Longhand: writing that is done by using a pen or pencil rather than with a typewriter or computer (Merriam-Webster)
Plagiarism: the act of using another person's words or ideas without giving credit to that person (also Merriam-Webster – see how easy it is to cite a source?)
The student sent me the following email (probably after seeing my twitter post): “I was stressed with homework and did not have the intention of putting any effort to it. This is my fault for not using my time in class wisely and I promise you that this will never ever happen again. I am ashamed in myself as this is not the person I am. I understand that this is a horrible reflection on who I am as a person and I just want you to know that I am incredibly disappointed in myself for the decision I made. I have learned a lot in your class and I am just so sorry.”
Passing off someone else’s work is wrong, of course, and just about any student can tell you multiple reasons why. I understand the strong pull of that devil on your shoulder telling you to cut and paste. I know how stressed students are today and how easy google makes it. Chances are, you’ve done it before and not gotten caught.
Let me offer two arguments against that devil.
First, when a student cheats in my class, I take it very personally. The student is telling me he doesn’t respect me, he doesn’t think I’m smart enough to catch him and he doesn’t value what he’s learning in my class. That hurts me. And it forever affects my relationship with that student. I will never trust that student again. I will tell the story of the plagiarism any time another teacher mentions that student. I won’t write a college recommendation or any kind of reference for that student. I will never give that student an editorial position on either publication staff. But all that is really about me.
Reason two is about you. When you cheat or steal (that’s what plagiarism is) you become a liar and a thief. You must add those identities to who you are, for the rest of your life. Even if you don’t get caught, even if no one knows, YOU know. You will forever believe you have honors you don’t deserve, you aren’t as smart as people think and you can’t do what others believe you can. That scrape in your self-identity will grow and fester and become an itchy sore that will require extreme effort to hide.
The student’s email to me acknowledges the second reason. He says “This is not the person I am.” See his immediate effort to distance himself from the acceptance of being the person who would lie? But he did lie. And that makes him this person. That’s an awful thing to believe about yourself.
Albus Dumbledore says, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Your middling grade on an assignment does not show who you are, you know that. Your choice to cheat and lie, that shows who you are. Teenagers are figuring out who they are, trying on different personalities like hats. When a student plagiarizes, I am so sad, not for me, but for the young adult who just learned something awful about himself.