Trump Plagiarism Scandal Offers New Excuses For Our Students

It wasn't until today that I realized how much things have changed since I was a classroom teacher.

As I watched the coverage of how the speech delivered by prospective First Lady Melania Trump featured passages plagiarized from Michelle Obama's 2008 Democratic National Convention speech, I recalled an incident that took place during my early years in the classroom.

As my students were taking an essay test, my attention was drawn to two students in the back of the room. One was an African American girl who had been in my classroom the entire year. The other was a white boy who was new to the school system and wore more chains than you could find on a road gang in a 1930s prison movie.

As I walked around the classroom, I passed their desks and noticed that the boy and the girl had the exact same answer on a question. I immediately took the boy aside so the rest of the class wouldn't hear and asked him if he had copied off the girl.

He said he did not, but I was not going to let it go that easily. "You cheated," I told him.

"You're racist," he said. "How do you know she wasn't the one who cheated?"

I grabbed his paper and read his answer, which began, "Growing up as a black girl in Joplin."

He quickly conceded that he had cheated.

A couple of years after that, I ran into another student who initially refused to admit to plagiarism. During the spring semester each year, I had students do research papers on the American Civil Rights Movement. It only took a quick glance at one girl's paper to tell the entire work had been plagiarized. Normally, I would have given the girl the benefit of the doubt and conclusively proven she had plagiarized by locating the source.

This time, there was no need. I told her she would receive an "F" on her paper because she had plagiarized it. Before I could outline my evidence, she angrily said, "I did not cheat. I stayed up until two o'clock working on that paper."

"How much time did you spend on the part that reads 'See the photo on page 23.? " Once I had seen that reference, in a six-page paper that did not include any photographs, it was not much of a stretch of the imagination to assume that cheating had occurred.

Each year, I spent a considerable amount of time working with students so they would know how to properly acknowledge sources and make certain they were not taking credit for words that were written by someone else.

Those lessons become that much harder when our elected leaders and those who want to become our elected leaders try to redefine the meaning of the word plagiarism when they have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Thankfully, most students do not spend their days glued to the television screen (or to their mobile devices) keeping up with the latest political news. But those who do received an education today on excuses they can use if they are caught using someone else's words as their own.

-It's not cheating if you only plagiarize seven percent of your work. According to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, it's all right, if you only plagiarize that amount..That means that 93 percent of the work is your own. Ninety-three percent is still an "A" in most classes.

-Blame Hillary Clinton- Donald Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, denied that any plagiarism occurred in Melania Trump's speech and blamed Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. And if all else fails, just claim your real paper ended up on the wrong server.

-Blame the media- After all, plagiarism is not a problem unless someone notices it and brings it to our attention.

Donald Trump and the people who speak for his campaign remind me of those students who deny any wrongdoing when every bit of evidence points to their guilt. My students learned it was much easier to admit their transgression, accept their punishment, and put it behind them

It is the same lesson that is taught by teachers across the United States.

Perhaps Donald Trump was absent that day.