I’ll start with a confession: I don’t think that plagiarism is as big a deal as some people do, especially when you are recycling your own words. (“Self-plagiarism is style.”) The best writers have a set of phrases that they love to use, and it’s not unusual for them to pull something they’ve done before and rework it a bit to suit the new occasion. This is especially true when you’re writing formulaic work that’s short. How many different very short birthday greetings can you send?
That said, educators are usually held to higher standards of writing than their students, and writing is expected to be something that they are good enough at that they don’t need to crib from someone else’s words.
With that as a preface, here’s someone else’s words about someone else using someone else’s words, in this case a former AAPS principal (Sulura Jackson) who is now in Chapel Hill, NC. The reporting is from Indy Week.
What they found is startling: Multiple documents obtained by the INDY that show Jackson—before and after her arrival at Chapel Hill High—lifted entire passages and letters from books, online articles and teaching resource guides. She used those passages without citation in staff memos, letters to students and even recommendation letters for colleagues, frequently passing them off as her words.
Of course, the world of education is full of web sites that are full of reusable forms and letters for communicating with students and teachers, like this Education World page
Communicate with parents by snail mail or e-mail with these editable and/or printable forms and letters.
Or the business world in general, with this set of 662 business letters – catchy titles like “Apology to receiver of NSF check” –
When I received your letter of (date) with my check
attached marked “insufficient funds”, I called my bank
The gentleman I spoke with, (name) , discovered
that the bank had failed to credit my account with a
substantial deposit I had made several days prior.
The bank has assured me that they will be sending you a
formal letter of apology for their error. Attached is my
check in the amount of $ to replace the dishonored
one you have returned.
Communications from authorities are often ritualistic, formulaic, and repetitious. Hopefully, though, they are not careless. Jackson was tripped up by this mistake:
Looking back, the alleged plagiarism might have gone unnoticed were it not for one careless sentence the Chapel Hill High School principal wrote in an October condolence letter to a teacher.
“Everyone at Skyline is saddened to learn of the death of your mother,” the letter said.
It seemed Sulura Jackson, who arrived in Chapel Hill this summer with a sparkling, lengthy résumé, had failed to remove the name of her former school, Skyline High, in Ann Arbor, Mich., from the text.
Teachers who spoke to the INDY on the condition that their names not be used for fear of retribution say the incident prompted them to dig deeper.
If you’re going to use a form letter, for goodness sake read the whole form and fill in all the blanks before sending it !
UPDATE: Again from Indy Week: “More evidence of Chapel Hill High plagiarism?”
Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education were already scheduled to meet tonight at the Lincoln Center in Chapel Hill. The board’s agenda says members will discuss a personnel matter in closed session starting at 6 p.m. The public portion of the meeting begins at 7 p.m.