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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Plagiarism and Composition
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1104  Tuesday, 23 April 2002

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 2002 08:14:34 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1088 Re: Plagiarism and Update

[2]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 2002 08:41:05 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1088 Composition (aka Plagiarism and Update)

[3]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 2002 12:30:29 -0400
        Subj:   Plagiarism and Update

[4]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 2002 13:12:22 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1088 Re: Plagiarism and Update


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 2002 08:14:34 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1088 Re: Plagiarism and Update
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1088 Re: Plagiarism and Update

Richard Burt writes, "R. Posner defends plagiarism: Shakespeare did it,
etc."

The hilarious cartoon DOONESBURY by Garry Trudeau this Sunday has a
student getting a B+ from a professor for turning in a copy of Stephen
Ambrose's book, remarking, "This is my term paper."  His friend, another
student, says: "That's a book, Dude.  By Stephen Ambrose.  You didn't
write that."  The plagiarist par excellence who dared turn in a _whole_
book remarks, "Neither did he.  At least a lot of it.  I figured if he
could take credit for it, so could I."  The other student, seeing his
B+, says, "Wow! You ought to try to publish it, man."

The difference between the times past, when even Edgar Allan Poe lifted
whole chunks of _The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym_ from a travel book
of the nineteenth century, is today, we have copyright laws--and
lawyers!  Caveat emptor.

Bill Arnold

[Editor's Note: To view the comic:
http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.cfm?uc_full_date=20020421&uc_comic=db&uc_daction=X
--Hardy]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 2002 08:41:05 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1088 Composition (aka Plagiarism and Update)
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1088 Composition (aka Plagiarism and Update)

I have mixed feelings on the current debate.  I have taught
"composition" to hundreds of students, from a range of cultural,
economic and educational backgrounds, at both secondary and university
levels.  I used to be a member of the Conference for College Composition
and Communications.  So I can sympathize with much that Annalisa
Castaldo so eloquently contributed.

However, at the end of the day I must side with Gabriel Egan.  His
account of his experience teaching composition at an American university
matches my own.  I *wish* I thought it possible to teach a student "how
to write" at age eighteen or older, but my experience indicates
otherwise.  I believe that if a solid foundation exists, one may "coach"
and advise students in ways that can help them improve their own
writing.  But if that foundation is lacking, then a semester, or two, or
three, or four, is not going to make the difference.  The repetition
above is not rhetorical exaggeration: I have taught many students whose
reading/writing abilities tested, at the beginning of their university
careers, at the (primary!) second-grade level.  They worked hard, and
progressed, but I could not in good conscience pass them if their end of
semester performance had them writing at, say the third or fourth grade
level.  So they would take the course again. And again.

My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that the best way for people to
learn to write is to READ voraciously from as young an age as possible.
Only in that way can one acquire a "feel" for how to put things in
writing, and how different styles of writing serve different purposes.
They need grammar study early on, with sentence diagramming if
possible.  Later (upper secondary or lower university) analytical study
of rhetoric (distinguished from composition) is also helpful, as is the
study of formal logic.

Having said all that, I must add that if anyone out there is casting
about for a field of study with the goal of getting a tenure track
academic position in the U.S. -- and if they don't much care what they
actually end up teaching -- the current demand for Ph.Ds in "Composition
and Rhetoric" far exceeds the supply.  Perhaps those who really DO have
that kind of training will have better luck than I did with my primarily
literary background.

Cheers,
Karen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 2002 12:30:29 -0400
Subject:        Plagiarism and Update

In America, "composition" is shorthand for composition and rhetoric.
After all, how do you teach composition unless it is based on a theory
or theories of rhetoric? The rest of Gabriel Egan's banshee cry of
indignation boils down to

        "Of course, the students should have learnt how to write
        before they came to university."

The truth is that most of us are continuously learning how to write
through-out our lives. Many Ph.D.'s begin as lousy writers, and some
never improve. The notion that students should come to us as
accomplished writers is unrealistic, especially if, as in America, the
nation is committed to offering a university education to as many
students as possible.

