Sunday, August 29, 2004

Parents with students

So, the weekend has been spent under the cloud of our daughter being accused of cheating on an Economics assignment. The process of resolving a dispute is so inefficient. That's why lawyers have a code of civil procedure. But it would have been senseless to sue her school for the zero her teacher gave her on a homework assignment worth six points...she still has an A in the class...

Fact situation: C and two friends study together over the weekend in an Econ class that is being delivered on-line. When the assignments are turned in, the answers to two questions are remarkably similar from C & M. Teacher notices the similarity and zeros both students' grades for the work.

Teacher snatches C from class in the company of the Dean of Students. C is quite upset - as you would suspect. Mom gets upset - to put it mildly. Her daughter's honor has been assailed!

Long story short: both mothers, C & M are on the phone with the teacher multiple times over the weekend. Tempers rage. E-mails are authored in emotional explosions of cathartic prose and self righteousness indignation. The stage is set for a Monday morning show down. The parents plot an ambush to vidicate their daughters!

Somehow reason intervenes. A call from the teacher to C's mother sues for peace. She wants to move the time of the meeting so the combatants are not brought together at the same time. The issues, (see my reference to Civil Pro above,) are finally made visible to me separated from their vitriolic packaging.

1. The answers from C & M to the one question the teacher read to me were clearly the same. No need to read the answer to the second question.

2. All parties stipulate there was a study group and that the girls collaborated on the answers to many questions. This is OK by the teacher.

3. The teacher claims that the offense of literally copying another student's work is subject to summary judgement on the basis of a finding that two students have the same answer to a question on an assignment or test. The punishment is to give BOTH students a zero for their work. The assumption is they conspired to share the answer.

4. I introduce a varilable: What if the first student is unaware of the copying? Say, for example, student one has her paper copied by student two without her knowledge? This causes the teacher to pause. She concludes that under those circumstances, student one would be innocent and vindicated. The charge would be ammened to plagiarism; a crime in which their is no conspiracy and only a single criminal.

5. The teacher thus has a dilema to solve: how to detemine if C shared her work with M improperly, or if C, (who turned in the work first - online courses have date & time stamps,) was simply the victim of plagiarism. C admits that they 'collaborated' on the answer to many questions. Where is the line? When is it crossed? At a trial, the matter would be a the subject for a jury to decide.

6. The teacher simply says: A) C's grade is an A and won't be affected by the zero. (To which we counter that HONOR matters more than a stupid HS Econ grade!) B) This should be a lesson for C. (To which we counter: What lesson? That study groups are dangerous? No - That some 'friends' will take your work and pass it off as their own. This can put you at risk to be considered a cheat. The same thing happened to the teacher in college she admits. The defense feels the tide turn!)

7. However, there is no jury. The teacher will not be able to decide for herself between the two scenarios. Her 'only' option is to blame both students. This, I feel, is poor public policy. But under the circumstances, I understand her problem. She can't validate one student's testimony and invalidate the other's. There is only one chance that C will be judged not guilty - if M admits the copying.

8. C has learned another lesson: Her parents are very passionate about HONOR and the threat that it might be diminished by baseless accusations. Hopefully, she will take this lesson and an amplified caution regarding the perils of associations (George Washington had warned against similar alliances...) Concern about the friends you keep is an important lesson indeed.

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