Teaching plagiarism - Macleans.ca

Teaching plagiarism

UPDATED: Saskatoon public schools to eliminate consequences for academic dishonesty


In an educational climate where red pens are chucked for coming off as confrontational and teachers are encouraged to use “brainshowering” over the more violent-sounding “brainstorming,” the Saskatoon Public School Board has gone overboard by eliminating penalties for plagiarism and missed deadlines.

Under a new evaluation method for report cards, Saskatoon public high school students will no longer face penalties for handing assignments in late or trying to pass off someone else’s work as their own. The idea, according to the board, is to shift focus from behaviour to learning. “We’re trying to keep the emphasis on the learning, not on the penalty,” John Dewar, a superintendent with Saskatoon Public Schools told the National Post. And so, students caught plagiarizing may not be penalized with a poor grade, but will instead could be required to redo the assignment.

Related: All your profs are wrong about plagiarism and The great university cheating scandal

Besides the whole—you know—culture of tolerance for fraudulence thing, the program will undoubtedly create unnecessary extra work for teachers. Not only will they have to mark subsequent drafts after detecting plagiarized assignments, but they will likely also face an influx of last-minute submissions if penalties are removed for lateness. After all, why should students aim for the due date if they can hold off handing in their “Principles of Intellectual Property” essay until just before report cards?

A similar, misguided policy was introduced in Ontario in 1999 but has since been reversed under new policy guidelines released this year. Saskatoon, however, is going ahead with its no-reprimand plan. “I don’t give late marks, or deduct marks if students are late,” Katie Kehrig, a Saskatoon teacher who supports the policy told CBC News. “I don’t give bonus marks. I don’t have participation marks. Those are behaviours.”

And so, out the door goes the idea of holistic learning. Kehrig and the Saskatoon school board have essentially deemed behavioural growth, an integral part of a child’s development, simply irrelevant within the classroom context. Students, therefore, are being given the message that they can copy, steal, slack off and lie without any consequences. Granted, a plagiarized assignment may have to be rewritten—but that’s only if the student gets caught.

So, shall we peg our bets on Saskatoon as the next breeding ground for disciplined, honest workers? The city where individuals leave school well-versed in the implications of dishonesty and the discipline to adhere to deadlines?

There’s no tolerance for cheating or plagiarism in the real world, and examples are everywhere. In 1998 a scandal erupted when journalist Stephen Glass was discovered to have fabricated countless investigative features for The New Republic. In 2007, Rapper Timbaland was involved in a plagiarism scandal concerning the motifs and samples of his collaborative track “Do It,” and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced a plagiarism accusation in a 2003 speech he delivered about the US-led invasion of Iraq. In those cases, Glass was fired and disgraced (though he later got a law degree and wrote a novel—go figure), Timbaland’s reputation was tarnished because of the plagiarism controversy and the Tory campaigner who wrote Harper’s speech was compelled to resign in 2008. And yet, the only words of caution we’re giving Saskatoon high schoolers is  ‘Whoopsies, try again?’

In any case, the buck will certainly stop for these students at the post-secondary level. While some university students still manage to get away with academic dishonesty, those caught cheating or plagiarizing are always subjected to some form of institutional slaughter. Whether it’s a failing mark, a spot on academic probation, or expulsion in some extreme cases, professors certainly will not shrug it off and ask a fraudster to try again. Many first-year students already struggle with academic integrity issues having never learned how to properly cite borrowed ideas; not exposing them to the consequences of plagiarism early will only exacerbate their difficulties.

The Saskatoon school board needs to realize it is ill-preparing its students for the real world. Cheating and missing deadlines simply won’t be tolerated, nevermind go without reprimand. So while the public school bubble may be romanticizing this latest win for ‘learning,’ its students, in the meantime, will be clipping posts off Wikipedia.

