Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Shadow Scholar -- Am I Part of the Problem

I was drawn to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled The Shadow Scholar via several blogs in my Google Reader feed.  The Educated Reporter dared me to read it "without feeling a little ill," especially since "education students are among his most frequent clients, unfortunately."  I wasn't ill -- does that make me a bad person?  Thoughts on Education Policy bothered me a great deal more by asking "wouldn't it be more productive if we instead focused on fixing the problem?"  I have to admit, I'm not sure if I'm not part of the problem.

While I take great pride in my efforts to develop the writing skills and academic ethics of my students, especially in regard to issues of plagiarism, I must admit I'm much less inclined to severely sanction the student I catch "cheating."  Generally, my high school students avoid cheating (I think), but when they do they're not very good at it; a quick google search generally reveals their intellectual transgressions.  In the past, I was quick to slap a zero on the paper and chastise them for their criminality with all sorts of horrible threats of university-level repercussions and a lifetime of shame.  Now, I prefer to record their assignment incomplete (still a zero) until they complete the assignment "honestly," using their references to support their ideas and properly citing the same sources.  I also spend much more time with students on formatting sources (during our introduction/review of digital citizenship) and properly embedding their references in their writing.  Also, e-mails and texts (and now tweets) from recent graduates have uniformly expressed gratitude for making them master the basics of researching a wide variety of sources and properly citing them in their work -- one student wrote, in a text, "that crap you made us learn has been very useful."  However, I am still left to wonder if they're honest or just well-versed because they invariably also lament the uselessness of their course-work in university, suggesting a loss of intellectual curiosity.

It's hard to evaluate how effectively I have embedded a respect for intellectual property in my students, and (much more importantly) how seriously they will take the love of learning they showed me in my classroom to their post-secondary studies. 

I sit here now, a bit shaken.  How can I be sure that one of my main objectives, a love of learning, is being achieved beyond the walls of my classroom?  I remember, myself, the struggle it was to remain curious about literature and history when so many of my professors seemed intent on crushing any attempts to deviate from the curricular norm.  I don't mean to blame universities, but am I missing something important in my gloomy vision?


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