Henry Jenkins (subbing for Mark Glaser at Mediashift) writes an interesting article Learning by Remixing. He notes that re-mixing is a Western tradtion: that The Iliad and the Odyssey were remixes of other myths, that the Sistine Chapel Ceiling is a remix of Biblical stories, that Shakespeare's work is a remix of parts of other plays, and so on. However,

Despite the pervasiveness of these cultural practices, school arts and creative writing programs often remain hostile to overt signs of repurposed content, emphasizing the ideal of the autonomous artist. Yet, in emphasizing totally “original work”, schools sacrifice the opportunity to help kids think more deeply about the ethical and legal implications of repurposing existing media content; they often do not provide them with the conceptual tools students need to analyze and interpret works produced in this appropriative process; and they don’t teach them the relationship between analysis and production.

Today, I want to report on several interesting new experiments which involve students sampling and remixing in order to develop better media literacy skills. My MIT students often report that they learned how engines worked by taking machines apart and putting them back together again. Maybe students can learn how culture works by breaking it down into its basic building blocks and remixing them.

After reporting on those projects that value remixing, Jenkins concludes:

What each of these projects have in common is a hands-on approach to culture: they recognize the value of remixing as a means of mastering the core vocabulary of storytelling and representation. They value the kinds of creative expression which emerges when familiar materials get placed in unfamiliar contexts or get rethought through different perspectives.

Of course, though the digital environment places a new emphasis on understanding and responding to remixing practices, this is not a radically new idea. I was going through some of my mother’s things recently and stumbled upon a box of her school papers from the late 1930s. One of the assignments had been to rewrite Little Red Riding Hood from the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf. As they say, everything old is new again.

Jenkins' position on "learning by remixing" meshes well with the building blocks in John Holland's model of complexity theory. Interactions of building blocks lead to the emergence of new building blocks at higher levels. In Hidden Order, he gives the example of quarks, nucleons, atoms, molecules, organelles, cells, and so on, to show the integration of building blocks at different levels. Holland writes:

We gain a significant advantage when we can reduce the building blocks at one level to interactions and combinations of building blocks at a lower level: the laws at the higher level derive from the laws of the lower-level building blocks. This does not mean that the higher-level laws are easy to discover, any more than it is easy to discover theorems in geometry because one knows the axiom. It does add a tremendous interlocking strength to the scientific structure.

I've wondered before what would be the building blocks that could lead to the various genres and concepts of writing. From classical rhetoric are candidates, such as stasis theory or the elements of pathos, ethos, and logos. More recently, Toulmin logic or Halliday's functional linguistics might be candidates. It's not that clear, however. Holland himself (Emergence, 1998) notes that poetry has a "looser framework" than physics when it comes to re-combining building blocks. Poetry's looseness, he says, "limits the possibilities for a cumulative structure," although not making it impossible.

Perhaps the levels are utterance (or word), clause, paragraph, and genre. I'm not sure how helpful using these levels would be in learning to write across genres. Gordon Wells (Dialogic Inquiry, 1999) tied Halliday's functional model with its concepts of ideational, interpersonal, and textual semantics to activity theory's levels of operation, action, and activity.

I've noticed that quite a few books on writing have similar sorts of questions. From stasis theory comes: What are the facts? What is the nature of the event? What is its value? and What should we do about it? From Deborah Meier's Habits of Mind: How do we know what we know? Who's speaking? What causes what? How might things have been different? and Who cares? (or So what?)

Quite close to the notion of Holland's building blocks are activity theorist Davydov's germ cell concepts in his "Ascending from the abstract to the concrete." This approach starts with students discovering primary general concepts in a particular discipline, investigating those concepts across particular contexts, and in the process retrace/recreate the process through which people developed the present day concepts.

These similarities across disciplines and theories suggest that human thinking runs along a few fundamental paths (this is not new), so perhaps the building blocks of any of those paths will be sufficient for students to learn and use in their writing in ways that help them transfer their learning to new contexts, whether to other classes or to future careers.

The key, however, remains remixing. In a fashion like the four bases of DNA that in various combinations lead to different species, composition might focus on a few building blocks that can produce a variety of genres across different contexts. Previously, I wrote about Graff and Birkentstein's book They say / I say. The book's goal, as they put it,

is to demystify academic writing by isolating its basic moves, explaining them clearly, and representing them in the form of templates. (p. x)

There are just two basic building blocks: "They say" and "I say". However, the permutations and recombinations are endless.

What do you think? Should schools have codes of ethics or not?

David Warlick does and has posted an attempt at a Code of Ethics in "Getting Right Down to It". The four basic principles (expanded with subprinciples) are:

  • Seek truth and express it
  • Minimize harm
  • Be accountable
  • Respect information and its infrastructure

One wouldn't think that these principles would be controversial. However, Stephen Downes disagrees with codifying them. Let's look at his main points:

Yes, they can, but what is it that distinguishes a code of ethics from, say, instruction from a teacher or parent? It is one thing to tell people what they ought or ought not do - even I do that. And quite another to codify that. When something like ethics is codified, then this gives people room to be 'ethical' by watching for loopholes or playing legal games. It is better to adhere to the spirit of an ethic rather than the letter, to be ethical by holding your behaviour accountable to your own sense of good and right, not some arbitrary third party construction.

