Is Plagiarism Wrong?

Has it happened to you while checking essays that you’ve come across a truly impressive submission, say, on the symbolism of the green light in The Great Gatsby, but get the feeling of having read it elsewhere? So you look it up and - yep - it was taken off the internet.

Does it mean the student hasn’t understood Gatsby? What if they just happen to “have similar ideas”?

In most schools, from middle school onward, children are taught that plagiarism is akin to theft.

It can even be argued that it hurts more than just a single individual creator - that it matters not only because of the potential or real monetary value of words/ideas but also because ideas have a provenance, a lineage. WHO and WHERE ideas come from is critical. Ideas don't arise solely from individuals. They are often the work of communities. Plagiarism can harm communities by exiling them from the discourse around the ideas they birthed. They harm the reader as well, by hiding from them the context around which the idea was built.

And finally, it harms the plagiarist by stealing from them the opportunity of not only making the work their own, but also representing the giants whose shoulders they stand on.

Does this mean that you can expect a pat on the back and gratefulness in academia? No. Instead, I say, ask your students to write something worth remembering. To put their work out there, and hope it gets picked up by someone who will make something out of it. To use their voice to improve the world they live in.

I will point out though that as teachers, we’re in an envious position - we get to sow the seeds of academic honesty early on.

Callido has created a handy Anti-plagiarism check-list you can share with students.

Remind them, however, that at this point, IF students find that they are “Guilty”, the judge and jury is only themselves - and hence, the crime has the opportunity to be corrected by them alone.

Notes for the reader:

  1. The treatment of plagiarism as a theme is happily influenced by Agnes Callard’s column in

  2. I spend much of my free hours lurking and listening in on conversations of some amazing writers, teachers and academicians I follow on that void they call Twitter. This article is nothing if not rooted in all of those conversations.

  3. The students who have hung their heads in shame when a plagiarised angle is pointed out - I’ve learned humility and kindness from you and for that, I am grateful

  4. My first act of plagiarism was ripping pages off a NatGeo magazine on dinosaurs for a school project in the 4th grade. This ‘scrapbook’ is one of my most treasured belongings.

Nikita is part of the School Success team at Callido Learning. She has a background in teaching English Literature and Language in Middle School, and facilitating workshops for children in storytelling, and creative writing.

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