Let’s Talk Semantics 6: When is it Plagiarism?

March 9, 2011 § 21 Comments

If you are one of those people who notices eensy-weensy details like the particulars on someone’s blog, you may have noticed that yesterday I decided to append a copyright license to my blog. You see, I’ve started to become nervous. It finally dawned on me the other day that I am posting portions of creative thought that will appear in one form or another in my dissertation. It would break my heart (not to mention really really piss me off) if someone stole my creative intellectual property before I even had a chance to explore it. Although I trust my general readers not to steal my thoughts, the same can’t be said for the general Googler who might happen upon my blog when they type in specific keywords.

Note: I realize that I’m giving myself a great deal of credit, thinking my blog would show up in a Google search, but for the sake of the point, please just play along.

In addition to being pissed off by plagiarists who might want to steal my stuff, I am disgusted by people who plagiarize at all. For instance, as some of you Gmail users may be aware, Gmail sometimes takes it upon itself to “read” your e-mail and provide advertisements that correlate to the subject matter. More often than not, I am appalled to find an ad for a paid dissertation-writing service (like those paid essay-writing services!!) splashed across my Gmail inbox…just because I used the word “dissertation” in a message to a friend.

How utterly disgusting and disgraceful, to steal a dissertation! To pay someone else to write it for you so that you can slap your name on it and claim authorship! To that I say: if you don’t have the facilities to compose a dissertation all on your own, then leave your program ABD. Let it go. Don’t get the degree. Leave the degree for the students who can and will do their own work. So disgusting.

And then…things like this happen:

1. German ‘plagiarism’ minister Guttenberg drops doctorate

2. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg: Baron without a title

3. LSE investigates Gaddafi’s son plagiarism claims

4. Plagiarism: The Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V boom

Look, folks, let’s just be perfectly clear here.

Writing is hard work. If you want your work to be taken seriously, you will often need to incorporate some amount of research (even if it’s light). Even in works of fiction, authors will write an acknowledgement or thanks message where they give credit to the people who assisted them in their research.

Research is hard work. In order to conduct research properly, you have to think of all the questions before your readers have the chance to ask them. Cover all your bases. Know what your sources know. As you conduct your research, you have got to keep track of the sources: their titles, authors, page numbers for direct quotes and paraphrases.

If it isn’t appropriate for your work to contain a bibliography, then write a note of thanks and acknowledgement so that those who assisted you are given credit.

I guess at the end of the day, the plagiarism rule is this:

When in doubt, always give credit where credit is due.

A fair warning to all readers, old and new

February 28, 2011 § 12 Comments

For some reason or another, these past four days have been turning up A.Hab.! Completely undeservedly, I am receiving recognition from a few sources, which has brought with it a ton of new readers (I’ve either gotten close to or broken past the 100-views-a-day barrier for three days). I am astonished and thrilled. So, to all new readers: Welcome! I hope you enjoy what you see here, and I hope even more that I can live up to your expectations! 😉

The places that I’ve gotten some recognition?

Well, it all started when the Social Media Coordinator for Martinelli’s, Warren, asked to share my story on the Facebook. Shock and awe! Someone at Martinelli’s saw my love-note to their apple juice in the glass bottles. It was…surreal. I’ve never been noticed by a company before, except, say, if I forgot to mail my bill payment on time or something. 😉

And then, in honor of the Oscars and yearbook season, Tori Nelson at The Ramblings honored me with the awesome superlative of “Most Likely to Rid the World of Ugly Words.” Shock and awe, again! I never received a superlative when I was in grade school. Ever. Sure, I was friends with the people who were “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Best Study Partner” (I wasn’t the friend of the “Best Dressed” and “Cutest Couple” recipients…class distinction, you know). So, many thanks to Tori for the sweet superlative! It means so much to me that you chose to recognize me for your first round of “The Sunday Paper” (where, weekly, she will point her own readers to her favorite blogs). So sweet! And, since turnabout is fair play, especially in the blogosphere: all my readers–go read Tori’s blog. Forthwith! You will not regret it! She is a hysterical, stay-at-home mom of 1-year-old Thomas, and invites her readers to laugh with (and sometimes at) her daily grind. She always puts a smile on my face!