This is setting up a false dichotomy. Yes, "It is better to adhere to the spirit of an ethic," but that doesn't mean that should be no letter. I would prefer to see the possibility of the spirit informing the letter, and the letter informing the spirit, with each mutually reinforcing the other.

Also, as far as codes leading people to watch for loopholes as distinct from telling people to do, you should meet my seven-year-old son. He remembers everything I tell him to do and not to do, and is constantly formulating exceptions. So, we might consider codes simply as the pragmatic recognition of the fact that not everyone possesses or "adhere[s] to the spirit of an ethic." Thus, rather than being "arbitrary," they often are evolving adaptations by a concerned party to historical evasions of ethics. Having said that, it would be appropriate to bring the other concerned party, the students, into the writing (and ongoing re-writing) of a code of ethics.

Because the rules will never be complete. Freedman writes, "Surely the starting point is to instil the ethical value of citing sources with permission, before bringing in the obvious exceptions?" But if the rule has exceptions, then the rule, as stated, is wrong. Shall we start listing exceptions? No, because then we could never stop? Another rule, then? No, because it, too, will have exceptions.

Why should rules be complete in order to be valuable? Rules should be considered as prototypes that offer guidance rather than perfect completeness. In fact, we should consider exceptions not as endless problems, but as endless opportunities for learning. When an apparent exception arises, we can question the rule and the exception: Is this action really an exception? Why? In what ways does this exception inform our understanding of the rule? Should we change the rule or simply, noting the exception, complexify our understanding of the rule?

There is a reason we leave application of the law to the discretion of judges and not merely to adjudication of fact. The interpretation of referees and umpires rather than electronic sensors. Why we often appeal to the 'spirit of the law' rather than the letter. Why we think sticking to 'the letter of the law' is cheating.

This example of judges contradicts Stephen's position. Without laws, there would be no need for judges to interpret their application. Following this logic, there would be no need for laws. Conversely, with laws and rules, we and our students have the opportunity to interpret them, reflect on them, and grow in our understanding of the principles involved in their formulation.

The only 'morality' a person follows is his or her own, a feeling that this or that is right or wrong. Any appeal to an external sourse changes the definition from 'morality' to 'authority'.

This is a red herring. No one creates their own morality de novo. Morality is constructed on the basis of interactions with external sources, such as family, community, social institutions, and culture. (Consider the Vygotskian perspective that the social plane exists before the psychological plane.) In addition, morality is not static but changes over time with experience, that is, with interactions with external others. When people perceive an external source as having legitimate authority and persuasive reasoning, over time they may come to integrate the external position as part of their identity and thus their own morality (see self-determination theory).

Rules are normal, and so are exceptions. Consider rules for writing. When a paper is important, I go back through my paper with one rule (e.g., topic sentences and coherence) at a time looking for how well I have followed it. This practice of following rules helps my writing become clearer and more persuasive. Yet sometimes I see a need to break the rules. Life and writing are too complex to understand in their entirety. That's why we reduce the complexity down to manageable prototypes, or rules. So, of course, rules have exceptions. But until the "incomplete" rules have become automatic, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to understand where the exceptions exist. Learning is a matter of complexifying one's understanding of prototypes, and external guidelines can help scaffold the process.

Still, we might ask whether rules (with their exceptions) are sufficient for all contexts. Perhaps, for some purposes and contexts, stories might work better. I'm reminded of Shell's Global Scenarios:

The Shell Scenarios are carefully crafted views of the future. They provide a tool to explore the many complex business environments in which companies work and will be working. During the last 30 years our Scenarios have helped us and others to link the uncertainties we hold about the future to the decisions we must make today.

Along these lines, The Farmer’s Wife a children's story by Idries Shah, exemplifies the potential of stories for teaching ethics. In this story, a farmer’s wife drops her apple, which rolls into a hole. Unable to get it out, she asks a series of animals and objects (bird, cat, dog, bee, beekeeper, rope, fire, water, cow) to help her. However, each one in turn refuses and is called “naughty.” Finally, she asks the bird to peck the cow. Being naughty, the bird obliges and sets off a cascade of actions in reverse order of animals and objects, returning to the bird again, building up to the point at which it is expected that the last (and first) animal, the bird, will retrieve the apple. However, instead, at the last second, a wind blows the apple out of the hole, “And everyone lived happily ever after.” This short story juxtaposes (1) asking according to one’s own interest with asking according to the recipient’s interest (or nature), (2) allegedly naughty beings (and the good farmer’s wife) with living happily ever after and (3) an expected outcome from a linear cascade of causes with unexpected chance.

Stories like this one hold our interest better than rules, stay in our minds longer, and, when well-crafted, contain contradictions that exemplify the complexity of ethics.

