The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Sep 102010

The answer to on-line plagiarism is for faculty to ask Millennial (born 1982-200?) to do something more creative and interesting than simply to turn in a mindless encyclopedia entry “essay” on some utterly generic topic—like the Great Depression.  Have students invent and defend their own unique point of view on a topic.  I’d be less interested in whether they copy this or that part than whether the whole thing hangs together.

Here’s what’s interesting.  If, one year out of college and working at Accenture, a Millennial is asked by a boss to prepare a quick background on (say) the black market trade in terra cotta figures in and out of mainland China, no one will mind at all if he or she lifts some parts of the memo (say, the part on the origin of terra cotta ceramic) from Wikipedia.  Indeed, the employee will probably be praised to working quickly, not wasting time, and focusing instead on the issues that are unique to the client’s problem.  We need to get higher ed to redesign the curriculum so that the skills they test are aligned better to the skills that have real valued added at the frontier of today’s professions.

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  • Richard

    Classic public education dilemma is that the skills and rules required as a student are not the same required of an employee. Students are suppose to do their own homework, take tests alone and not plagiarize. Employees are required to work in teams, solve problems in teams and get information from any and all sources. This has been going on for decades and goes across generations. Maybe Millennials will be the ones to help change things.

  • Mttdrn83

    I notice this is an issue not just in academia, but in the pop culture as well. Lady Gaga has frequently been accused of plagiarizing the sounds and styles of older performers like Madonna.

  • L Moore

    This issue has more to do with the cultural shift from rationalism to romanticism than it does generations. Blum is correct to focus on the Enlightenment values that surround academic plagiarism since these values were reinstalled in American schools during and right after the Third Awakening. But, American Modernism (aka the Second Enlightenment) is mostly over, except for some hold out ideas such as plagiarism. Our new romanticism is intuitive, eclectic, anti-authority, and nonlinear–the word pastiche is useful as people pick and chose from their environment to create and/or embellish what they want.

  • Briadear

    You’re not taking into consideration that Faculty and Higher Ed administration have had to REPEATEDLY deal with the obnoxious Boomer “helicopter parents” storming into their offices complaining about how hard the educational standards and/or classroom requirements are for their “tiny tots”! Your suggestion is to “fix higher ed.”. How about, as parents, you Boomers stop protecting your little “tots” from the big bad world of “meeting the requirements and standards” and let your kids benefit from a little pressure and difficulty instead of always wanting the “easy way out”, which is what plagiarism is. I work in high ed and the amount of time administration and faculty has had to deal with Boomer Helicopter parents storming into offices all bent outta shape b/c their little “Timmy or Susie” didn’t like the assignment standards is abominable!

    And higher ed does shape its curriculum and classroom experiences to test real world aptitudes – and everyone likes that until “real world” simulations turn out to be too tough on little Timmy and then the Boomer parent marches in demanding better treatment. You have to acknowledge your generation’s parental role in the mess.

  • HKA

    If you view higher education as a form of “job training,” then it makes sense that it needs to be “redesigned.” If you view it as a furthering of intellectual growth, and a means by which the individual develops their creative capacities, as well as a greater knowledge and appreciation of the world, then plagiarism should not be tolerated. I think there is a place for both concepts, and both are equally valid. However, someone attending a university or liberal arts college should not be held to the same standards as someone attending a trade school, and vice versa.

    I realize the belief that education should be a valued for it’s own sake sounds horribly quaint. I guess I’m becoming a reactionary already.

  • Ccressley

    I have to side with HKA.

    @ Richard
    There is plenty of team work going on in higher ed now, so this is not an issue. Also, it’s not like we need to teach anyone how to “copy and paste.” I would pefer to higher someone who has independent thought (not that this couldn’t be improved), as opposed to someone who is just good at regurgetating information from others.

  • Plagiarism is plagiarism. Using the ol’ copy-and-paste function does have its merits. As does giving credit where it’s due. A good friend has a mid-point Millennial child who clearly “plagiarizes” in his papers. This is, imo, a problem, as he does not see fit to credit sources and takes material and positions it as his.

    Me, an early wave Xer? I learned in school to give credit to sources in school papers. Seems that there is some more space for that, if not for an item-by-item accounting of each partially quoted sentence then at least as a mention in a paper or story.

    Source: My values.

  • Cohort74

    HKA is spot on. Education is (rightly) first and foremost about building up individual talents. You wouldn’t argue that “teamwork” in sports means that the individual players don’t have to work on their own physical fitness. Writing one’s own papers is part of the important ability of formulating your own ideas and thinking them through.

    Effective use of evidence is also part of that training. This means, of course, that you separate evidence from argument – i.e. identify your sources and quotations. Contrary to the original poster’s argument, these standards are NOT relaxed at management consultancies, nor in most corporate environments. Consultancies often produce some important research of their own, and any presentation I ever did as a management consultant required sources and references – the people to whom you present want to know where you got your data!

    So, sure, Wikipedia was a popular source, but you had better point out that this is where you got it from.

    Business has not devolved to the Facebook standard yet.

  • Here is another take on the issue. The behavior is called Bricolage n nnAgain, it is evidence of our post modern romanticism that is anti Rational and anti formal.

  • HKA

    I don’t think of plagiarism and bricolage as being even remotely synonymous. Plagiarism is regurgitating another’s thoughts, ideas, words (often verbatim) and presenting them as your own. Bricolage is a highly creative process that may draw on a variety of sources and materials (not necessarily without giving credit) but, the end result is something new and completely original.nA plagiarist is not a bricoleur, but Lady GaGa might be……nAnyhow, any mention of bricolage makes me think of one of my favorite paintings, “The Bricoleur’s Daughter” by Mark Tansey, a Boomer artist whose paintings often use somewhat surreal imagery evoking the American High, (although this one is not the best example of that motif.)n

    • L Moore

      I was thinking more Levi Strauss than artists. Letu2019s distinguish the studentsu2019 perspectives from the academicsu2019. The majority of Millies are full blown romantics whereas current academics live in a hybrid world were modernism is fading, PhDs donu2019t have the reverence they used to, and intellectual property is being neutered. Citation indexing and university ranking were all the rage in the American High and subsequent awakening. Today, our college rankings include Best Party School and Best School for Skiing. Meritocracy is dying. Just watch Krugman on TV debate day traders as if they were equals. The 19th century didnu2019t valorize intellectual property very much. 20th century Modernism over did it, compared to the Enlightenment. And now we see the return of a weaker value given to intellectual property. Welcome to high context culture where your kids text & tweet 1000 times a month and intellectual property can be downloaded for next to nothing.