Even good students can be tempted to cut corners from time to time. And the practice of cheating is almost as old as school itself, though its manifestations have changed over the years. Computers have brought advancements to the academic world that we never dreamed of while perusing the World Book. The Web makes it much easier for your child to do research — but also easier to cut and paste information from an Internet source and pass it off as his own work.
Internet-related cheating is rampant, but as opposed to crib notes or copying someone's paper during a test — practices kids know are wrong — many computer-savvy kids are unclear about what is and is not plagiarism. A rapidly expanding form of Internet plagiarism is the rise of so-called "paper mills": Web sites providing fully written term papers which students can download (usually for free) and submit as their own writing.
Happily for teachers and parents, there exist counter-sites, such as http://www.plagiarism.org and http://www.turnitin.com, which provide tools for detecting plagiarized papers. (Enterprising cheaters may soon come up with counter-counter-sites to block the detection tools, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.) Teachers should inform students that these Web sites exist and that the teachers are prepared to use them.
Keep Your Child Honest
So, what can teachers and parents do to encourage kids to behave ethically in a world where cheating runs rampant, not just among school peers but among business leaders, politicians, and other adult "role models"? Here are a few pointers:
- Have a discussion with your child about cheating and plagiarism, and make sure she is clear about her school's (and your) expectations. If the school has a written ethics policy, review it together. If the school doesn't have such a policy, suggest they craft one.
- Avoid becoming over-involved in homework. Homework is designed to show the teacher what the student knows — not what the parents know.
- Lower the grade pressure! A pressure-cooker mentality to keep grades high and gain admission to elite schools may be implicitly condoning shortcuts.
- Don't ignore reality. As tempting as it might be to deny that your child would cheat or plagiarize, or to attack his teacher or the school for wrongly accusing him, take a step back and consider whether it might be possible that he is in the wrong.