The Problem at Piper

Here is another little bit of the college experience for those of you who like this sort of thing. For those of you who don’t, just skip it and move on to something else. This week in my college writing class we were asked to read this article, “School Cheating Scandal Tests a Town’s Values.” Once we had done that were were to go onto the discussion boards and answer three questions about plagiarism and its consequences within the context of the article. I don’t think you’re missing anything if I don’t include the questions. I think you can extrapolate the questions from my answers.

Straight out of the gate this article stamps its definition of plagiarism on this piece. “School Cheating Scandal Tests a Town’s Values,” immediately characterizes plagiarism as cheating and as something that reflects a lack of ethics. It continues by referring to students who have “stolen sections of their botany projects off the internet” and refers to papers which are “laced with lifted material.” The article pulls few punches as it repeatedly defines plagiarism as breaking the rules, as cheating, and as a lack of integrity. It goes on to point out the consequences of such abhorrent behavior on students, teachers, and the community as a whole.

The initial consequence of plagiarism was a grade of zero on the paper for guilty students. Confused and angry students complained to their parents, who in turn complained to the school board. And even after the school board responded to public pressure by forcing the teacher to redact those grades, give partial credit, and reduce the weight of the project on each student’s grade, the larger consequences still affected the school and the community. Angry parents, who would not believe their children had cheated, set the school board against the teacher. Teachers, angry that the board would interfere in their classrooms and undermine their authority, submitted their resignations. The whole matter caught the attention of the news media and became a worldwide news story, which had the consequence of tarnishing the reputation of the school and the town.

Despite students and parents feeling that they had won, the greater consequences have weighed heavily on the community. Other schools have begun to point at Piper as a cheaters school, where grades are malleable, and its students have been singled out for scrutiny as they move onward in their education. At least one company has said they will not hire these students. The students have been left feeling as if they have been ”stamped with a large purple P on their foreheads for plagiarism.”

My reaction is less to the initial incident and more to the events that followed. I firmly believe that the students and the parents were well aware of what was expected of them from this project. The teacher sent an outline of the assignment home with students for the parents to sign that explicitly stated, “Cheating and plagiarism will result in failure of the assignment and parent notification. It is expected that all work turned in by the student is completely their own.” The idea that when the student is caught cheating that the parents would petition the school board to reverse the grade is preposterous to me. The idea that they would be successful is unthinkable. These students were sophomores, and according to teachers referenced in the article, who began learning about plagiarism and citing papers in fourth grade. I’ll do the math for you and say, that’s six years of education saying, don’t do this thing. And I have to imagine that, as we are talking about high school, the definition of plagiarism is more than likely far laxer than it might be in an institution of higher learning or a professional environment.

I understand that as a parent you need to have your child’s back. I recognize that the school board is subject to the will of the people it serves. However, plagiarism is cheating and cheating is wrong. These are the lessons we are striving to teach our children: honesty, integrity, responsibility, and accountability. If these are not the lessons they are learning, we are failing them. Both the parents and the school board are in the wrong here and the actions of both infuriate me.