Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Life, Liberty, and the Right to Cut & Paste

Future Members of the Ruling Class
Photo Credit:
By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post

"So, like, I think, you know, Sparknotes and Pink Monkey are sooo kewl, like they can save you so much time doing those stupid papers and stuff. And, like, my English teacher wanted to see if I, like, plagiarized it using that Turnitin sevice, and I was, like, "DUDE!, you can't do that -- it's like in the Constitution that you can't -- I know 'cuz I did this paper on the Constitution last year. And, like, it's in the First Amendment, the right to cut and paste. You know, even the Constitution itself is like totally plagiarized and nobody cared about that. This school is sooooo fascist, man. The teachers act like we're all gonna steal -- it's not like we're black or Mexican dude."

From The Washington Post:

When students and administrators face off over academic policy, it's a safe bet which side will usually win. But a student uprising at McLean High School this fall over an anti-cheating initiative had an unusual outcome.

The students won. Sort of.

School officials had planned to require students in all grades to submit essays and other assignments to the for-profit service known as Turnitin, which polices papers for plagiarism. But after a group of seniors circulated a petition against the initiative, generating headlines, the administration eased the mandate a bit. It now will require only ninth- and 10th-grade English and social studies classes to use Turnitin. The requirement will be phased in for juniors and seniors in coming years.

Turnitin, based in Oakland, Calif., checks each student's work against a database of more than 22 million papers written by students around the world, as well as online sources and electronic archives of journals. Some McLean High students objected to having their essays added automatically to the massive database, calling it an infringement of intellectual property rights.

The service is used by more than 6,000 academic institutions in 90 countries, including more than three-fourths of Fairfax high schools, as well as others in Loudoun, Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Fairfax school officials said they are confident Turnitin does not violate student rights. But they acknowledged that student complaints prompted them to go more slowly.

"This is not backing off," said Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier. "We're not saying we're not going to do this at McLean. We believe our legal status is adequate, and we expect that it's going to be used. It's being used all over the world."

Some students who spearheaded the protest said yesterday they aren't satisfied. Their group, known as the Committee for Students' Rights, plans to hand out fliers outlining their position at an upcoming Parent Teacher Student Association meeting. They have collected about 1,200 signatures on a petition against mandatory use of the service.

"It seems they pretty much changed the policy so they don't have to deal with the people who are protesting it," said Nicholas Kaylor, 17, a senior. "Until there is a clear opt-out option for everyone, we're not going to back down."

Chelsea Shalhoup, 15, a sophomore, said she is not happy Turnitin will be used when the second quarter starts next month.

"I feel like I have to prove I'm not cheating," she said. "I can't just be trusted to say I didn't cheat in the first place."

I think I push the envelope on the side of maximum protection of civil liberties -- for everyone, not just adults. But I'm having a hard time understanding the kids' argument. Their privacy isn't being invaded -- the teacher is just checking to see if they have done their own work using a method from a host of options. If I were teaching in McLean, VA and the administration persisted in their lack of spine, I could easily require students to take a quiz on their own paper, or describe where they got their information (what was the color of the cover of the book and so on).

I'm flabbergasted by what the students see as a right and the total capitulation by the adults.

UPDATE: But I would be pretty naive to be flabbergasted by the whims of the McLean youth and the enabling adults around them. The New Republic lays it all out:

McLean covers just 18 square miles and has a population of 40,000. But it is packed with the people who impeached Bill Clinton, elected George W. Bush, launched the Iraq war, and have now learned to make millions from their association with government. Some are famous--people like Bill Kristol and Colin Powell, Scooter Libby and Newt Gingrich, several current and former Republican senators, and Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Dick Cheney once owned a McLean townhouse--until he sold it to Bush's 2000 campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh. Less well-known are the countless lobbyists, lawyers, and businessmen whose names rarely turn up in The Washington Post and who like it that way--people like super-lobbyist Ken Duberstein, Ronald Reagan's former chief of staff; Frank Carlucci, former chair of the Carlyle Group, the notorious global private equity firm with close ties to the Bush family; and Dwight Schar, a construction mogul who is currently finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

These people live in a leafy suburb among landmarks that neatly represent the modern GOP era: McLean Bible Church, a holy destination for GOP senators and Bush aides; the storied Saudi Arabian ambassador's personal compound; and the forbidden palace of CIA headquarters. ("Never accidentally turn in," Edwina cautions. Legend has it that many an illegal-immigrant housekeeper who did has never been seen again.) When Bush rushed to open a presidential transition office during the 2000 Florida recount, Cheney had his daughter scout out locations in McLean, and it was from there that the Bush team would lay its symbolic claim to the White House.

Ahhh. To be part of the Entitled Class. Where I can stick out my petulant bottom lip when asked for a bare minimum of accountability. Where I can steal other's work and pass it off as my own in order to get into the Ivy League or my safety school of UVA where I belong, apart from the Great Unwashed who must be held to account.

Apples indeed, don't fall far from the tree.