Plagiarism, An Inflated Dilemma

Plagiarism, An Inflated Dilemma

The sight of the word plagiarism can send shivers down the spine of any scholar. Its very mention can bring back the terror surrounding the consequences that are beat into every students head once they are set free into the world of composing. “A Plagiarism Pentimento”, “Redefining Plagiarism, and Of Plagiarism”, “Paper Mills, and the Harried Hurried Student” all discuss an author’s trials and views on the sensitive subject of copying one person’s work and presenting it as one’s own. Whether it is Martin Luther King, lazy college students, or young adults lacking proper understanding skills. Though their opinions vary from experienced acceptance to soft-core condemnation all three have strong beliefs regarding plagiarism.

Is piecing fragments of an assigned work really plagiarism, or just a technique called patchwriting? Rebecca Moore Howard argues that this skill is not one to be condemned but rather a tool for making acquaintance with foreign material. She tells of her experience with misinterpretation, when she also labeled this act as literary thievery. The author later compares patch writing to “when a painter changes his or her mind and redraws the lines expressing an artistic conception. When the paint ages and becomes transparent, it is sometimes possible to see the original lines and the initial conception still etched in the memory of paint and canvas. Pentimento is ‘way of seeing,’ Hellman says ‘and then seeing again’” (Howard 118; Worsham 85; Hellman). Plagiarism is seen due to the unoriginal approach. The student only tip toes through a thesaurus and cuts some words, usually providing little to no personal contribution. This is useful for newcomers however, so that they can better understand the topic to which they are responding.

Rebecca Howard Moore chose to approach this essay with an example of her compassion growing so to speak. By beginning with a demonstration of her ignorant old ways she draws the readers in to witness her epiphany. Not only that, she takes a sympathetic standpoint. Rather than revert to her old self that would scratch F’s on the papers of all students that patch wrote, she instead encourages their behavior. Perhaps a reader of this particular essay has unknowingly patchwritten before, and by doing so they were punished on the grounds that it was plagiarism. This could cause Howard’s essay to become enticing because it is as if she is excusing what a past teacher once deemed a writing sin.

It’s hard enough to decipher between ‘learning’ tools and potential plagiarism, but what happens when the touchy subjects of heritage and tradition are added into the equation? Keith D. Miller stumbled across Martin Luther King’s bouts of copying texts. It seems he borrowed previous sermons usually written by “Harry Emerson Fosdick, Luccock, and other luminaries of the liberal Protestant pulpit -both black and white- a generation or two older than [himself]” (Miller 129). While this may be shocking to the younger reader, the majority of the media considered it to be old news when Miller presented his findings. The question arises in this essay whether the writing etiquette of one culture should be forced upon those who have their own liberties and constraints regarding authoring a work. For King, oral tradition was an important role in his upbringing; especially his father practiced the same during his time as a preacher. So Miller decided that despite the lack of proper citing, perhaps Martin Luther King’s work still worthy of praise. He pardons the pseudo-plagiarism because his speeches were moving and inspirational and ultimately it is unknown whether King knew that his use of unidentified outside sources was frowned upon in our societies regulations on writing.
Miller uses history as a hook in his essay. If one sees that an important figure also plagiarized, it is compelling and entices them to keep reading. In this case, Martin Luther King is the specimen. He also understands, but not in the same sense as Howard. Instead of learning tools, he sees MLK’s borrowing as a continuation of his tradition.

Maureen Hourigan has seen another face of plagiarism that is not quite unveiled by Howard or Miller. It can wear a sneer of indifference and laziness. College induced stress is well known; it forces students to finish their heaping plates of responsibilities. With scholarships to secure and GPAs to keep polished, plus extracurricular activities and an emaciated social life screaming for attention, why not? In times of academic peril cheating may look attractive and almost beneficial. Hourigan makes references to the old school ‘greek’ paper mills as “some [students] copied huge chunks of material from books or articles, changed every third word or so with some help Roget’s Thesaurus, and claimed it as their own” (157). She goes on to say that the Internet has potentially made it easier to cheat. But at the same time, with the existence of tools like turnitin and other sites, detection has also been upgraded with the technological shift.

Professor Hourigan is not nearly so compassionate toward those who plagiarize whether if it is accidental or not. She instead makes it sound like students are lazy and don’t care enough to write their own papers. My guess is that this intrigues readers because they are so frustrated with her discontent with college students. She too dabbles in name dropping, referring to the Wal-Mart heiress who later was discovered to be a plagiarism criminal that was paying her roommate. Hourigan’s negativity could almost be viewed as a turn off for the essay. With the other two, they are accepting and do not deny redemption to those that do not know any better.

For me it was interesting to see patchwriting as an acceptable tool. Early on in high school we were taught that simply doing a synonym switch-a-roo was just as much cheating as using direct quotes with no citation. I partially wish that my teachers had introduced it as a stepping-stone to understanding rather than a puddle of lava that would burn your GPA. Perhaps it could be a preliminary step in writing like a pre-rough draft where the students are just becoming acquainted with the topic and can later insert their personal voice after it has been shown that they have grasped the material. Another interesting point in these essays was the fact that Martin Luther King did not write the bulk of his sermons and speeches. I guess teachers don’t feel it is a pertinent point to emphasize when teaching about a man that did so much good for America. Not that I have changed opinions about him, but I had always assumed he wrote everything himself. This might be because grade school glorifies him, and launches his status to god-like proportions. By discovering he had flaws grants him human qualities again, and almost makes me respect him more.

Personally, I don’t think ideas and thoughts should be treated like possessions. Isn’t it more fulfilling to know that one’s words are illuminating their readers enough to be written and spoken about? I honestly don’t understand why it is so important to have a name stamped on something so intangible as a thought. Is it just for the glory of saying “Hey! I came up with this notion, and now it is off limits”? Perhaps I am a belief communist, in which case I think that all conceptions should be available to everyone, and all those with access can contribute to a great web of thought. And since the people were building off one another, there would be no need for citation because the concept would ultimately belong the community.

Too often products of self-expression are bastardized into commodities. For example, visual arts are only given worth based on their ability to sell or apparent technical skill level. Somehow, the fact that someone has presented a raw piece of his or her soul dripping with personal understanding gets thrown away, which is preposterous. I have very strong opinions on the debate of ‘what is art?’ I believe everything is art. If the time is taken to express ones self, whether or not it makes sense to the viewer, it is ultimately art. The real beauty in the whole experience is the process.

Works Cited
Hourigan, Maureen “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills, and the Harried Hurried Student” Essays on Writing. Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 156-170. Print.
Howard, Rebecca Moore “Plagiarism Pentimento” Essays on Writing. Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 115-126. Print.
Miller, Keith D. “Redefining Plagiarism” Essays on Writing. Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 127-131. Print.

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