October 2, 2012
Plagiarism and A Strange Comment
Posted by Evelyn Mervine
Earlier today I noticed an unusual comment on my blog post Blast from the Past: Carbon Cycle Story. In the blog post I share a story that I wrote about the carbon cycle when I was 10 years old as part of a school unit on atoms at my Montessori school.
Here is the unusual comment, which is from a “Mrs. Kim”:
Please delete this post. I am a biology teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Two students were caught plagiarizing this article for a carbon cycle assignment. The issue has been resolved, but we need to guarantee this does not occur in the future. Thank you.
I replied to “Mrs. Kim”:
Hi Mrs. Kim, Thanks for your concern– I’m sorry to hear that students were plagiarizing this assignment, but I’m not going to delete it. There will always be things out on the internet to plagiarize, and schools need to learn how to resolve these issues. I find it sad that students felt the need to plagiarize this assignment, which was one of my favorite school assignments ever :-).
I then asked my twitter followers, many of whom are geoscientists and/or teachers, what they thought about the comment and my response. Here’s the tweet:
Overwhelmingly, my twitter followers agreed that I should not take down the blog post and that requesting that primary sources be taken down from the internet is an inappropriate way to handle plagiarism. Here is a sample of the many, many replies I received on twitter:
Wanting to make sure that the teacher saw my response to her request, I tried sending a message to the email which “Mrs. Kim” provided. The email was returned because the address didn’t exist. I thought that possibly “Mrs. Kim” had entered her email address incorrectly, so I did some sleuthing and looked up the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Guess what? From 2007 to 2011 this high school was ranked as the best public high school in the United States.
Now, I found it somewhat strange that a teacher at one of the best high schools in the United States would be so naive about how to handle plagiarism. I also found it strange that high school students would be plagiarizing a story I wrote when I was 10. So, I decided to write to Dr. Evan Glazer, who is the principal of the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Boy, that school name is sure a mouthful! From now on, I’ll refer to the school as TJHSST. Dr. Glazer kindly wrote back to me and informed me that there is no biology teacher named Mrs. Kim at TJHSST. Furthermore, the TJHSST email provided by “Mrs. Kim” is fake.
Quite honestly, I now find myself puzzled and somewhat discombobulated by the “Mrs. Kim” comment. I find myself worried over who “Mrs. Kim” could possibly be. Is “she” a teacher at another school? Could “she” be a student trying to convince me to remove my post so that “she” can plagiarize my content for a school assignment? I have no idea. However, I do feel relieved that the comment does not come from a biology teacher at TJHSST.
However, I’m happy to see that my twitter followers and blog readers are so passionate about issues regarding the internet and plagiarism. Please feel free to comment (productively and politely– I reserve the right to remove comments) about plagiarism and the internet below.
“Mrs. Kim”: please don’t post here again under a false name! And “Mrs. Kim”: if you are a student with a carbon cycle assignment, I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about the carbon cycle… though you’ll have to write the assignment yourself!
Interesting post Evelyn,
I had a similar issue regarding some of my university work I had posted on my website after leaving university, though on that occasion the request came not from an invisible no-body, but one of my old lecturers who still used the assignments that I had been set a couple of years before. Turned out they’d actually caught a student with copies of my work taken straight from the .pdfs I’d made available (though not so they could be plagiarised).
I did remove the links to my work from the site after deciding that as the assignment was still being set as-was, and apparently you cannot even trust undergrads (who were only two years below me while I was studying!) not to do it.
I’m pretty sure that given the difference in circumstances I did the right thing, but I find it nice to know I’m not the only one who’s had these kinds of issues.
Schools need to give meaningful, plagiarism-proof assignments. They also need to teach students about plagiarism, giving many real-life examples of the lives it ruins (Jonah Lehrer, anyone?) It is not your responsibility to provide those lessons to students.
Send your assignment to the principal so he can see if one of his students plagiarized it then tried to cover his tracks!
The sad part is the wasted man hours on this.
“Mrs. Kim”s suggestion has zero merit, as everyone has said.
Her remark is hard to figure out. My best guess would be a rival high school student’s attempt to embarrass the TJ school by making one of their science teachers sound nerdy and dumb.
Or, maybe Mrs. Kim is an alias for a real science TJ teacher, who really is that dumb, or a TJ student sending an obscure message, but neither would be likely to admit it now.
Sadly, this is the going trend for dealing with any problems involving content on the internet, weird fake request or not.
And no, you should never take down a post for such a reason. Good for you!
I had a similar situation when my blog post about the Sea Point Contact was plagiarized by students at a neighboring institution…. so poorly that they failed to change my American spellings to the UK spelling… incriminating themselves.