Still, neither stories nor rules are sufficient. A spirit of morality in the schools and communities is crucial. Without it, people will, as Stephen wrote, look for loopholes, because in such a case, the stories and rules do not reflect students' environment, which seems to be the case in general, at least in the U.S. From Thomas Lickona's book Character Matters, the "2002 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth" reports that in high school, 75% of students cheat on at least one exam; 40% steal from a store; and 40% will "lie to get a good job." Jeffrey Selingo in his article "The Cheating Culture" (Prism Magazine), reported that in the mid-nineties, cheating at least once was around 82% for engineering students and that it has been rising since then.

So, despite laws and existing rules, students are, as Stephen wrote, following their "own" morality. And as I wrote above, an individual's morality is not created de novo; it's the result of interaction with others and environmental pressures. So, what are schools and universities to do? Speaking on character education, Dwayne Huebner (curriculum theorist and Professor Emeritus, Teachers College) is worth citing at length on this point:

First, recent discourse about moral and spiritual values in the classroom is incorrectly focused. That discourse assumes that there is something special that can be identified as moral or spiritual. This assumption is false. Everything that is done in schools, and in preparation for school activity, is already infused with the spiritual. All activity in school has moral consequences. The very highlighting of the need to teach moral and spiritual values in schools implies a breakdown not in the spirituality and morality of the student, but a breakdown in the moral activity and spirituality of the school itself, and of the people in control of the school. Those in control of the schools cover their own complicity in the domination system by urging the teaching of moral and spiritual values. They do not urge that the moral and spiritual climate of the schools, which they control, be changed. That teachers do not feel the freedom to be critical and creative is a sign of their enslavement to other principalities and powers. The need is not to see moral and spiritual values as something outside the normal curriculum and school activity, but to probe deeper into the educational landscape to reveal how the spiritual and moral is being denied in everything. The problem in schools is not that kids are not being taught moral and spiritual values, the problem is—the schools are not places where the moral and spiritual life is lived with any kind of intentionality. (The Lure of the Transcendent, pp. 414-15)

I'm not quite sure what Huebner's perspective is on intentionality, but Alicia Juarrero in her book Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System defines actions as "behavioral trajectories constrained top-down by an intention." Behavior—the enactment of meaning, moral values, and beliefs—results from a self-organizing process of a person’s history of reciprocal interactions with his/her environment, a process in which interdependencies between intentions and actions, individual and society, are entrained. If intentions are not regulated and are not followed by action, people will follow the thoughts, intentions and actions of others. In other words, people conform to their social environment unless they intentionally, and persistently, will to do otherwise. That's all that students are doing, conforming to their environment.

So, again, what are schools to do? Although schools, too, have interdependencies between themselves and their communities, they must take the initiative in entraining their intentions and actions to match the ethics they wish their students to embody. That's not easy to do. Most learning is unconscious. Thus, when breaking old habits to form new ones, it's helpful to structure support into the environment that promotes conscious intention and reflection. Rules and stories can be two such types of support. They remind us of prototypical actions that we wish to emulate, as in the case of David Warlick's principles. Thus, there is no essential dichotomy between ethics and rules or stories. All are useful, in fact, necessary: The spirit provides the motivation to act ethically, and stories and rules (along with experience) provide the support and knowledge to do so.

For other links on this topic, see David Warlick's response to Stephen Continuing the conversation on ethics, and also via Stephen Downes, see Terry Freedman's response to Stephen and Susan van Gelder's post.

Here is a list of resources on plagiarism, most of which themselves are a compendium of resources:

"Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices"
The Council of Writing Program Administrators has some excellent guidelines on dealing with plagiarism. As they write,

Plagiarism has always concerned teachers and administrators, who want students’ work to represent their own efforts and to reflect the outcomes of their learning. However, with the advent of the Internet and easy access to almost limitless written material on every conceivable topic, suspicion of student plagiarism has begun to affect teachers at all levels, at times diverting them from the work of developing students’ writing, reading, and critical thinking abilities.

This statement responds to the growing educational concerns about plagiarism in four ways: by defining plagiarism; by suggesting some of the causes of plagiarism; by proposing a set of responsibilities (for students, teachers, and administrators) to address the problem of plagiarism; and by recommending a set of practices for teaching and learning that can significantly reduce the likelihood of plagiarism. The statement is intended to provide helpful suggestions and clarifications so that instructors, administrators, and students can work together more effectively in support of excellence in teaching and learning.

Sharon Stoerger from the University of Illinois has compiled a one-stop, everything-you-ever-needed-to-know-about-plagiarism list of resources broken down according to categories of Articles, Copyright & Intellectual Freedom, For Instructors, For Students, Plagiarism Case Studies, Plagiarism Detection Tools, Term Paper Sites--Examples, Additional Plagiarism Resources, and Additional Ethics Resources.

The University of Maryland College's Center for Intellectual Property provides quite an extensive list of resources in these categories: Plagiarism Detection Services, Evaluation of Detection Services and Methods, Incidence and Prevalence (statistics on student plagiarism), Academic Integrity Issues, Developing Assignments and Preventing Plagiarism, Theory and Discussion, and Other Bibliographies and Guides.

