Ethics up for sale?

April 14, 2009 at 5:48 pm 3 comments

Today I’m going to switch from the “reading” side of the blog to the “teaching” side. This weekend, I found this job posting on a freelance website I read:

Our company seeks experienced writers to complete college and university level essays, research papers, book reports and business plans. The job can be done from home or other remote location. The orders are completed and sent over the internet.

Currently we offer both full- and part-time positions. The wages depend on a number of completed projects, their level of difficulty and deadlines. Most of our part-time writers receive from $500 to $1500 per month. Our full-time writers receive about $1500 – $2500 per month.

Now, I don’t know if I’m reading this wrong, but this seems like they want folks to write college students’ papers for them. I know this thing happens, but this type of blatant soliciting and capitalizing on it is… well, nauseating.

A couple weeks ago, my fourth graders had to turn in reports on different animals. More than half of the students turned in reports either 1. heavily using Wikipedia without quotes 2. that were the Wikipedia articles copied into Word documents, or 3. were the Wikipedia pages printed out. Since my students are only fourth-graders and have never been taught the concept and rules of plagiarism, they were graded (by the head teacher, not by me, the assistant) mostly on their illustrations, and the issue was dropped. I suggested a discussion on plagiarism, but was told that the concept is too big, and as long as they’re finding info on the net and reading it, we should count it as fine.

This is one of the biggest problems I have with my job. When I’m getting emails soliciting me to write someone else’s homework, I take that to mean that there are people out there who have not been taught proper ethics. And when my students hand in reports that they didn’t write, I see that as a chance to teach them those ethics (dare I add “before it’s too late”?), but I lack the authority to teach them.

In two weeks, the students have to hand in reports on various countries. I wonder what those reports will be like.

Has anyone encountered situations of these types before? Any experience dealing with cheating? Input on how and when it’s appropriate to teach these things? These are important and complex issues, and I’m eager to see any discussion that they generate.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. dr  |  April 14, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    I don’t think you’re ever too young to learn to take notes properly and cite your sources. But that’s me. When I was in fourth grade and first being taught how to write a research report, the instruction included discussion of how to take notes: you read it, then you close the book and write it in your own words, then you write down the page number the idea came from.

  • 2. Liz  |  April 14, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    DR — I agree, and that’s why the head teacher giving out Sobresalientes (A’s, essentially) to the Wikipedia articles made me so angry. But when I spoke with him about it, he made the argument that our students are still learning the basic facts. The focus, he claimed, needs be on their comprehension and retention of knowledge, whereas things like proper citation could be left for later. He also said, truthfully, that many of our students’ level of English is not yet high enough for them to reiterate in new words.
    Still not valid for me, but he has a bit of point.

    I guess in my case it’s as much about working relationships as about the ethical question.
    He does go on 3-week paternity leave next Monday…I may seize that as my chance for some underground ethical indoctrination.

  • 3. Amanda  |  April 15, 2009 at 5:30 am

    This happens ALL THE TIME at the library. It’s so frustrating. (More frustrating: the fact that on more than one occasion, the assignment sheet – often for middle- and high-school kids, mind you – has actually straight-up said to copy stuff from the internet and paste it to a posterboard. How useful – the tenth-graders know about glue!)

    We are clearly not their teachers, but since their actual teachers have no interest in teaching them anything, we fill in when necessary. So we try to explain stuff, like how Wikipedia isn’t the greatest source for an essay, or why sometimes books are good sources of information too believe it or not, or why it’s wrong to represent someone else’s work as your own.

    Still, I sort of doubt that it sinks in. Some librarian tells you that you should write things in your own words, but then your teacher tells you to just copy stuff from the internet – which is easier – because they can’t be troubled to actually teach you how to write or process information. The average teacher in our district (one of the worst in the state of Illinois!) pretty much exists to sabotage their students’ learning. Which is why I’m angry all the time.

    My favorite example, still, is when these poor fourth graders had to write a one-page paper about a mathematician. (WTF.) I found one of our regulars copying stuff from Wikipedia into a Word document, gave him my spiel, and then twenty minutes later pulled his paper from the printer. He had left the paragraph he’d copied when I caught him alone, then for the bottom half of the page, he had put things (more or less) in his own words. Because he’s barely literate (even though he’s 100% fluent), it included the following as the last sentence of the paper: “He no marrieb an hes die.” So the top half of the page was the opening paragraph on the WK page, and the bottom half was incoherent mush.

    He got an A.

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