The Dumbest Student I Ever Taught

I teach occasional classes in literature at Georgia Perimeter College, a fine institution in the suburbs of Atlanta. Fully 99 percent of my students are dedicated, thoughtful, often quite insightful, and most importantly, willing to take the leap to understand that while literature won’t get you a better job, it will give you a fuller life.

However…there is that 1 percent. That group of students who are so incredibly foolish that I wonder how they remember to inhale after they exhale. I’m not talking about book smarts or computer smarts–I’m talking about class ethics. It’s incredibly easy now to plagiarize papers–visit Google, type in your works for study, cut, paste, and boom–instant paper. Except none of these little geniuses seems to figure out that if they can find something on Google, I can too. And at the end of every semester, my wife can count on me storming through the kitchen on Rant #43–“How Can These Kids Be So Damn Stupid When I’ve Warned Them About Plagiarism Fifty Times?”

I’ll leave the sociological and philosophical root causes of this plagiarism infection–it’s not an epidemic yet–for another time. For now, I’d like to tell you about the dumbest student I ever taught. This fool decided to write a paper on author Robert Olen Butler, a Pulitzer Prize-winning short story writer/novelist of no small skill. Fine and dandy. They turned in a paper that was obviously plagiarized. Not just strike one; end of ballgame. However, something about the paper’s phrasing seemed familiar but tough to place, like when you can only hear the bass line of a song coming from behind someone’s car windows. I typed in a few key words to Google, and all was made clear. This future Rhodes Scholar had plagiarized this article right here

…an article written by none other than me.

I did a classic spit-take all over the monitor, then laughed hard enough to pull some chest muscles. Lesson for all my students who may be reading this…don’t plagiarize, but if you do–make sure you know whose work you’re plagiarizing. ‘Cause being a dishonest student is bad–but being a dishonest moron is far, far worse.

Jay

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