Leverett Butts - Musings of a Bored English Teacher

Occasional web log from Southern writer Leverett Butts.

My Photo
Location: Temple, Georgia, United States

English Professor in Georgia. Writer of Southern lit

Friday, July 23, 2004

Well, it's taken me a couple of years, but I finally caught my first plagiarizer. I feel a little like the late bloomer here as almost all my colleagues have caught one before (one particular professor's office looks a bit like a big game hunter's sitting room since he makes it a habit to display not only the offending papers on his "wall of shame" but he hangs head shots of each of the offenders next to the "evidence" of their crimes).

The most ridiculous case of plagiarism I ever witnessed was from this guy's class. For the final essays in his classes, Bill requires that his students turn in not only their final drafts, but all of their rough drafts as well. That way he can make sure that there was, actually, a writing process going on that did not involve simply pulling an all-nighter to write a first/final draft (of course this simply means that nine times out of ten the students pull all-nighters to write multiple drafts and invariably wind up conking out at seven a.m. and missing the deadline).

Anyway, a couple of years ago, when I was still just a rookie on GMC's campus, Bill pulled me into his cubicle and shoved into my hands one of those cardboard folders with the three clips in the middle for notebook paper.

"Look at this, man," he smiled like a vulture spotting a tasty eight-day-old dead skunk on the side of Route 66. "You are not going to believe this."

I opened the folder (it was red, I remember), and looked at the neatly typed paper clipped in the middle. It was some lame ass paper about how Jim was better father figure to Huckleberry Finn than Pap was. (I quickly grew bored of this topic after my first year teaching high school. It's such a no-brainer topic my twelve year-old son could write it without having read the book. Try writing a defense of Pap's parenting skills; now there's a paper, but I digress).

"What's the big deal?" I asked Bill, idly flipping the pages.

"Look at the drafts."

I flipped to the front cover. The student had slipped his drafts into the inside flap. "I just see rough drafts," I replied confusedly, "What's the big d . . ." Then I saw it.

The poor bastard had turned in his receipt from the website where he had bought the paper.

He had paid extra for the rough drafts.

"The kid is sticking by his story. He says the receipt was a practical joke his roommate played on him." Bill couldn't help himself; he started giggling like a school-girl or a chipmunk as he pulled his Polaroid out of his desk and checked the number of prints he had left. "He's on his way over now," Bill explained as he aimed the camera at the cubicle's entry. "I want to be ready for him."

Admittedly, my tale doesn't include a receipt, but we can't have everything.

In my ENG 101 class, I have the students work on the same topic throughout the quarter. Basically, I wind up breaking the writing process into several steps which take the entire eight weeks to complete. In other words, the students write the same paper over the course of the class and ultimately turn in a five-to-seven-page final draft for 40% of their grade.

Admittedly, one would expect some material changes from pre-planning to the writing, from one draft to next. However, when I read Sharon's paper, the difference was staggering. Sharon is not necessarily a bad writer. She certainly has ideas and strong feelings about them, and she can convey these emotions well onto paper. It's just that she gets so wrapped up in the emotions, that she often forgets to include actual ideas and points. When she does, they seem to blend together into an indecipherable jumble of almost-articulated insight.

I am ashamed to say that my first thought as I turned to the second page of her beautifully articulated seventeen-page manifesto was "My god, she's all growed up. My little girl has become a writer."

Then it occurred to me that she had not included any of the material from her previous attempts. "Well," I thought, "Maybe she decided to throw it all away and make a fresh start of it." It was, after all, essentially the same thesis as her previous endeavors.

Curiously, though, while she had not included any of her previous experiences, Sharon had included in this paper in depth examinations of such thinkers as Bertrand Russell and Immanuel Kant.

So here's a girl who can barely string two thoughts together coherently and suddenly her final paper is a complete with in-depth analysis and explorations of the writings of modern philosophers.

When I got to the line "More particularly: had my wife and I, in the previous eggs-for-breakfast case, added to our discussion a concern for the interests of our children - perhaps having eggs this morning would not be fair to our son, for whom we had declined to cook eggs yesterday, and who would rush home from his friend's house to share eggs with us this morning, were he to be notified - this might have complicated our decision-making, perhaps in part outweighing for one or both of us some of the earlier evidence," I started to suspect something was wrong.