So, then, after that stunning experience, I wake up this morning and find that the lovely Lisa Kramer at Woman Wielding Words (I loooove that alliterative title!) also gave me a shout-out! She credits me for being an honest writer–and I responded to her that it was a difficult choice to make, but one that I knew I would have to firmly decide. If I chose not to be honest with my experiences, then I would be faced either with lying or misrepresenting my life. If I chose to be honest, then I could potentially help someone else who is going through this…and also potentially get myself in some trouble. (That’s why I write this quasi-anonymously–you may notice that if someone writes a comment revealing my location, I will edit that comment. I have dropped the hint a few times, but it’s not something that I want splashed about the page…just yet. Give me until August, please. :)) It is greatly important to me that I honestly discuss especially my love-hate relationship with academia; it turned out that when I started to explore my true feelings, I discovered that I am not alone. I wish I had known that I wasn’t alone earlier. That’s the point of this blog. So, a huge thanks goes out to Lisa for recognizing that and for sharing my blog with her readers as well; it’s just amazing to me how far a little shout-out can go in this blogosphere of ours. And, with that in mind, please give Lisa’s blog a perusal. Reading her blog is like going through a private, personal stash of thoughts and mementos collected in a box. I thoroughly enjoy her writing–she’s a real writer’s writer; I don’t think she can help it! 🙂 Her writing style is accessible, witty, and enjoyable. Some of her favorite themes to revisit are her experiences as a professor of theater, her beautiful daughter Sarah, and her own fiction. Believe me: you will love them all!

Thanks again to all of these generous shout-outs in these past few days. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve the recognition all of a sudden, but I truly truly appreciate it!

Now, that said…I want to give my old and new readers a fair warning.

As many of you know and others of you will soon discover, I am writing a dissertation. This is a book-length project of torture. I have given myself a deadline of March 11th to complete the next chapter. That’s two weeks to write an entire chapter. This is not an easy task to accomplish and will probably require me to write more than 2 pages a day–probably to achieve my goal, I’ll need to write at least 4-5 new pages a day (around 1000-1500 words). This means two things: 1. I am going to continue to participate in the PostADay challenge, so there will be new entries every single day, but they may not be particularly riveting or insightful, and 2. I am going to fail hard at keeping up with commenting on new blog posts, and I will also fail hard at keeping up with responding to your comments on my blog as well. Please know that I am reading your blogs, I am loving your blogs, and that I truly appreciate your comments. I will try so very hard to catch up at some point, but please do not take my lack of communication personally. Give me until after March 11th, and I should be able to return to normal…at least for a little while.

In the meantime, seriously, check out my blog roll and fall in love with these same writers I adore. They will entertain you and bring you great joy and personal validation. 🙂

And they ask me, “what are you so afraid of?”

February 16, 2011 § 17 Comments

This woman is braver than I am:
Pa. teacher strikes nerve with ‘lazy whiners’ blog

And so is this woman, who first shared the above article:
Dr. Amanda Morris of “American Puzzle

I have about five minutes to blog today because I have quite a lot of work on my plate, but I know this topic is worth weighing in on.

When I was younger, teaching to me was something out of a movie. I wanted to be Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society. So desperately. I wanted to inspire my students to read poetry from the tops of their lungs while they traipsed through the quad, completely oblivious to the (envious) open-mouthed stares they received from other students. I wanted to turn them into proud, beautiful, Bard-quoting, theater-loving, free-thinking nerds. I wanted to be that reference point they would always recall when reminiscing on the most influential forces of their lifetimes.

That was silly. It ignores the entire ending of the movie where Mr. Keating is canned for his creative methods. It truly was a fantasy; it was not reality.

Reality is much, much darker. Much, much scarier. To me anyway.

