Thoughts From The Corner
Some 1,500 years ago the Chinese scribe Zu Rong wrote:
An author’s literary productions should be his own,
and in form and style should constitute a style of their own.
How can an author be content to be as others are?
So, it would seem, plagiarism was rife in the competitive world of the Chinese civil service. I guess, if the option was to enter the Emperor’s service as a eunuch, then who wouldn’t attempt to copy from the guy at the next desk!
I once learnt lessons in both tact and learning to watch one’s back. I was taking a day class of adults preparing for their GCSE English exam. The class consisted mainly of females. Young mothers who put their children into the college creche and elder ladies who had ‘time on their hands’. To the inexperienced English teacher, spotting two similar essays may not be that easy. To the experienced tutors it rarely presents much of a challenge. Some attempts to cheat are so blatant that I have been presented with word-for-word copies. Surprisingly, the names at the top were different!
We were several months into the course and the class was going swimmingly. I had established a positive rapport with the class members, good work was being produced and we were progressing nicely through the syllabus. Each week I gave them a homework task and returned the marked work from the previous week.
On one occasion, I had marked two pieces of work that showed obvious plagiarism. I commented on the papers where duplication had occurred. I wrote, ‘Same as ?’ on each paper, changing the question mark for their respective names , each time there was copying. I did not approach either of the students with my concerns – big mistake!
Several days later I was summoned to my manager’s office. One of the ladies (the one who had not copied) had written a letter of complaint to the college principal.
From that day forth there was a frosty atmosphere in the classroom and we were all relieved when examination time came and neither of our paths would cross again.
So, what had I learnt? Firstly, problems are better dealt with face to face rather than on paper and secondly, you never know where the next dagger in your back will come from. . .
Now, of course, we poor mortals of English teachers, Sociology tutors and the like, all have access to computer software that can tell us how ‘similar’ two pieces of work are. How pleasant to have to not think!