The Open Directory Project has 100 articles in alphabetical order or by category of Citation Guides, Copyrights, Detection, and Prevention. Because this site is an open-to-volunteer-editors site, the number of articles may easily grow in the future.

"Plagiarism resources"
Z. Smith Reynold's Library (Wake Forest University) has resources in the categories of Articles and Books About Plagiarism, Avoiding Plagiarisim: Tips for Writers & Tips for Faculty, and Detecting Plagiarism: Tips for Faculty.

"Plagiarism resources"
Sherman Dorn's tutorials are not comprehensive as other sites, but as he says:

These pages have my personal sense of humor and perspective as a teacher. Don't say I didn't warn you! Remember, these are the lemonade tutorials.

"Plagiarism resource site"
In addition to their resources, CBB has a blog that posts blurbs with links to news of plagiarism.

Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin (CBB) have jointly developed this site as part of an instruction program conceived to discourage student plagiarism. Intended as a clearinghouse for information on plagiarism, the site is especially concerned with news, developments, and resources that consider the issue in the context of undergraduate teaching and learning.

The site consists of two main sections: standalone resources and a collection of news items.

"Plagiarism resource site"
Lou Bloomfield, Professor of Physics, University of Virginia, is one of the few resources I found that distributes free software (which seems to be his own creation).

The goal of this web site is to help reduce the impact of plagiarism on education and educational institutions. At present, it distributes free software to detect plagiarism and provides links to other resources.

"Resources on plagiarism & cheating"
Sara Nixon, Reference Librarian at Towson University, has provided links to resources in the categories of Web Directories, For Students, For Faculty, For Online Teaching, and Detection Programs.

Have you ever noticed that different dictionaries often define words almost exactly the same, word for word? Here are a few selected definitions of the word plagiarize from various dictionaries:

  1. to appropriate ideas, passages, etc., from (a work) by plagiarism
  2. to appropriate (ideas, passages, etc.) from (another work or author)
  3. to appropriate and pass off as one's own (the writings, ideas, etc., of another)
  4. to use and pass off (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own
  5. to steal and use (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own
  6. to steal and pass off as one's own (the ideas or words of another)

The sources are respectively:

  1. Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (based on the Random House Dictionary, 1st ed., 1994)
  2. The Collins Paperback English Dictionary (Collins, 1986)
  3. Standard Dictionary, International Edition (Vol. 2, Funk & Wagnalls, 1965)
  4. (Lexico Publishing Group)
  5. The American Heritage Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin, 1982)
  6. Websters Third New International Dictionary (Merriam-Webster, 1993)

Is this plagiarism?

Update: At some time since this post, started citing its sources, giving as a source for the entry "plagiarism", Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

Earlier I commented on two reports, both of which indicated an effect of poverty on academic success with one stating that "the strongest predictor of academic underperformance is poverty." Because I had just read the same day William Raspberry's Attitude Gap, I wondered about a possible connection between poverty and attitude. Raspberry wrote:

Speaking frankly and helpfully about the academic achievement gap between black and white students is a lot harder than it ought to be.

It is particularly hard if it is true -- as I believe -- that the gap has less and less to do with racism and more and more to do with the habits and attitudes we inculcate among our children.

Raspberry wasn't referring to poverty but to racism, saying that although racism still plays a role, attitude and habits were more important. That comment led me to wonder briefly how poverty might be "linked to attitude."

A response:
However, Stephen Downes, whose posts I appreciate and respect quite a bit, fired a shot across my bow:

In case we forgot, "the strongest predictor of academic underperformance is poverty." Whe the reminder? Because the denial is so strong. As in this post, where the very next line is "I wonder how poverty is linked to attitude" and where the author then quotes William Raspberry saying "the gap has less and less to do with racism and more and more to do with the habits and attitudes we inculcate among our children." Except that it doesn't. This sort of attitude suggests that poor children would learn better if only their parents were better parents. But if this were the case, then parenting - and not poverty - would be the strongest indicator of academic underperformance. In the same way, the improvement of children in military families is far more likly to have to do with the regular paycheque, not the military discipline (which doesn't even apply to the kids). Why the denial? Because it allows people to rationalize leaving children in poverty?

I almost stopped dead in water. I wasn't quite sure how Stephen jumped from "linked" to blaming parents and "denial." Setting up either-or fallacies of parenting vs. poverty and denial vs. acceptance dichotomies did not do justice to the complexity of interactions between poverty, families, communities, schools, attitudes, and academic success.

Theoretical possibilities:
Quite a few theories would support the notion that poverty would interact with attitude. From Bandura's self-efficacy perspective, people who believe they have control over their circumstances are more motivated to take action. It seems likely that a pervasive poverty could affect one's attitude negatively, lower one's sense of self-efficacy, and thus, also, one's academic achievement. (Also compare self-determination theory and "learned helplessness".) Or from a different perspective, could cultural attitudes, such as the "acting white" phenomenon posited by Fordham and Ogdu, intertwine with the effects of poverty?