While I knew she had children, I was fairly certain that Sharon had no wife.

I googled the first sentence (I just love that phrase). Imagine my disappointment when this article by Steve Broidy of Southwest Missouri State University popped up on my screen.

My latent prodigy was only a common cheat.

There was nothing left to do but confront her.

As luck would have it, I found her outside coming in to register for the next quarter.

"Um, Sharon?" I broached my subject cautiously after we had exchanged pleasantries. "I had a problem with your final paper." I hoped that by speaking obliquely and creeping around the subject, Sharon would feel comfortable enough to fess up. That's what all the head-shrinkers say you should do, be all non-threatening and understanding to put the perp at ease.

Shows what they know.

"Yeah," she smiled sheepishly, "it was a little long, wasn't it?"

My brain literally froze. I stood there staring at her without a word in my head.

"I tried to cut it down some," she continued, appearing not to notice the little pop noises coming out of my ears, "but seventeen pages was all I could manage. It was too long wasn't it?"

"Well," just stay calm and collected, the world will right itself momentarily. In the meanwhile, try something a tad more direct. "It was a little long," I admitted. "Also, you didn't write it."

"Excuse me?" The temperature dropped to a cool 53 degrees in the sun.

"You . . . uh . . . didn't write the paper. I found it on the internet."

Now it was her brain's turn to short circuit. She stared blankly at me as the wheels began slowly turning, looking for a way out.

Now she'll confess, I told myself. She'll probably cry and promise not to do it again. I'll tell her it's okay, but I'll still have to fail the assignment. However, nothing'll go on her permanent record.

"I wrote the paper." The words came out firmly with the slight hint of an offended tone.

"Sharon, the paper is word-for-word the same as the one on the net."

"I don't know anything about that. I wrote the paper."

I showed her her paper; then I showed her the print-out of Dr. Broidy's article.

She adamantly maintained that she had written the paper. Broidy's article was the uncanniest of coincidences. I considered asking her what her picks for this week's lottery were.

"Look," I was growing tired of the whole ordeal and was just about ready to pass the buck on down the line. "I've already shown the papers to my department head and the dean. I'm going to write this up as plagiarism, but you can appeal it if you wish."

I foolishly thought she might at least come clean now .

"Yeah," she said, "I'd like to appeal. How do I do that?"

Un-fucking-believable. "Well, it's quite simple, really. You'll have to talk to Dean Condon about it. Come on; I'll walk you down."

"You know," She said about halfway to the dean's office.

Here it comes, I told myself. The Great Unburdening.

"I did have help on the paper."

"Did you?"

"Yeah my son helped me. He's a real good writer."

"He'd have to be," I started to rub a throbbing in my temple. "How's he like teaching at Southwestern Missouri State? Do they have good benefits?"

The planes were flying low, but, apparently, not low enough. "Oh, no," she said quickly. "He doesn't teach or anything. He's only sixteen, but he is an honors student at school."

"An honors student," I said. "Of course."

I dropped her off at the dean's office and walked slowly back to my own. Bill had left his Polaroid on my chair with a note:

Your wall looks kinda bare, man.
Put up a picture or something.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

So I just heard about this new reality series coming out on UPN. It's all about these Amish kids who get to share a Hollywood beach house or something as they try to decide whether they want to embrace the modern world or go back to their homes and live a life of gardening, animal husbandry, and barn-raising.  It sounds a little more interesting (and maybe a lot more exploitive) than the average Who Wants To Be A Mediocre Pop Star? reality show.

Critics, however, claim that Amish in the City should be careful of stereotyping the Amish as backwards, technologically repressed country-folk (very tall hobbits, if you will). I did mention that the key players in this reality show are actual Amish, didn't I? If not, allow me to now.  The key players in this reality show are actual Amish.  How can they be stereotypes?

Others worry that this show will offend the Amish communities.

How the hell will the Amish communities know?

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Yesterday was my first wedding anniversary.

Tina has tolerated me for a whole year now!

Thanks, honey.