

Picture from Creative Commons Wikipedia user Hariadhi

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