Some people are made of the stuff it takes to play the teaching game. Some people are not. Teachers are not the people who simply “can’t do.” No no. Never kid yourself into believing that teaching is easy-peasy, carefree glorified babysitting. Sure, sometimes it does feel like babysitting. But teaching is increasingly less about the time in the classroom and more about time outside of the classroom, particularly in terms of higher education. Teachers are researchers. They are writers. They are published authors. (Hopefully.) They are book reviewers. They are conference speakers. They are guest lecturers. They are committee bitches. (All of you know it’s true.) These qualifications that I’ve mentioned are just a smattering of the most common requirements for tenure-track faculty members…anywhere in the United States. This, not the classroom experience, but this is the life for which I’ve been trained these past six years.

The teacher featured in this article, Natalie Munroe, is thirty years old. I’ll be thirty years old in a matter of months. To me, this is topical, folks, in more ways than one. Munroe has been suspended (with pay, the lucky scamp) from her job teaching English at Central Bucks East High School in Feasterville, Pennsylvania. Although the only way I would teach a group of high schoolers would be if I were forcibly dragged there and held at gunpoint to educate, I can still relate to Munroe’s problem here.

You see, Munroe has on her hands a bunch of disengaged, disinterested, entitled, lazy students. And she is getting in trouble for calling them those things anonymously in public…on her blog. Apparently her students located her blog, identified the writer as their teacher, and presented the most scandalous entry (which has since been taken down) as evidence to their principal. (Although, let’s be honest here–it was probably the parents who encouraged their kids to raise a big stink.) I can relate to Munroe in ways that I wish I couldn’t–I have had the college version of her students. And they are horrible. They truly are. You want to know what is a nightmare to teach? A student who actually says to your face, “I am paying your salary, and you need to give me an A.” This is a direct quote from an angry student meeting in my office in Spring 2007. How do you teach that? If you have the magical answer, I beg you to tell me because after six years, I got nothing.

Do you know what it feels like to be scared of your employers and your clients every single day? Do you know what it means to wake up in the morning with a pit in your stomach so heavy that you can’t bring yourself to eat breakfast? Do you know how it destroys self-confidence to have to whisper to yourself before walking into work, “Take a deep breath. It’s okay”? Every day. I’m not talking about on those occasions when you have to talk to an irate client or make a presentation or beg for a raise. I’m talking about the daily grind. You’re just going about your normal routine, and you’re utterly petrified.

That’s my reality.

Why don’t I want to teach? Because I am afraid. My friends, these women, Munroe and Dr. Morris, are brave because they know they do no wrong when they exercise their freedom of speech, protect specific identities, and call attention to glaring problems in their work. I am a coward because I am shaking just writing this blog post. Have I been known to blast a student on my blog before? Absolutely. It’s happened more than once. Do I ever use names? Absolutely not. But my first inclination after reading Munroe’s story was to go through my entire blog history and delete every post (or at least password protect them) that even mentions displeasure in the classroom. I won’t do that. I’m more foolhardy than that.

But I am afraid.

For me, this raises a complicated question. One of her former students says that Munroe’s blog was within her rights to put up, but that she behaved in a way that was inappropriate for a teacher.

Here’s my question: if Munroe had broken a law, fine. Punish her. String her up. But just because she has behaved in a way that is out-of-line with the fantasy image people have of their educators? Is that a fireable offense? Really? (Granted, she hasn’t been fired yet…and her lawyer is prepared to help her fight back if she is fired.) At the very least, is it a punishable offense? She never directly alluded to her full name, her school, or her students. According to FERPA, that’s okay. As Dr. Morris points out, as long as there is no clause in her contract stating that she cannot talk about work on-line, then it seems Munroe has not broken any laws.

And believe me, friends, other professionals behave “inappropriately” too. You think your medical staff doesn’t laugh over crazy stories from work? Of course they do. Would it insult you to know that your favorite nurse told her friends about your hilarious diatribe when you awoke from surgery? Probably. But if she doesn’t say your name or give any details about the procedure, then would you recommend she be fired? (If you answered “yes,” then the reality is that you are over-sensitive. Professionals are also people who require a release valve, too. Just as customer service reps share horror stories of terrible complaints, those in the professional world also need to release a little steam.)

