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The Speech Contest, Semester 2

I helped adjudicate a speech contest today.

It hurt.

Okay, I was paid for the time, but the rate was negligible considering that what I was paid for was precious time from my life, which I cannot and will not ever ever get back.

Plagiarism is very much alive and well, even in the relatively good school where I work. The other foreign prof I work with and I had been talking last semester about a crackdown on it, and some of our Korean co-workers agreed, while others didn’t think it was fair on students who, ostensibly, “don’t know better.” Yes, that line was used again today, and my response was that the only way to make people know better is to teach them, to teach them by blatant, clear response that it is absolutely unacceptable.

“But they never hear about plagiarism until University…” was the response. That, and, “Well, in my day, we did that too, but at least we had to find a book and do that. We had to read the book to cheat from it. The Internet has ruined scholarship.”

You know, only in Korea will someone say that the Internet has ruined scholarship because people are using it to cheat more effectively. (ie. Longing for the old way of cheating, where you might have to pick up a book to fake your way through school.)

Which suggests that this is a problem of standards-free education that goes pretty damned high up the educational food chain. Maybe the problem is slack-assed enforcement of rules forbidding plagiarism? I’ve heard of high school teachers flipping out because girls drink coffee, or boys get caught smoking between classes, but I’ve never heard of a person being expelled from school for cheating — because hey, education’s a business.

(I’ve only heard of one person being fired for plagiarism, even though it was rampant at my previous workplace. The guy who was fired started teaching in Mongolia and Russia. But his daughter, who has nothing beyond a BA from the same low-quality school, has the title of professor, because hey, even if she’s an idiot, she’s daddy’s little idiot. And she’s in with the right people, of course.)

I’ve said that one thing that would push the quality of education in Korea up one hundred percent, if not more, would be finally stopping the practice of taking attendance, and giving attendance grades. Participation, sure… I’m totally for participation grades. In foreign language speech classes, I’m for participation being a massive part of the grade, in fact. But in academic classes, in classes where students are studying their major, ending the attendance-taking would (besides sparing time) allow people who aren’t interested to simply skip class. With apparent impunity. Then they’d fail, deservedly, or they pass barely, and get a degree worth nothing because their grades suck and they can’t do anything they were supposed to learn how to do. The point is, people either would get their act together, or not do so, and failing to do so would result in what the called the December Graduate in my old high school — flunking out halfway through the first year.

But another thing that needs to be done is to be kindly harsh. I usually don’t try to humiliate students who cheat, but I also absolutely refuse to reconsider their grades. Cheating earns F. No questions asked. It’s not kind to these people to have mercy and pass them — it only teaches them that gaming the system is possible, that gaming the system is worth trying, and finally, it aids them in bilking themselves. After having worked in a good school, I can see that I took teaching at my previous school in Jeonju too seriously — I was teaching fake students fake classes at a fake university, and that was all I should have thought of the whole sham. Students weren’t trying to bilk me, they were just running by the standard M.O. there — lazy stupid slackery was all most of them were capable of, otherwise they would have been studying elsewhere. But where I work now, these people are actually intelligent. Even my lowest-ranking students, most of them, are relatively bright and could do well, if they only tried.

Letting things slide isn’t a kindness for someone who actually can do better. Letting things slide hurts them, because it’s modeling the wrong thing. What teachers should be modeling is an ethic of demanding one’s best, expecting great achievement from those who can achieve it… not a kind of sympathetic coddling for those who think they don’t need to bother to try, or that bothering to try is a waste of time and effort.

But I’m sitting back and not saying much. I flunk the cheaters in my own classes, but as for what other profs do, that’s their business. I’m not here to renovate the Korean education system… I’m just here to work within it for a while. But you know, I sometimes to think some pointers are sorely needed.

Still, sometimes, I really feel like saying something. In the wake of five hours of plagiarized speeches being read monotonously and awkwardly through a microphone, to the accompaniment of inane and bizarre Powerpoint slides, I feel very much that way.

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