Complex vs. simple analysis:
It would seem odd to suggest that wealth, or poverty, doesn't influence (not determine) one's attitude towards life and a variety of other factors. Focusing on "the strongest predictor" as if there were no other factors treats academic achievement as a linear, money input, success output model. If that were the case, we would have a linear graph mapping economic status to academic output: A's would go to the super rich, C's to the middle class, and F's to the super poor--without exceptions. Obviously, that's not the case. In attempting to help all students achieve academically, we have to consider education (and academic success) as embedded in nested and interacting levels of different ecologies. Stephen himself, commenting on a post by Miguel Guhlin on Data Analysis (which happens to include attitude), suggests tongue-in-cheek that many factors interact in affecting learning:

Be sure to have a look at the 'multiple measures of data' graphic in this post. It is a four-circle Venn Diagram identifying four corresponding measurement metrics and how they interact. Of course, once you admit these dimensions of measurement, what is to argue against a variety of other measurements - nutrition intake, for example, local crime rate, perhaps, or per-student computer budget - into the same sort of calculation. Of course, if you do that, then you have made a mash of the idea that you can nicely and neatly measure school achievement - and you can't have that, can you?

Povety's intertangling with other factors:
But let me back up a little. The quotation about poverty being the number one predictor of academic underperformance was in reference to English language (EL) learners in the California report, which also noted the low literacy skills even in the EL learners' native language:

Principals from participating schools frequently pointed out that, even apart from their EL status, the majority of their high-poverty EL population has low literacy in their home language as well. As one remarked, “What we now understand is that the kids really do not have the language to address much of the curriculum. [They] are not coming to us with the pre-knowledge that they need.” Another principal pointed out that “the awareness that some ELs are also English-only speakers is critical – they don’t have literacy in their home language either.” (IV-36)

It seems more than likely that their parents also have low literacy skills, and socioeconomic status has been linked to vocabulary, a relationship that also affects native English speakers (see Ten Hypotheses about Socioeconomic Gradients and Community Differences in Children's Developmental Outcomes). And, of course, Shirley Brice Heath's Ways with Words showed how cultural similarities/differences between school and home explained how children succeeded in school or didn't.

Statistical averages vs. interesting anomalies:
However, these points refer to statistical averages for groups. Poverty cannot predict for a specific student. Otherwise, no poor person would become academically successful, and that's obviously not true. Poverty can influence academic achievement, but it cannot determine it. Consequently, studies that report findings that are not average are more interesting. Consider this study by Jewel Evans Hairston on "How Parents Influence African American Students' Decisions to Prepare for Vocational Teaching Careers" in the Journal of Career and Technical Education. Hairston stated:

In summary, all parental influences derived from this study have implications for vocational education. These influences, which include parents serving as role models of altruism, parental support for career goal achievement, high grade expectations, introductions to the positive aspects of teaching and vocational subject matter, parents involving children in hands-on learning experiences, and the creation of environments that nurture the discovery of vocational content are all important in creating interest in vocational education and vocational teaching. Each factor serves as a necessary element that creates excitement in vocational subject matter and incites desires to be a part of vocational teaching.

Once again we see that (1) positive attitude from parents is important and that (2) each factor is important. The California report also looked at schools with achieving students in high-poverty areas, finding that vision and attitude were important:

“We need to prepare our children to go out and compete with everyone else,” states Hobart Elementary Principal Mercedes Santoyo-Villavazo when questioned about her school’s transition from a bilingual to an SEI model post-Proposition 227. With 81 percent of the student population designated as English learners, Santoyo-Villavazo felt it was a major problem “that the children were spending way too much time in primary language reading and writing and were not transferring the skills into English.” This emphasis on English language development, along with high expectations, extra time, and data-driven instruction, has earned Hobart Elementary recognition as a school with high achievement despite a near 100 percent poverty level.. [bold mine]

According to leadership, high expectations and hard work drive student achievement. While some feel that society at large has watered-down expectations for low-income urban schools, this attitude is not tolerated at Hobart. “Our children might be poor,” states Principal Santoyo-Villavazo, “but they’re not brain dead. They have just as much brainpower as anyone else, and they can do it. They will achieve and they will meet our expectations.” (IV-47)

This vision and attitude of high expectations were held by school staff, which brings us back to interactive effects. When all--students, parents, schools, and communities--hold the attitude that academic success is expected, then, for the most part, it apparently will follow.

Teacher quality:
One can imagine that attitude interacts with teacher quality. Claire Campbell writes about a recent report that finds,

The Illinois research also demonstrates the clear link between teacher quality and student achievement. In the highest-poverty high schools with high teacher-quality indices, twice as many students met state standards as did students in other similarly high-poverty high schools with low teacher-quality indices. ...

“Rather, we take the children who come to us with less and give them less in school, too--including less of the very resource they need the most: high-quality teachers," Haycock said.

These results are related to poverty in that schools with more money can attract more than their share of quality teachers and administrators. The report recommends distributing teachers more equitably through schools.

Measuring attitude:
Back to the 227 Report: Although attitude was mentioned with respect to staff, it did not seem to be measured. It would be interesting to see how attitude compares with poverty (or teacher quality) as a predictor. If attitude were a better predictor, that result wouldn't let poverty off the hook. Again, factors do not act in isolation but in interaction with one another. However, while poverty is outside of a school's control, attitude and vision are not.