These people are not saints. And it’s sweet of the general public to imagine they are. Sweet…but delusional.

But nevertheless, I’m scared. When I know I have an angry student, for instance, I actually will sit in my office, visibly shivering (at least in my extremities) every time I hear the elevator bell ding outside my door. Just how angry is this student? Is this a student who will come to my office and sit and listen patiently while I explain, yet again, the difference between a B paper and a C paper? Will they come in and scream at me for an hour? Will they stand over me, using their height, musculature, and tonal inflection as threats until I relent and give them the grade they want? (These have all happened…more than once. The second one is the most common, or at least a mixture of the first and second.) Ding! the elevator cheerily announces another arrival. Or…is this the last straw? Have I angered the wrong student? Will this student come into my office with something else in mind? Will I go home tonight? (I was particularly frightened last semester when I held evening office hours that extended past the close of the main English department office…and subsequently past when most people were around to bear witness.)

“Grade complaint,” an e-mail subject line announces from one of my higher-ups; this time it’s the one in charge of world literature studies. Immediately, my blood pressure spikes…and then plummets. I am filled with dread. I want to curl up and fake death. Maybe it’ll go away if I don’t acknowledge it? Is my coordinator angry with me? Am I in trouble? What did this student claim about me? Will I lose my assistantship? I open the e-mail…and I read a simple message, “Please handle this.” Below my coordinator has pasted an angry student’s initial communication. I want to cry. I want to hit things. I want to run away. I am not the things this student claims I am. I am not stereotyping him based on his religion. I am not grading him based on a difference of opinion. I never refused to meet with him. I never even knew he wanted to meet in the first place. But I have to handle it because my coordinator has asked me to. So, I do. And I meet with the angry student. And he proceeds to scream at me for an hour…until I finally have a chance to calmly respond to him and in fifteen minutes he’s gone, muttering obscenities under his breath. Will he come back? Will he go over my head again? When will this fight be over?

I e-mail the Provost to gain some understanding in regards to the university’s attendance policy, after an e-mail has gone out to the entire student body seemingly giving them permission to skip classes. In polite, professional terms, I ask the Provost as much. He responds, CC’ing my dissertation director (who also happens to be one of the deans in my department’s college), my department head, and his secretary. His response is curt, “encouraging me” to take into account special circumstances when I consider my attendance policy. My blood runs cold. I feel like a child who’s in trouble with her parents. How did he know who my dissertation director was? (It doesn’t occur to me until two hours later that he’s CC’d her because she’s one of the deans, not because she’s associated with me in any particular way.) But am I in trouble for bothering the Provost with an apparently stupid question? What happens if I stick to my initial attendance policy and don’t make special allowances? Will I face consequences? Could this become a bigger issue if I fight this thing? Or should I just lay down, against my ethics, and go with it? I go with it. Because I’m scared.

Yesterday, I taught Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. As a white female teacher in the South, I do struggle to teach slave narratives. Not only do I have a great deal of white guilt (something that these days seems silly and just as inappropriate as racism), but I also never know what would cross lines and get me in trouble. As I rode the bus in to campus at 7 in the morning, it dawned on me: the institution of slavery and the subsequent slave revolts (both on the docket for discussion) were really just governed within the culture of fear. I introduced this concept to my students, explaining what it means to govern one’s subordinates by threatening them, wanting to maintain power over them because one is fearsome. We imagined what a “culture of fear” classroom would look like–what my “culture of fear” classroom would look like. And we laughed at how ridiculous a notion it was.

I do not want to imply that I feel as though I have been governed by a culture of fear. That is not it at all. I have never actually been threatened or verbally abused or anything similar to those lines. But I behave as though I have been. My fear comes from within…and it’s not going anywhere. Not even when I get e-mails like this one from yesterday evening: “Thank you for your input, I really appreciate that you are helping us out with our papers.” It’s sweet. It warmed my heart. I even smiled. But it did nothing to ease my fearfulness.