But I agree with Gabriel about one point: teaching composition is a
hard, difficult business in which even the best teachers often feel as
if they have failed. I think that's because we don't as yet know enough
about teaching writing to insure that all who need to improve are
helped.  That fact, however, argues for MORE emphasis on the discipline
of teaching writing, not LESS.  Either that, or we go back to educating
only those who already know how to write before they enter the
university.

--Ed Taft

[4-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 2002 13:12:22 -0400
Subject: 13.1088 Re: Plagiarism and Update
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1088 Re: Plagiarism and Update

I had been planning to stay out of the discussion of "composition" as a
former English teacher with 35 years of high school experiences.

However...

Gabriel Egan, I am sorry that you were placed into the position of
having to teach athletes who had no other reason to be in a post
high-school situation.  Nonetheless, that one semester does not give you
sufficient evidence to condemn an entire area of academia.

I cannot speak to non US high school curricula, and I freely admit that
the expectations vary from school to school, not to mention state to
state.  Still, I have talked with enough of my colleagues in the US and
elsewhere to be able to make some generalizations beyond my own academic
environment.

"Composition" instruction on the high school level normally occurs in
two ways: implicit and explicit.  The implicit instruction was referred
to glancingly by someone several digests ago: every class on literature
(and on history, and in most schools on lab science, math, foreign
languages, etc where districts require writing across the curriculum)
has formal composition elements and requirements.

The explicit instruction occurs also two ways.  Teachers of English and
social studies especially teach the techniques of expository writing,
from structure to argument and even to mechanics.  Most often those
lessons occur in the context of particular assignments.  Many of us
teach composition as a process of crafting a work.  We use student
models to illustrate the strong and the weak.  Some of us are
technologically adept enough to use computers connected to data
projectors and model the process of writing from idea generation to
organization, thesis definition, drafting, revising, editing (YES they
are two different processes!!) and final product.  We also go over
student work with individual students and again, when the technology and
skills are available, with classes as well.  Many of us teach students
to assist each other with idea generation, revision and editing.

The second kind of explicit teaching of composition occurs in discrete
classes: Expository Writing, Journalism, Creative Writing, etc etc etc.
While all these kinds of writing may be taught within other classes
(I've seen some history classes do an incredible job on the journalistic
skills for example), they are often also offered in their own classes.

Of course "composition and rhetoric" is a more proper term for what we
teach.  Some of us even read Cicero, in translation if not in the
original Latin.  And of course some of us are more skilled than others
of us at teaching various forms of composition.

I have mentored novice teachers for decades.  I can say honestly that
the young folks coming out today are far better equipped to teach
students the *process* of generating solid composition than ever I was
in 1965 when, dewy cheeked and fresh, I stepped into my first
classroom.  The pedagogy is far more research-based and far more widely
taught.  I also can say honestly that these young folks are no better
able to spot/teach about mechanics and usage than I was back then.  Even
those of us who always knew we'd make our living with words and young
people's use thereof rarely came to the classroom with a love of
"grammar" sufficient to aid us in spotting and marking the myriad errors
that speckle student efforts.

Nonetheless, students' use of word processing programs with grammar and
spelling checkers has at least given them a mechanism for seeing their
own errors.  To get them to use these tools may be more difficult,
naturally.

My tenth grade students wrote papers on Romeo and Juliet, my Humanities
students on Richard II or Winter's Tale or Othello or Richard III.  They
produced thoughtful and original work at a gratifyingly regular pace.
Yes I did the usual draft-checking, etc.  I also found that offering
several prompts taken from critical commentary and asking students to
choose one to defend or attack gave them a focus that many found
difficult to create on their own.  My only regret is that I did not save
samples of their work so I could show the doubters among you that we
high school teachers do our damnedest to send off to higher education
students who can craft a thoughtful, well-written, mechanically adequate
(at the least) essay... that is, they can COMPOSE a work of written
thought. (I might still have some of my essay prompts on my hard drive
if anyone is interested.)

Yours in defense of teaching Composition as a legitimate field of
*academic* endeavor,

Mari Bonomi

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