The result of my King Day post yesterday was a conversation on plagiarism (that continued as a private conversation)… King’s, not mine. I have yet to confirm (for myself) that King plagiarized, but I thought this was an appropriate time to discuss teaching a child about plagiarism.
I recently had the opportunity to teach my child about plagiarism. Recently, when President Gerald Ford’s funeral was televised, I allowed the children to spend the morning watching it, with one condition. They had to write an essay about the deceased president.
I was very impressed with my 12-year-old son’s paper, his thoughts flowed well, his vocabulary was impressive and he even included information in the essay of which I was not aware. Before proclaiming he had done an excellent job, I re-read the essay looking for signs that is was truly his. I discovered phrases that he uses in every day speech, and words I had heard him say before. There were no signs of foreign vocabulary and the writing style was consistent. Yes, while he gathered most of his information from the Internet, this essay was written in his own voice. It was his.
My 10-year-old daughter did not have it as easy. Her first and second draft reeked of plagiarism. The fact that online advertisement was embedded in the document that she emailed me was the first clue. I informed her that she was not allowed to copy from a website and call it hers. She tried again, but this time, there were still sentences and phrases that were clearly not hers. The style and complexity of the writing in parts of the essay screamed, “This was not written by a 10 year old”. This time, I handed her a piece of paper, sat her at the table, and told her to re-write what she had remembered, in her own words. While the final essay may have been short, it was most certainly sweet. She had written the information she had absorbed about President Ford in her own words.
In this day and age, it is often hard to not plagiarize. Personally, I have written hundreds of content pages for different websites and sold the rights to many. Therefore, when I write on the same subject, have to try my darnedest to be as original as possible, lest I plagiarize myself. This is no easy task, but to stay honest and legal it must be done.
While it may seem cruel to examine your children’s papers for signs of intellectual theft, you are actually doing them a favor. (The cool part about homeschooling is that you know your child well enough to spot sentences that are not theirs.) If you start this practice the very first paper your child writes you will weed out the chances of plagarism problems later. If and when you find signs of plagiarism, address them immediately, and explain the gravity of this offense on them and the person whose work is stolen. Yes, explain that plagiarism is theft, and theft is against the law.
They may not thank you later, but if you communicate this point well, they will never be embarrassed with accusations of plagiarism.