Teacher attitude:
As one who teaches first-year composition to ESL students, I'm constantly reminded of the importance of attitude, including my own. Many of my students work full time and have families, and they have first-hand experience in the frustration of learning to write in a second language, facing one "error" after another. Attitudes of mistakes as a normal part of learning, attitudes of respect, and a vision of high expectations help motivate students to keep learning more than an attitude of "Why can't you get this right?" and "Don't bother me, I'm busy."

Ideology vs. common sense:
I doubt that Stephen would disagree with that. Instead, he knows that people are often ruled by ideology instead of common sense (see Emotion Overrules Reason). Diano Schemo (It takes more than schools to close achievement gap, NY Times) writes:

In 1966, Prof. James S. Coleman published a Congressionally mandated study on why schoolchildren in minority neighborhoods performed at far lower levels than children in white areas.

To the surprise of many, his landmark study concluded that although the quality of schools in minority neighborhoods mattered, the main cause of the achievement gap was in the backgrounds and resources of families.

For years, education researchers have argued over his findings. Conservatives used them to say that the quality of schools did not matter, so why bother offering more than the bare necessities? Others, including some educators, used them essentially to write off children who were harder to educate.

Knowing that ideologues easily find excuses to justify their own agendas can make it difficult at times to allow for complexity. Raspberry commented on that point:

Does giving voice to this message amount to "giving racists a stick to beat us with"? It's an interesting question. Here's a better one: How do we best use our intellectual, political and moral capital -- priming our children for success, or merely supplying them with excuses for failure?

The complexity of the interactions between poverty and other factors requires a systemic approach to dealing with them. Neither should we excuse ourselves from attending to poverty's effects on learning and life, nor should we turn away from considering other factors that may interact with poverty, exacerbating the problem. Thus, in "priming our children for success," shouldn't we consider attitude?

Scott Leslie of EdTechPost reports on a new web2.0 tool:, while still in beta, is an incredibly simple student-focused tool that currently supports note taking and scheduling, with file storage and self grade-tracking coming soon. There are three things about it that are really beautiful:

- it is REALLY simple, and yet quite useful. ...

- all class notes are shared (you have to agree to this to use the system). ...

- based on the amazingly simple interface....

As Scott notes, this tool produces "an ecology of class notes for individual classes" but can also be used to find notes in similar classes around the world, simply by searching via keywords. I'm not sure how this tool might affect attendance, but imagine students reading other students' notes, seeing differences between their notes and others, and expanding and re-organizing their own notes. The importance of reviewing notes has been posited in research. Jeff Beecher's "Note-Taking: What Do We Know About The Benefits?" (ERIC Digest) covers this topic. Here's an excerpt:

The importance of reviewing notes was mentioned briefly by Crawford in 1925. In 1973, Fisher and Harris concluded that "note taking serves both an encoding function and an external memory function reviewing, with the latter being the more important." (p. 324) Kiewra (1983) found that reorganizing notes while reviewing led to higher test achievement. The Cornell system of note-taking encourages this practice (King et al., 1984).

In a report on their study which allowed students to review their notes immediately before a test, Carter and Van Matre (1975) argued that the benefit of note-taking appeared to be derived from the review rather than from the act of note-taking itself. They even went so far as to suggest that reviewing notes may actually cue the student to reconstruct parts of the lecture not initially recorded in the notes. An interesting study by Kiewra (1985) also endorsed the value of review--but not of student notes. He suggested that "Teachers should be aware of students' relatively incomplete note-taking behaviours, and therefore, encouraged to provide learners with adequate notes for review." (p. 77 ...)

Whether it's note-taking or reviewing that helps, would seem to accomplish both. Plus, it should help students complete their "relatively incomplete" notes and more fully understand a topic as they attempt to resolve differences, or contradictions, between their notes and others. In addition, it facilitates the building of networks outside of class that can support learning, along with the social-relatedness and autonomy elements of motivation (see self-determination theory).

Some time ago, I came across Brian Martin's article "Plagiarism: a misplaced emphasis" which was published in the Journal of Information Ethics (1994). He lists several commonly accepted practices of what he calls institutionalized plagiarism that fit the common definition of plagiarism (i.e., taking someone else's words or ideas without crediting appropriately):

  • ghostwriting (e.g., for famous people)
  • honorary authorship (e.g, a lab supervisor's name is listed as author but contributed little or nothing to the paper)
  • political speechwriting
  • beauracratic documents (i.e, "junior workers" write documents signed by their senior officials)

Institutionalized plagiarism, as he notes, seldom merits attention, although as in the case of Southern Illinois University (see Plagiarism: Perspective and Context), other circumstances can turn the spotlight on it. In contrast, what he calls competitive plagiarism (e.g., the taking of words or ideas from those whose careers are dependent upon those ideas, sometimes by scholars or journalists and more often by students, whether intentional or not) is considered "a serious offence against scholarship [that] should be condemned and penalized." Martin says that we need to reverse how we view competitive and insitutionalized plagiarism; that is, the institutionalized form should be considered more egregious:

By this analysis, competitive plagiarism is given too much attention and condemned in far too extreme terms. Given the pervasiveness of plagiarism, it should be treated as a common, often inadvertent problem, rather like speeding on the road or cheating on income taxes. Most cases should be dealt with as matters of etiquette rather than "theft." Otherwise, the danger is that plagiarism allegations can be a way of mounting unscrupulous attacks on individuals who are targeted for other reasons.

