Dante vs. Goldsmith REVISION

There’s a problem in education that I’m sure all of you have faced. Cheating. Whether it takes place in the form of one child casually (or not so casually!) looking at their neighbor’s test or whether it’s an elaborate conspiracy your students have devised in order to take a peek at the next answer key, we can all accept that it takes place in our classrooms. But what I’m about to talk to you about in this month’s issue of Teachers Monthly is a specific form of cheating that has become oh-so-prevalent in our interconnected world: plagiarism. With the advent of the internet there is access to great databases of knowledge, but with all of that information comes the temptation to use it for one’s own means. In particular, there are even some companies that offer the service of writing an essay for a student, as described by Ed Dante in “The Shadow Scholar”. Dante used to work for one of these essay writing companies, sometimes even writing and talking through the dissertations of students who are “Desprit to pass [ther] spring projict”, in that spelling. In it, he also claims that it is the college professor and administrator who is to blame for the epidemic of cheating through the workload that they give students, and the fact that they accept that their students are cheating. But even if the professors and administrators do recognize this, there isn’t much they can do about it save looking over the shoulders of each one of their students while they complete each assignment. The way that Dante customizes papers, researches each subject in depth, and even inserts such things as typos makes the paper buying cheaters nearly impossible to catch. If I were a professor I would of course want to catch the cheaters, but the clandestine way in which they cheat is nearly impossible to detect. This is primarily Dante’s fault, since if he didn’t write the papers the students couldn’t cheat. He shifts the blame to the educators, going so far as to name them as the primary cause of cheating, as if they actively encouraged it, but I highly doubt any educator is actively trying to fail their student. As it’s nearly impossible to counter the cheating epidemic, my advice to you would be to just continue teaching your students and try to support them to the best of your ability, and also try to make them understand the importance of their own work and take pride in that.
But on the other side of plagiarism there are some people who accept its existence, and use it create a new form of art, in a sense. In Kenneth Goldsmith’s article “Uncreative Writing”, he writes about one of the classes that he teaches as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania: Uncreative Writing. In it, students are penalized for showing any shred of originality and creativity. Instead they are rewarded for plagiarism, identity theft, repurposing papers, patchwriting, sampling, plundering, and stealing. Not surprisingly, they thrive. Suddenly what they’ve surreptitiously become expert at is brought out into the open and explored in a safe environment, reframed in terms of responsibility instead of recklessness. As children of the internet, students have long thrown away the idea that any of their individual thoughts are truly original. A quick google search for the “new ideas” that come to my mind reveal write-ups, in-depth descriptions, and sometimes even patents. But to take computer programming as a model, it’s the utilization of previous works that creates a new, creative work. Programming languages have finite amounts of syntax and libraries which the programmer may use, but obviously not all programs are the same. It’s the creativity and ingenuity with which the programmer, similar to an artist or a writer, executes his work that makes it unique and genius. There is meaning in the plagiarism taught in Goldsmith’s class, as opposed to Dante’s endless pages of empty words, repeated lines, and fillers with the purpose of making himself money. Yes, stealing is bad, but the purpose for which it is done might not be so bad.

One thought on “Dante vs. Goldsmith REVISION

  1. Well done. Given the audience you’ve chosen, it would have been nice to have a more practical conclusion. Do you recommend teachers adopt a strategy similar to Goldsmith’s? In general, I think a specialized publication would avoid vague advice like “Support each student to the best of your ability.” Most of my comments are at the sentence level: https://diigo.com/05b988


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