UPDATE: Plagiarism not tolerated in Sask after all


Teaching plagiarism

  1. “Students, therefore, are being given the message that they can copy, steal, slack off and lie without any consequences. ”

    Sounds like a perfect batch of future politicians

  2. As far as the Saskatoon Public System is concerned, perhaps they should tune in to country radio where they could sing along to the lyrics “if you don’t stand for nothing then you’ll fall for anything.” Why not go to the next logical step of issuing all students high school graduation certificates when they first enter school? Then we could quit pretending that graduation actually means something. Thank heaven my children have long since graduated and my grandchildren will never be exposed to Saskatoon Public Schools.

  3. As a former high-school teacher in Saskatoon and with two children in school in Saskatoon; this development sickens me. I am merely a parent now and will closely monitor the education my children receive and what they are being taught. When I believe that this no longer adheres to what I believe I will be pulling them out of the public school system and looking into other options like private school.

  4. well, a good portion of our public education system is focused on regurgitating bullshit anyways…

  5. I agree with Saskatoon’s approach. Punishment is counterproductive to educational goals. That is unless you want depressed, drug-altered zombies who don’t know how to think on their own … oh … wait a minute … maybe that is what they want …. {8o|

  6. Take a deep breath and re-read the first sentence.

    “In an educational climate where red pens are chucked for coming off as confrontational and teachers are encouraged to use “brainshowering” over the more violent-sounding “brainstorming,” the Saskatoon Public School Board has gone overboard by eliminating penalties for plagiarism and missed deadlines.”

    Why are the red pens being chucked for coming off as confrontational?

    I demand to know!

  7. Good for Saskatoon. This attempt at moving forward is a welcome step away from the obsession with assessment and accountability which benefited no one and undermined the public school system.

  8. Fortunately, most kids will know that these policies are contrary to the reality of the world as they already experience it and will not be fooled by them. Most kids will learn outside of school that bad choices can result in unpleasant consequences and, sometimes, bad luck can result in unpleasant consequences.

    Those who play hockey or other sports know that there are penalties for breaking the rules, even if the two minutes in the box or other consequence arises from doing so accidentally. Those who are caught shoplifting will not be surprised that they are not offered an opportunity to take the items to the till and pay for them. Those who have part time after school or weekend jobs will not be surprised when they are fired for consistently showing up late for work. Those who speed when driving in a school zone will not be surprised when the police officer doesn’t say: “That’s okay. Why don’t you have another try? This time at 30 km/h if that’s okay with you.”

  9. Students need to know that they are plagiarists and they will get a zero if they write: “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.” But, they should also understand that they have not stolen another author’s work and will not be docked any marks if they write: “As Mark Twain once said, ‘In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.'”

  10. The silly ones will get caught. The really creative ones won’t get caught. The honest ones will pass or fail on their own merit.
    This all sound so business-as-usual.

  11. Tonight, I am grading papers on plagiarism! As a teacher, I want students to learn, but I also want them to think.

    Allowing students to cut and paste without consequences is encouraging students to not think for themselves.

  12. This is a pathetic decision by the Saskatoon Public School Board. I am very dissapointed in them. As a parent I teach my children that they are held accountable for their actions and inactions. I may as well stop now seeing as the Sasakatoon Public School Board is going to undermind all my effforts by teaching my children that lying, minimal effort and tardiness are acceptable behaviours in life. I’m glad Priemier Wall has decided that this STUPID decision needs to be looked at!

  13. It is also worth noting that these policies do have an effect on universities. I have often heard university profs say they are going easy on plagiarists because the students “don’t understand what it is, because they don’t teach this in high schools.”

    I’ve always been skeptical of this rationale (don’t YOU teach it?), but decisions like the one described above will only make it easier for weaker-kneed university faculty to lower their standards.

  14. Is this the result of braindrizzling?

  15. Pingback: Teaching Plagiarism

  16. I think this is completely and utterly ridiculous. Students won’t be punished for handing things in late or plagiarizing? This is teaching them that it’s okay to not hand things in on time and that if another person’s work is better than theirs, it’s alright to just take it and call it their own.

    Once they get past high school, be it into university or into a job, they’ll realize that they’ve had it much too easy in high school and struggle even more. If they don’t hand something in on time, they could lose marks (University) or their respect from fellow co-workers (work). If they plagiarize, they could be booted out of the class or even the school.

