Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cheaters never prosper (I wish)

Caravaggio The Cardcheats

I was up late last night grading quizzes and trying not to lose my faith in the next generation. I came across several examples of blatant plagiarism, something that always surprises me, then depresses me and then makes me just plain mad. There’s a scene in a movie (I’m a bit sleep deprived so I can’t remember which one – is it Family Man?) where an angel is pretending to be a clerk at a convenience store and he deliberately gives someone back too much change just to see what he’ll do. The person glances at the money, realizes that it is too much, and then pockets the bills and walks out of the store. The angel says something along the lines of “They are willing to sell their souls so cheaply.” That’s how I feel when I find a student cheating. Why sell your integrity for a grade on a piece of paper? It’s not worth the exchange.

As much as I’d love to spend the morning ranting (and quoting statistics) about what I fear is a rampant trend, I’ve decided instead to take the high road and find a way to make a profit from it. I’m preparing a book proposal for the first edition of Cheating for Dummies. And this book really will be for dummies since the smart ones never cheat, or if they do, they are good at it and certainly don’t need my advice.

How to cheat – stupid style

1. Avoid attending class as much as possible, flunk the midterm, and prove yourself incapable of stringing together a complete sentence on any of the first assignments. Then on your next quiz be sure to steal a few juicy lines like “The sublime natural world, embraced by Romanticism as a source of unrestrained emotional experience for the individual, initially offers characters the possibility of spiritual renewal.” Your teacher is so vain that she will actually think your sudden transformation from Bart Simpson into John Steinbeck is due to her expert tutelage.

2. By all means, if you’re going to risk your academic standing and embrace the dangerous, adrenalin-filled life of a plagiarizer, do it on a little bitty quiz that is worth 8 points.

3. Don’t bother with creativity when it comes to picking your internet sources. Go straight to Your teacher will never think of looking there.

4. If you have an assignment to read a 15 page short story, save yourself all that trouble. Hunt for a while until you find a good synopsis online, then read the 8 web pages that summarize the plot, the 6 that discuss characterization, and the 3 that suggest themes and symbols. Cut and paste the phrases you like and spend some time deleting the ?extra characters^* that websites use now to make online plagiarism more difficult to detect. Take a few minutes to add some deliberate typos to throw off the scent. Then turn in your paper with one hand and use the other to pat yourself on the back for doing things the easy way.

5. If you have an assignment to write a 3 page response to a campus production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, no one will ever suspect you stayed home to watch Lost if you turn in a 10 page single-spaced biography of Shakespeare. Close enough.

6. If you are going to copy your roommate’s answers, be sure to sit right next to her in class so when you pass in your assignments, yours will be right after hers. This will never give you away since your teacher will be grading at 2am and will not notice the word-for-word identical answers. Either that or she will attribute them to a case of déjà vu.

7. When caught, play dumb (as indeed you are). Practice saying this line with a straight face: “Oh, so you use that ultra picky definition of plagiarism? I thought plagiarism was only when you beat another student unconscious on your way to class and steal their paper so you can pass it off as your own. It’s just an simple difference of opinion.”

Hmmm. Perhaps I need to cool off a bit before I head to class – you know, calm down, take a deep breath, and wipe the venom from my fangs.


Anonymous said...

This is great! You don't mind if I copy it into one of my posts, right? I'll take that as a yes. Thanks! I'm running low on content.

I mean it's not like I'm doing it for a school assignment or something.
See, boys and girls? See how stupid that seems? Things are way different out here in the real world.

Or should be, at least. No I think you should go in with venom on full strength.

scribbit said...

You crack me up. My one attempt at cheating--and it wasn't really cheating but I felt like I was doing something wrong--was when I had English 251 and turned in a paper on Blake that got a high A. When I had another class a semester or two later and found myself up against a deadline and another paper on Blake due I used the same paper and turned it in for a second grade. The thing is, I had the same professor for both classes and I must have thought he was as dumb as I was. He never said anything, but gave me a C the second time around. I felt totally cheated, if it's an A the first time, why not an A the second? But I couldn't exactly go and argue the point with him after being so sneaky.

Julie said...

Thanks, I totally needed a good laugh. Hey, I think you've got something here. Maybe I can go into business with my own website: I could create a bunch of generic posts and people could pay me to "borrow" them and insert their own kids names in the blanks. I'll make millions. Or has it already been done?

That's a great story/confession. I always wonder if students are turning in papers to me that they've used in other classes. I'm a fairly kind grader (can you believe that?) so they probably wish they could take my grade to their other teacher and argue for a higher one. But like you say, they can't admit what they've done. Ha.

meno said...