To any and all educators who are brave enough to be honest about the problem with students today: I support you and applaud you…from behind the screen. Please don’t tell anyone that I’m there.

(I categorized this post under “bullying” for a very specific reason. In many ways, educators are subtly bullied by their administration, their students’ parents, as well as their students. I don’t believe this should go unnoticed, but I don’t know what to do about it.)

And the long-anticipated award goes to….

February 11, 2011 § 17 Comments

ME!

Oh dear lord...

That’s right, fans! A.Hab. gets to own the most awesome award ever made ever! I really am so incredibly lucky that I got this award! 🙂 So many, many thanks go to Kathy McCullough of reinventing the event horizon for passing this treasure on to me. I should also thank all of my incredible fans for…well, for not abandoning this blog at the sight of this completely ridiculous thing, haha. (And I have full rights to mock this silly award because its creator did, too–so, thanks go to Jillsmo for creating it in the first place.)

And now for the business end of this award: as an award recipient, I have to fulfill certain requirements. No golden naked men for this chicky–no, no. My responsibilities do extend beyond thanking all the “little” people and racking my brain not to forget a one. Nope, I must complete the following to-do list.

Requirements of the award:
–link back to the blogger who awarded you Done!
–display the graphic from award creator Jillsmo Done!
–post 5 facts, four of which must be lies
–pass the award on to 5 other bloggers who must follow these rules
–link the post back to “Memetastic Hop,” so Jillsmo can follow its treacherous trajectory Done!

All righty, now for the fun part!

What do you think is the one true fact? Leave a comment and let me know which one feels absolutely right!

1. When I was in third grade, I fell off the monkey bars and broke my arm in two places. I had to sit out my ballet dance recital.
2. My first pet was a black and white goldfish named Pongo. I named him after watching 101 Dalmations. After Pongo died, I just couldn’t bring myself to own another fish.
3. My very first plane ride ever was when I was a rising senior in college, and we went to New York City to celebrate my sister’s high school graduation. Two days before our trip, my group psychology professor showed us the film Alive, which led me to nearly tear my sister’s skin off her arm during take-off.
4. I met Khloe Kardashian while Robert and I were in Las Vegas after he graduated last May. She’s actually super sweet and smarter than she appears on television!
5. My favorite roller coaster in Disney World is in the Animal Kingdom park–it’s a fairly new ride called Expedition Everest! I absolutely cannot get enough of it! I rode it three times in a row before Robert managed to drag me away.

Oh, Memetastic Award…you fickle bitch. I enjoyed having you for this short span, but I know that your heart lies elsewhere. The blogs I have chosen to award with this silly little elated confetti-tossing kitty all have two things in common: 1. they are all women and 2. they are all personal friends of mine outside of the blogosphere. I have had the pleasure of knowing each of these women for years, and I take great comfort and joy in following their work online. In no particular order, the next five award recipients are:

1. Pet the Dog: “May all of our endeavors make us feel as lovely as when we pet a dog.” On Pet the Dog, readers can look forward to following the writer as she learns Italian, takes on sailing, and perfects her yoga practice. Read, cheer her on, and get inspired!

2. Salad Bar Dating: Educated Crouton attempts to “salad bar date” after 40. She has dedicated her blog to relearning what it means to date at this new point in her life, and she carries on her latest educational experience in a humorous, intelligent way. Follow her as she makes her way down the salad bar, in search of the perfect topping!

3. I’m About to do My Thing: inspired by her published Master’s thesis titled Getting Hair Fixed: Black Power, Transvaluation, and Hair Politics, Monita Bell writes a blog chronicling efforts to negotiate African American issues in the classroom, encouraging confidence in young people, and exploring issues of what it means for an African American woman to get her hair “fixed” today. Her blog is chockfull of intelligent discourse and keen insight.