    This is the school system deciding that instead of pushing students to excel and to follow deadlines, that it’s merely a suggestion not a demand.

  17. Why do we constantly feel like we need to baby kids until they are out of high school? Kids are growing up faster then they were before, but yet we still feel the need to pamper them. I live in Saskatoon and I think this is ridiculous. What are these kids really learning? Certainly not to think for themselves. This allows them to constantly regurgitate the same thing over and over. This does not give students adequate preparation for university of even the real world. I definitely didn’t feel prepared for University after high school.

    I am an engineering student and coming from high school to university I was blown out of the water my first semester! I have never had that much homework or failed anything in the entirety of my schooling. I think this is complete garbage and I hope the school board realizes that this is nothing more then self destructive to the confidence of students once they reach post secondary.

    I think high schools should be harder academically on students, as in they should be challenging them. Sure some kids won’t go to university, but what about creating options for those kids who do want to go, and allowing courses to help better prepare students for colleges like engineering?

    I think whoever came up with this should be fired!

  18. The notion of trying to keep the emphasis on learning and not on penalties is based on a false dichotomy. The fact that there are penalties for certain types of behaviour is one of the key things that helps people to learn that they shouldn’t do those things. That’s not to say that imposing penalties on children is the most important element of teaching them not to cheat. But learning and the existence of penalties certainly aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, the latter often reinforces the former.

    Based on my experience teaching at university, young people today generally believe that if there aren’t penalties for doing an action, then even if that action is wrong (and even if they themselves agree that it is wrong), it isn’t a serious wrong.

    Plagiarism has been treated too lightly for decades, and the result is that it is rampant in universities and most students don’t think it is a big deal. Moreover, this has had enormous consequences for the world outside of schools. If you haven’t noticed the stunning incompetence and lack of thinking ability in people who are the product of ideology like that exhibited by the Saskatoon School Board, then you either haven’t been paying attention or are yourself a product of that same ideology.

  19. Insane!

    This is entirely debasing the concept of intellectual integrity. The feds need to step in and stop this madness.

    Like Brandy indicates above, we do not need to ‘baby’ these students. If they will not learn when they are young, then when? When will they learn life lessons? Yes, fire is hot and will burn you if you touch it. When you are hungry you should eat, and sleep if you are tired. And when you steal, you will be punished. Let’s not sugarcoat the issue – stealing is stealing – regardless of what the Saskatoon board says or teaches.

    Brainshowering?! I’m not sure if this is the product of naivety or plain hypocrisy. The kids can’t handle a ‘violent’ word (so scary!), but will gleefully frag their buddies in COD2.

    Check out this article for another interested and related topic.


  20. How ridiculous! Young people need to know what is acceptable and what is not. If students think it’s no big deal to plagarize and hand in late assignments in high school how are they ever going to be able to survive the demands of university and careers. The longer they believe this behaviour is acceptable the more difficult it will be to change that thinking.

    If Saskatoon want to switch the focus to positive learning how about teaching students the proper method of researching and writing a paper along with time management skills to help them get their papers in on time and then rewarding those that do.

  21. Assembling a paper by using other peoples ideas and writings (who, in turn, used other people’s ideas and writings,) is academically sound practice. The only difference between that and plagiarism is that citation credit is given in footnotes. I dare say that a piece of truly original work may be indefensible and frowned upon in academia. Therefore, it would be reasonable to ask the naive student plagiarist to provide a rewritten paper with footnoted citation. This would be a good learning experience! So, is the Saskatoon Board really off the mark?

  22. I suppose brainskiffing is less confrontational than brainshowering, only it happens in the winter?

    I wonder why Saskatoon doesn’t just mandate that all students get an “A”? And while they are at it, just give them the report card when they walk in for the first class.

    I can hear the professional educators all across the City of Bridges saying “don’t be stupid”. To which I would respond, “consider where your current mandate will take you.

  23. Comment by Eb: “The only difference between that and plagiarism is that citation credit is given in footnotes.”

    And the only difference between being given something and stealing it is a minor detail related to permission.