I have to tell you this story about cheating. My dad was a professor at a University in the late 70s when there was a serial killer of children running amok in Atlanta (i think his name was Wayne Williams). One of my dad's students brought in a newspaper article showing that his little brother had been one of the victims and that's why he was too upset to take the midterm. Turns out that the student had forged the article.
All that creativity used for ill. If only he had put that much effort into the damn class.

Great post.

TARA said...

Those of us who generally strive to be honest and who have tried cheating a time or two generally feel a lot of angst afterwards. I always wonder about the frequent cheaters. Do they ever feel guilty - even years later?

And how that you're primed for my confession, here goes! The summer before high school a friend and I took a computers class. We learned some very primitive programming but mostly goofed around while the dork teacher did nothing. As we reached the last days of the class and had lots of assignments yet to do, I came up with my brilliant (so I thought!) plan. I took a lengthy assignment I had already completed, ripped off the top page and turned it in again. Once that was graded I ripped of the top page and turned it in again. And I did it again. And again and again. You get the idea. The teacher never noticed, and in my young mind I probably thought that justified my actions. Trouble is, I still feel guilty about it whenever I think of it.

(Great post, Jules! I'm a daily reader and lay claim to being your biggest fan - outside family - though I don't comment often. Plus, I figure I get credit for being friends with you for as long as your dearly departed thesaurus!)

Heth said...

HA!That was great.

Julie said...

NO. WAY. Great story. I get all kinds of suspicious excuses (another one this week although I never know when a student may read my blog so I'll not go into details) but never the serial killer got my brother. For shame!

You are forgiven my child. Go your way and sin no more. I do wonder if the frequent offenders even have a conscience left. They live in denial long enough that they don't feel it.... (didn't I write about this already?)

Thanks for being president of my fan club :)

Casey said...

I disrupted a crefully orchestrated cheat one time in a 091 class. I was irritated that they wouldn't at least try in a class that I was struggling with. Then I had to ask, who cheats in a remedial class? That's just a good way to shoot youself in the foot.


Julie said...

Thanks. It was actually quite cathartic to write.

Good for you (both for exposing the ruffian and for puting forth the effort yourself). I suspect people who cheat do it in every context: remedial classes, advanced classes, religion classes....

Bernita said...

Think idiots who cheat need full-strength vemon.

Julie said...

Thanks Bernita. I'll try to avoid getting any on myself in the process. Confronting these students always upsets me. I want to be their mother, their preacher, their teacher and their executioner all at the same time.

Anonymous said...

ROFL. In my opinion, repeate offenders (maybe first time offenders, depending on the circumstances) should be expelled for cheating. It's just ridiculous.

But is it cheating if you turn in your own work more than once? For example, when I studied abroad at Oxford, I had to write two ten-page papers every week. I know I used at least one of the papers as a chapter in my senior thesis when I came home, on the thought that since it was my own work, it didn't really count as cheating. But judging from your comments, I guess I'm a cheater too. Oops. Maybe I should have been expelled.

Anonymous said...

*typo* REPEAT

Went to Oxford, but still can't spell. Or proofread, apparently.

Julie said...

Technically (at least according to our honor code where I teach) it is cheating to "double dip" with a paper, but only if you don't have prior approval (and I mention this the first day of class). But I do think it isn't as horrible a crime as those cases of blatant internet theft. At least you're using your own ideas (twice).

The Lazy Organizer said...

I think there was one class that I cheated in but I can't even remember what it was. Guess that shows how badly I felt about the whole thing. Or mayby I have just repented of it already!

I would hate to be you and have to confront the cheaters. Have fun with that!

Kimberly said...

You are hilarious! And I think you ought to publish your rant. If not a book, maybe a handbook for colleges/universities? =P

Annie said...

Julie...I found you at Scribbet and how wonderful I did!! Great post on cheating -- so good, in fact, I've copied it and emailed it to one of my kids in college! (That's okay, right?)

You are a writer. Plain and simple. And a good one at that! I tell Scribbit that and it now applie to you also. Write girl! Write!! When a post makes you laugh and remember and want more -- it's good writing!! P.S. I never cheated like kids do nowadays. I think probably because I always had so much to say I never needed to use someone else's words! LOL

edj said...

Oh my. You have touched on a subject near and dear to my heart! My students are horrible cheaters and worst of all? It's so common in their culture, that they view my ravings with mild amusement and not much else. Also, to give them some benefit, they really aren't taught how not to plagiarize, although thankfully that's changing with some new professors this year.
But your students have no such excuse!
I love the my-brother-was-a-victim excuse too. I usually get the my-mother-died or my-cousin-was-in-hospital variety myself. Much less creative.
I have some funny plagiarism stories; if you like I'll email them to you or link you to the blog posts.