4. On Writing: writer Tawnysha Greene offers tips and an honest look at what life is like for a writer these days, while simultaneously publishing her own work and pursuing a PhD in fiction writing at the University of Tennessee. In addition to being a superwoman, Tawnysha inspires her readers to push their boundaries and take risks with the potential to reap huge rewards!

5. V. Dub im Haus: V. Dub describes with great humor her day-to-day life as a teacher, as well as her journey with her husband to conceive their first child. V. Dub’s writing style keeps her readers laughing, while likewise conveying deep messages of womanhood, unity, patience, and strength.

Please do yourselves a favor and follow these blogs, if you aren’t following them already. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

Self-promotion, thy name is A.Hab.

February 3, 2011 § 6 Comments

I seriously need to sit down and work on those “rainy day” posts, for days such as today. I’m feeling pretty yucky, but I (smart girl) finished my dissertation writing commitment yesterday evening and can now curl up on the couch and die. Well, not die. Just lie in misery.

Another thing I did last night was create a Facebook page for this blog! I also learned how to post a badge for my blog’s Facebook page, which is right there on the right-hand side. Although it feels a little like I’m self-important, I also think it might be a great way for you all to keep connected to the blog. I might not be on the Facebook any more, but that doesn’t mean that my readers aren’t. As some of you know, I’ve been using one of our mutual friends as my Facebook promoter. Unfortunately, I can’t pay her to live like Don King, so I thought I should make my own promotion.

That hair style is just too rich for my blood....

If you have a Facebook account, then you might want to “like” this page so that you can stay updated on new blog posts. If you don’t have a Facebook account, then you should probably get one so that you can “like” this page and stay updated on new posts. …heh, just kidding. Sort of.

Photo credit: The Cleve Scene

The Princess of Planning strikes again

January 24, 2011 § 13 Comments

These past couple of days, I have struggled to come up with interesting topics to post. Some days are better than others–some days the inspiration flows freely and other days I’m parched. Unfortunately, even the parched days require a post, especially since I have accepted the Post a Day challenge. Although most days I find myself glad to accept the challenge and impressed that I have gone three weeks and have risen to the occasion, there are the days when I feel too mentally exhausted to write, or when the great post idea never comes.

Enter: Freshly Pressed.

They featured a blog this week that talked about Bloggiesta, an annual weekend-long blogging extravaganza…something I had never heard of, but then again I’m new to the blogosphere. In this post, the writer, Leeswamme, offers wonderful tips to help sustain a blogger throughout Bloggiesta, but I bet these are tips that can help sustain a blogger even during the dry days. A few of the tips really leapt out at me, and they’re so simple that I can’t believe I had never thought of them:

  • Write backup posts for a rainy day.
  • Write that great post idea from three months back.
  • Work on series posts.

Of course! So now, this Princess of Planning is going to start working on ways that she can improve her blogging experience by keeping either a handwritten notebook of topics or prewriting posts that she can publish on those rare but excruciating parched days. The funniest thing is that when I accepted the challenge to post every single day in 2011, part of me thought that that meant that I should compose brand new posts every single day. Well…already I’ve scheduled two posts to show up on my blog the day after I actually wrote them. For both of those posts I chose this option because I wanted to write them while I still remembered the topic.

But what this approach is suggesting is to take stock in the fact that writing every day is difficult, particularly when you are attempting to write on topics that will attract readers. I want to write every day because it keeps me writing at all (and that’s precisely what I need to be doing at this time in my graduate program). But, I am learning to accept my flaws and forgive them in myself as I approach my thirties, which means that complete honesty would force me to admit that coming up with ideas isn’t as easy as it seemed on the outset.

In order to help myself come through on the challenge, then, to get me to the point where I can proudly exclaim that I succeeded, I will actually set myself up for success. I’m going to take Leeswamme’s advice of prewriting entries to post later and to work on the blog posts I always intended to work on.

No matter what, I will write every single day–either on my blog or on my dissertation (most days both), but, dammit, I will write every single day.

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