Breath of Clarity

Justifying Consequences for Plagiarism

High school teacher Christine Pelton should not have failed the 28 sophomores who had plagiarized their semester projects from the Internet. Pelton’s resigning in protest to, from her perspective, this decline in integrity is illogical. She failed to recognize that there are other ways to tackle the staff’s chief aim of improving the integrity level of the students. Taking an approach that was destructive to the student grades, and would cause an angry reaction among parents was not necessary. Pelton should have required the students to complete the original biology project assigned that would be graded with a ten percent deduction, as well as a project that explores the consequences of failure to practice integrity in daily life.

The news article noted that one-fifth, a very significant amount, of Pelton’s students had plagiarized. In order for students to comprehend the immoral act, the students should produce work that demonstrates the severity of their fault. The other four-fifths of the students would benefit from the presentation coming from peers, realizing why it is perceived as wrong by authority, instead of just understanding that it is not tolerated by it.

Last year, there was a cheating incident at Glenbrook South High School that involved students in the honors chemistry course copying online homework from one another. The staff chose to punish the students by giving them zeroes on every assignment that they cheated on. The immediate effect was misleading, making the punishment seem very productive, as the majority of the culprits cried in the authorities office and begged for repentance. The long-term effectiveness of the punishment shows eye-opening results. The students no longer cheat on web assign the following year, but continue to copy homework in all other cases, including other science assignments. This shows that in the plagiarism situation, students would probably not plagiarize with projects in class, but may go out into the real world and display a weak sense of integrity. The staff needs to implement practices that tackle the real message that they want to send to their students. The point was made clear in the news article by the both the president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and the teacher herself that the most concerning issue is integrity in this situation. The authority therefore should come up with a solution that targets that issue.

The final decision against failing the 28 students made was done in part because of the complaints from the parents. The parent reaction represents the true response of the students who committed the fault. The degree of punishment that was implemented seems far more severe than necessary from the point of view of a student who was never given the opportunity to understand the significance of the issue in the professional world. To the students, it appears to be another immoral action, when really plagiarism is on the extreme side of that spectrum.

The plan in place fails to raise awareness to the other students. Pelton’s proposition teaches the students that the mistake that they have committed is wrong, but fails to demonstrate the real reasoning behind why it should not be tolerated. Over the course of the development of maturity in adolescents, high school students are in the process of determining their identities and prioritizing their values. The authority must guide students in making the right decisions, teaching rather than forcing students to adopt certain moral principles as their own.