Sunday, June 24, 2007


Ending the school year with a test of your ethics is one hell of the way to end the year.

Stephen was a senior and needed a passing grade in my class to graduate. Passing would have been simple; he just needed to get his research paper done. The same paper that he had every day of class for a month to do. The same paper that I offered to help him with after school many times, and the very same one that he refused to do. He did complete his research paper for his 12th grade English class, and at one point tried to submit a copy of that paper to get credit for my class.

During finals week he handed me a different paper. His assignment was to research an artist and their impact on the world, but the paper was on the history of the Ford Motor Company. It didn't read like his writing, either, but without being able to prove plagiarism the only thing I could say was that I didn't believe he wrote the paper for my class. After his earlier stunt, I was suspicious that he wrote it for a history class, or that another student did.

The next morning I arrived at school to find the dean waiting with a message: "The principal wants grades in this morning. And you know she wants him to pass." I filled her in on the details and why I didn't think it was going to happen for the kid, and she asked "Is this a hill you want to die on?"

"I knew in February I wasn't wanted back, so how more dead can I get?" It didn't matter, really, the paper didn't credit any sources so it counts as plagiarism by default, and the kid got an F. Two days later I found the paper he copied.

And you know what? I want to think that in other circumstances my answer would have been “Yes, I believe the kid plagiarized and I believe we fail as educators if we pass him>”

As much as I would rather not have ended the year failing a senior, it felt good to be in a position where I could stand up for what I believe in without political pressure from a boss. It's just possible that the kid will someday learn that the only way to earn what you want is to do what's required to earn it, and that there's no easy way out.

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