Contrary to the case of competitive plagiarism, the issue of institutionalized plagiarism deserves more attention. It serves as a focus on power inequality and intellectual exploitation. The term "plagiarism" needs to be brought into common use to describe ghostwriting and attribution of authorship to top bureaucrats and officials, as a way of challenging those practices. In situations of intellectual exploitation, the demand for proper acknowledgment of work can be a subversive one. Since hierarchical and bureaucratized work structures foster institutionalized plagiarism, demanding fair credit for work done exposes and challenges these structures.

In summary, concern about plagiarism has been diverted from the most serious and pervasive problems and channelled into excessive concern about less serious problems. This process is clearly one that serves the interests of the biggest intellectual exploiters.

It's an interesting perspective. Do the words of institutional figures belong to them or to the institution? In my earlier post, an SIU spokesperson said that they were the property of the insitution's. I suppose it's similar to a company owning the patents created by their research employees. I wonder, Would it be considered plagiarism, then, if an institutional figure went to work at another place and used a speech written by the first place? Regardless, plagiarism remains a matter of perspective and context rather than a clearly defined practice.

Apparently, as Del Jones (USA Today via weblogg-ed) writes, Authorship gets lost on Web:

The Internet is becoming a cesspool of plagiarism. ...

In some quarters, plagiarism remains a serious offense. But where it involves the Internet, an acceptance of plagiarism is taking hold, and when confronted, offenders often shrug it off as hardly newsworthy.

Pew Research two weeks ago said it found that of the 12 million adults who blog, 44% say they have taken songs, text or images and "remixed" them into their own artistic creation.

It seems the perspective of the digital generation and other netizens on plagiarism contrasts with teachers who consider plagiarism to be well-defined, frustrating, and wrong. As Will Richardson remarked,

Certainly, there is a central ethic that is involved here, that of owning your own work and attributing the work of others. Putting your name on someone else’s stuff is theft, plain and simple, and should not be tolerated.

But is it that simple? Even academics contest the nature of plagiarism. Jodi S. Cohen (Chicago Tribune) reports on a chancellor of Southern Illinois University accused of plagiarism in Words Coming Back to Haunt SIU: Edwardsville Leader Accused of Plagiarism:

There's a plagiarism hunt going on at Southern Illinois University, and the hunters think they may have bagged a big one: a campus chancellor who appears to have taken parts of his Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day remarks from other writings, a Web site, and even a White House proclamation. ...

Vandegrift said the speech was written by his staff, and that when he asked them about it Tuesday, they said they thought using unattributed remarks was acceptable because it wasn't for an academic paper.

"The feeling was that since it wasn't an academic setting, that the phrases would enhance my remarks and they did not constitute plagiarism," said Vandegrift, chancellor for two years.

Another article on the SIU controversy, Differing Standards on Plagiarism (, also underscored the disagreement between faculty and administration on what constitutes plagiarism:

Joan Friedenberg, a linguistics professor at the Carbondale campus, said the above cases are proof of the university’s hypocrisy. “When you are the chancellor or president of the university, you can’t plagiarize. Our business is words and ideas; we are judged by them,” she said. ...

Michael Ruiz, an SIU spokesman, said that the online welcome letter on the office of the president’s page was created by university staff several years ago, and that words have remained “relatively unchanged” as presidents have come and gone. “In many of the other form letters that the university uses, it is common for the names and titles to change, but for the content of the message to remain the same. Since university staff create these letters, we do not believe that this practice is improper."

Obviously, standards for plagiarism differ according to perspective and context. A few years ago, my comments on the TESL-L listserv about the fuzziness of plagiarism were posted in the ESL MiniConference Newsletter. In it, I pointed out

the situatedness of plagiarism. University presidents, politicians, and others regularly present speeches written by others without giving them credit. Academics have been known to self-plagiarize and use, without citing, words they've published earlier in a source that they do not own the copyright to. And everyone "plagiarizes" after new ideas have become common knowledge.

If university folks can disagree on the nature of plagiarism, then it seems likely that our students with their digital background will find the notion foreign — not incomprehensible, just foreign. We will need, as Will said,

to model the process and make it transparent.

First, however, we might review how perspective and context shape our understanding of plagiarism. We might even expand the conversation to include teachers who photocopy copyrighted materials without permission for the classroom. Would this be another example of perspective and context?

Some other interesting reads on plagiarism:

A history of plagiarism (not my own work
But when is copying plagiarism?
Did Shakespeare plagiarize?
Understanding Blog and Ping
How to Avoid a Blogosphere Scandal: Don’t Plagiarize!"