  24. I agree that it is important that students know that they can not pass off information that is not their own as their own. However, I am not sure why a grade needs to be used to get this point across. I am not sure at what point “in the real world” anyone has received an 89% for how they performed at work today. I know that they are given constructive feedback and then expected to improve on their skills. The next day they come back to work and get another chance to improve their skills. I believe that this is what the public schools are trying to do; use feedback to drive improvement.

  25. Comment by Edrico: “And the only difference between being given something and stealing it is a minor detail related to permission.”

    I fail to understand what “permission” has to do with the argument. To cite someone’s work does not require permission and does not violate copyright. A student is free to borrow ideas or quote in a paper, as long as he or she gives credit to the source. That is something a high school student should learn before entering university. If the teachers do not make this clear, then the students’ acts of plagiarism are more naive than nefarious. What is the appropriate consequence for students’ naivety? Doesn’t the teacher also share responsibility for that naivety? Perhaps the school board is correct to assume that the punishment does not fit this crime!

  26. This is a terrible idea. They made a similar ploy a few years ago in Ontario. Not only did it cause strife for teachers and students, but it was also revoked this past year as the school boards learned the hard way that not giving deadlines is problematic…go figure. As a result of the deadline flexibility policy, success rates in universities have plundered and Ontario has reverted back to their old ways of giving a 0% for plagerism and late papers. As most of you outlined, not only does this practice sound immoral and bizzare beyond belief…it has been tried and failed! I truly hope that Saskatchewan does not make their students suffer in the same way as Ontario students did!!!

  27. I am reminded of what stopped me from cheating in high school: fear of getting caught.
    I am reminded of what led me to get my work in on time: fear of losing marks.

    WTF is Saskatoon thinking?

  28. Pingback: Teaching plagiarism | Robyn Urback

  29. I don’t believe in punishing kids. It doesn’t teach anything useful. Punish adults. They should know better and have had more practice. What was Harper’s punishment for plaigerizing the Australian guy? You talk about the real world, but what is our prime minister teaching our kids?

    I hope the idea is to teach what academic honesty is – i.e., always cite your sources – and teach what the repercussions would be in the real world, (anything from no consequence if you are prime minister to being fired if you are a journalist) but limit or eliminate the punitive consequences while at school. Why bring down the worst possible punishments on high school kids who are in the learning/ transition stage of their lives, when the reality kids see around them is not that way? Kids hate hypocrisy.

    I can still give a paper back to a student if I find unacknowledged sources and ask them to return it with all sources cited. End of story. No punishment, lesson learned. What’s the big deal?

    A lot of us have been brought up with and educated with a belt and a whip, figuratively and literally, and have had it justified to us by authorities as being good for us. Some of those people seem to believe a school without punishment for plaigerism is akin to anarchy.
    Some teachers would still be clanging brass bells in kids ears, whacking their hands with leather blackjacks, or pounding books on our heads in the name of discipline and punishment.

    Some people seem so eager to punish and so fearful of unpunished kids, I can’t help wonder if it’s simply because that’s how you were educated and you’ve got nothing else to fall on but the instincts of an adult who was over-punished as a kid.

    Schools who turn away from punishment are progressive, but it will require creative, engaging teachers with new ideas, not punitive, old school ideals of control and punishment.

  30. The editorialist assumes that deducting marks is the only consequence for bad behaviour. If a child missbehaves in class marks aren’t deducted from his or her science grade – the missbehaviour is addressed through other consequences. Failure to observe deadlines and cheating are also missbehaviours because they go contrary to expectations for students. We (some of us) have to come around to understanding that deducting marks isn’t the only, best or most sophisticated way to deal with bad behaviour.

  31. Being new to saskatoon and the saskatoon public school system, I am learning that this is just one of many strange practices.

  32. Why are we surprised? I know teachers and principals who plagiarized their way through school and on into their careers.I have known profs who have plagiarized the work of PhD students.
    They all know who they are. They are often the first ones to preach responsibility, but hey now they have that burden lifted too.

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