So Zunguzungu posted something on plagiarism, itself picked up from Da Chronic(ill) and it really got me thinking. See, I already live in society where cheating in education is... not quite accepted, but not quite frowned upon either. I can put up some more juicy stuff on edits (My favorite story so far is about Chinese 'shooters;, dudes who are paid to ace English exams and who work pretty out in the open, except when it comes to actually taking the exam). Now, I only give simple exams, and while I did have dreams of teaching writing once, my dreams were crushed under the boot of the admins here. Still, when I cannot successfully explain to the kids I am mentoring for graduate school that, 'I do not care if everyone else in China is doing it, writing your own letter of recommendation and having a professor sign off on it is NOT COOL' I mean I must take a good, hard look at what kind of education produces these ideas.
And the answer is simple: The Perfect Republican Educational System.
All testing. Abstinence. No teacher's unions. Schools are only judged by the amount of high-wage earners they produced. Nobody has the foggiest notion of what 'critical thinking' looks like. Students are in cutthroat competition with one another for grades, which at some point down the line actually do equal money (though I have yet to figure out the formula).
Anybody who has taught in China can talk about the frustration of asking a question to one student and having their immediate neighbors murmur the answer to them. Still, what do I expect when their whole lives the only thing that matters is THE RIGHT ANSWER. How you get such an answer is pish-posh. Rather than combat the culture of cheating (which is a Quixotic quest if there ever was one, because you must change the entire educational system in China), I just design my classes so there is no real way you can cheat (interviews, music videos, team activities, et al). Still, I have the luxury of teaching Oral English (and by teaching, I mean just looking like a white guy and showing up, the only two requirements to do the job), so actual classes (like Marketing or Management) with actual exams are an entirely different kettle of fish (and I totally plan on relaying some of the all-time GREAT cheating stories from my colleagues...)
Which brings us back to the fear of plagiarism in the first place: perhaps it is from our 'Western notions of individualism' (rolls eyes), but what do you expect when the United States tertiary educational system has been going to hell for three decades. The university-as-business model is complete bullcrap and I would rather end the facade now and just declare universities trade-schools and figure out ways get actual centers of higher learning built. An essay is not just an assignment to be done, but a demonstration of thought. I ran a (disastrous) attempt at making drafts mandatory for students' first essays back when I was a TA, because... well, somebody had to teach them how to write. Did not work out that well, but still. However, as we shortchange education in the crazy belief that universities are only valuable if they prepare us for the job market, guess what, more kids are not going to see ANY value in writing their own papers, because the grade they get for their work is the reward for their relatively meager investment. The actual essay itself is worthless, and instructors have been kind of pointing to that fact. Sigh.