The last link, which is by La Shawn Barber, has excellent coverage of different examples of plagiarism and not-plagiarism debated by different groups and provides links to quite a few sources.

Diana Schemo (NY Times, "Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study") writes:

The Education Department reported on Friday that children in public schools generally performed as well or better in reading and mathematics than comparable children in private schools. The exception was in eighth-grade reading, where the private school counterparts fared better. ...

Students in private schools typically score higher than those in public schools, a finding confirmed in the study. The report then dug deeper to compare students of like racial, economic and social backgrounds. When it did that, the private school advantage disappeared in all areas except eighth-grade reading.

In other words, socioeconomic background is the primary "determiner" of academic success or failure. These findings echo those in the California study (see "Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion: A Draw"), which stated,

"the strongest predictor of academic underperformance" is poverty.

I wonder how poverty is linked to attitude. William Raspberry, retired columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote about the Attitude Gap:

Speaking frankly and helpfully about the academic achievement gap between black and white students is a lot harder than it ought to be.

It is particularly hard if it is true -- as I believe -- that the gap has less and less to do with racism and more and more to do with the habits and attitudes we inculcate among our children.

I remember reading another article by Raspberry in which he attributed the academic achievement of military children to their attitude that although they recognized the existence of racism they still felt that success was possible. Although I couldn't find it, parts of it seems to have been picked up by Casondra Brewster:

Syndicated columnist William Raspberry attributed military kids’ high academic success ratios of good grades and moving on to college to, in his words, "... an unusual degree of academic success because they hold to an unusual degree of the empowering belief that they are in control of their destinies." Raspberry also attributed military school children’s success to the presence of parents "who are both self-disciplined and accepting of military discipline."

Is the relationship between poverty and attitude one similar to "learned hopelessness"?

Recently, I posted twice about education leading to immaturity (Education Leads to Immaturity and Education Leads to Immaturity cont'd) and commented how in some ways it made sense. Initially, I was thinking of students (not all, of course) at my former university, when I was a student and had little responsibility. But a friend of mine pointed out that students don't need to have responsibility in school governance to experience responsibility. When I think of my ESL students, many of who are interpreters for their parents, many who have their own families, and many who are juggling full-time jobs while going to school, obviously these students have responsibility and maturity. (None of this counters the notion that students should be involved in their education and have more input into its relevance.)

So, I went back to the article at Discovery News, where Jennifer Viegas reported that Bruce Charlton, the theory's creator, would soon have an article in Medical Hypotheses on his theory (Charlton is the editor-in-chief of the journal). And from there I went to the article "The rise of the boy-genius: Psychological neoteny, science and modern life" (2006, volume 67, issue 4, pages 679-681). If this is the one being mentioned, it turns out that it was not a researched article but an editorial with only anecdotal evidence. Perhaps Charlton is on to something, perhaps not. However, I will spend more time thinking through and researching articles I read before responding with an "unfinished" mind.

Earlier in "Education Leads to Immaturity", I commented briefly on Charlton's hypothesis that people are becoming more immature. I'd have to read the study to see how Charlton came to these conclusions. Still, in some ways, this relationship makes sense. Maturity is closely tied to responsibility. And as long as one is in school, responsibility is at a minimum for several reasons. One is that students are not stakeholders in their education: They have no, or little, voice in how their education should proceed. Another reason is that they have no, or little, direct feedback on how their education will contribute to their future interests, careers, and lives. (For student voice, see Listening to Students and for the value of feedback, see Flow, Games, and Learning. And somewhat related, download Maehr & McInerney's book chapter, Motivation as Personal Investment.)

I imagine one thing that would help would be to have students share responsibility in the governance of classes and schools, and in the direction and nature of their learning, along with graduates (from recent to not-so-recent) serving as ex-officio members to provide feedback as to the consequences (successes and failures) of their education preparing them for their careers.

As I continue to think about this, it doesn't seem so odd that the level of education correlates with immaturity. What does seem odd is that schools do not have curricula that help students become responsible and mature. What seems unlikely is that schools will redesign their curricula accordingly as long as they remain overfocused on testing. Unless, of course, they can test maturity, too. What seems likely is that NCLB's testing mania results from "highly educated" politicians, acting outside of their areas of competence, being "unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.” Interestingly, "highly educated" educators who are supposedly acting within their areas of competence apparently also have unbalanced priorities on testing. Perhaps, we're back to "Emotion Overrules Reason". Or perhaps what Charlton has come across is a variation on "Experts predict no better than non-experts":

The experts’ trouble in Tetlock’s study is exactly the trouble that all human beings have: we fall in love with our hunches, and we really, really hate to be wrong.

And hating to be wrong, many continue to love the road of testing what can easily be counted rather than measuring what counts.

The article on Charlton's hypothesis also stated:

A “child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviors and knowledge” is probably adaptive to the increased instability of the modern world, Charlton believes. Formal education now extends well past physical maturity, leaving students with minds that are, he said, “unfinished.”

Actually, I don't mind being unfinished as long as I have the flexibility to keep learning.