You stole my story
and something has to be done about it.
- Stephen King
Let me start this post with a disclaimer and an admitted bias.
Disclaimer#1: This is not a political post. I was born into a strongly Republican family, and I even went trick-or-treating with Julie and Tricia Nixon. I might add that the Secret Service even tagged along which really ruined Halloween for me.
The backstory: Vice-President Nixon (at that time) came to Seattle to support Bill Bantz, a family friend running for Senator of the great State of Washington. While I have Republican roots, as an adult I have declared myself to be an Independent voter. I may vote Democrat or Republican. I try to assess the skills, talents and heart of each candidate I vote for.
Bias #1: Besides being an Independent voter, the kind who when school levies are at stake stands at the bottom of our hill with a sign reminding citizens to vote, I am a "senior citizen" who believes in old-fashioned values.
To me, the little things still matter. I am a big believer in good manners, telling the truth, and being responsible for our actions.
I have been a teacher for a looooong time, this will be my 50th year in a classroom. To me, teaching is sacred work and I hold myself and others in my profession to a high standard of conduct.
For me, it is important that all the adults in our society behave in a way that they are positive role models for our youth. I try to walk the walk of being a good role model for my students (as well as my adult children and grandchildren), and not just talking the talk of what matters. Simple things like being on time and telling the truth make a difference. None of us are perfect role models, yet hopefully we can strive to do the best we can.
So why then am I so disappointed about the speech Melania Trump recently gave at the Republican National Convention and the role model it set for our young people today?
The minute Mrs. Trump started talking, I knew that I had heard the same exact words before. And later in the evening, when they played back Michelle Obama's talk from a former DNC, it became clear that someone had plagiarized Mrs. Obama's speech.
What difference does plagiarism make, you might add? As a college teacher my students are assigned papers and book reports to do as part of our class curriculum. We spend time in serious discussion about having their work be their own work, their own words. I emphasize that plagiarizing is cheating.
If you want to use someone else's words, you give them credit.
With internet access these days, it's easy for some students to want to take the easy route, so our college has clear policies of what happens if you plagiarize. We even have a website where teachers can scan in a paper and it will show where everything came from on the internet. I also remind students that when I read their papers all quarter, I know how they write. If I receive an assignment where it sounds like Albert Einstein wrote it, I know it is not their work.
At our college there are serious consequences for plagiarizing. The teacher can give you an F on an assignment or a failing grade in a class. A student can even be expelled from the college for this kind of cheating.
It's not just colleges that take cheating and plagiarizing seriously.
If you plagiarize at the Air Force Academy, you will be kicked out. Period. End of story. If you plagiarize on a resume, you can be fired.
So back to the Republican National Convention, it's not just that someone made a mistake and used Mrs. Obama's words, it was the minimizing and excuse making afterwards that galled me.
Governor Chris Christie told Matt Lauer that "93% of Mrs. Trump's talk was original." He said that with a straight face.
Be still my college-teacher's heart.
Seriously? Can you imagine my reaction if one of my college students said, "Well I only plagiarized 7% of my paper, 93% is in my own words."
How do I wish this had been handled, instead of saying these are common words and anyone could have said them? Just take responsibility for what happened. Don't minimize your mistake. Old people and young people are watching and we are all hungry for positive and honest role models! Excuses shouldn't be made for this kind of behavior.
Finally, when the world is in such chaos, why does this even matter? In a world of sensationalist news, this will probably only be a blip on the screen, yesterday's old news.
Isn't this incident a "no big deal?"
While this may be a little thing to some folks, it is a big deal to this senior citizen. And for the record, I would be just as galled if someone on the Democratic side of the aisle plagiarized a talk.
To me, "little things" still matter.
Being a good role model for our young people still matters
What does this say to young people when elected officials are so cavalier about cheating? To me, things like telling the truth and not cheating still make a huge difference. Call me old-fashioned, but for me they are not little things at all. They are the benchmark for someone's character and integrity.
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