Miriam says it just about right, I think: "I'm not convinced
those job applicants that Rob referred to thought of it as
plagiarizing. I'm inclined they were trying to fit in in the
same way that we ask our students to. Hence, the same results."
There's a good deal to be reflected on here; it's a way to
illuminate, I think, just what our _students_ are trying to do.
Interestingly, in trying to find the case I remembered from a
couple of years ago, I stumbled on a nice review of a book
which, among other things, clearly makes the case for the
parallel between composing a teaching statement (for a portfolio
or dossier) and producing that term paper. The review is Jane
Mathison Fife, "Changing the Contexts for Documenting our
Teaching," _Pedagogy_ 5:1 (Winter 2005), 157-161, and the book
is _Composition, Pedagogy, and the Scholarship of Teaching_, ed.
Deborah Minter and Amy M. Goodburn (Boynton/Cook, 2002).
I've now read the "information about Plagiarism" that the
Waterloo letter said you should read "before starting your
teaching dossier." (
http://www.trace.uwaterloo.ca/tacerteach.html ). It's a
fascinating document. It's directed to participants in the
Waterloo Certificate in University Teaching, and it's a fairly
sophisticated version of the sort of advice about ethics and
plagiarism that universities regularly offer undergraduates. Its
central focus is integrity and values, and it makes the usual
move: yes, we all believe in integrity . . . but just in case,
here are the draconian punishments for violating our rules.
It also offers references for "how to avoid plagiarism," as
pretty much all the anti-plagiarism documents I've read do. I
was reminded that there's something extremely odd going on here.
A document explaining "how to avoid" something would normally
outline strategies for avoiding something that might _happen to
you_. How to avoid being electrocuted, how to avoid being
mugged, how to avoid eating contaminated food. No one writes
documents giving strategies for avoiding stealing, or
infanticide, or lying. If it's a matter of integrity it's not
something that happens to you, is it?
Seems to me there are mixed messages here -- just the kind we
often hear in parent-to-kid discourse. Being bad is something
you somehow "fall into." You're not "bad," you get corrupted.
But you'll be punished for falling, anyway.
I've said this before, so sorry if I'm boring people . . . but
if I really cared about communicating with you, plagiarism would
never occur to me. However, if I were in a situation where I had
to produce discourse you'd approve of, and I had no investment
in the relationship being mediated by the discourse, I'd do what
was easiest. And if you said to me, as that letter does, "For
almost all written submissions to the CUT Program (the exception
being your research paper), no references are necessary, or even
desirable. We are primarily interested in your personal
reflections on the subject matter of the workshop, panel,
observation report, etc.," I would know that you are not, in
fact, actually interested in my personal reflections at all:
you're interested in whether my personal reflections are the
kind you approve of.
I would certainly, on the basis of that rubric, never think of
explicitly bringing anybody else's ideas in (after all, you're
interested only in what you can imagine comes out of my soul:
"no references are . . . even desirable"). So I'd find something
that I think you'd be impressed with, and I'd try to make sure -
- if I thought you were checking -- that you couldn't find the
source. Nothing about this would be about communication: it
would be about producing an impressive text. To fit in.
In that case, plagiarism would be a pretty effective tool. Just
make sure no one saw you using it.
Seems to me the problem, in both cases, is, as Miriam points
out, the strange rhetorical situation the writer's in. Fife's
review (and, it appears, even more the book, which I'm about to
go find) talk about some ways to make the teacher's rhetorical
situation more reasonable. They apply to what we ask students to
write, as well.
(Interesting as well that the Waterloo document is signed by
Cathy Schryer -- though it says composed by a previous director
of the service. I wonder if Cathy can help us understand the
genre we're working in here?)
St. Thomas University
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