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The Melania Trump Plagiarism Charge: A Teachable Moment?

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By guest blogger Alyson Klein

This post originally appeared on the Politics K-12 blog.

Cleveland

It's a familiar situation in classrooms around the country: A student passes off someone else's work as their own. The teacher figures out what happened. And the student faces the consequences, whether it's suspension, a zero on the assignment, or just a talking-to.

That scenario is playing out on a much, much bigger and higher stakes scale here at the Republican National Convention. Late last night, eagle-eyed reporters and viewers noticed that Melania Trump, the wife of presumptive nominee Donald Trump, lifted some lines in her primetime address from the speech that Michelle Obama gave about her husband at the 2008 Democratic convention.

It's not clear which portions of the speech were written by Mrs. Trump, as opposed to a staffer. But, whoever they were, the author, or authors, clearly missed an important grade-school lesson, teachers say.

Margaret Pasquale, a middle school English teacher at Sacred Heart School, a Catholic school in Kingston, Mass., said that if one of her 7th graders had tried something similar, she would have rejected their paper and given the student a talking-to, but allowed them to make up the assignment.

high school student at her school would have faced more serious repercussions, though, particularly if they were a repeat offender, said Pasquale, who has been teaching for a dozen years and is a political independent.

Students sometimes don't realize that they are plagiarizing when they don't paraphrase appropriately or cite their source, Pasquale said.

Part of writing instruction is making sure students understand when their work crosses the line between being inspired or informed by someone's work, and stealing their words or ideas, said Pasquale. They may not understand that "it's still plagiarism if it's accidental," she added.

Whoever wrote the speech may not been held accountable for past plagiarism, she said. And now they're learning the lesson on "the world stage."

The campaign, she said, could have run the speech through a Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for electionslug_2016_126x126.jpgprogram or website intended to pick up on plagiarism. After all, Pasquale said, the internet has made it easy for students to crib someone else's work, but it's also made catching them easier.  

Darren Waddles, an GOP delegate from Arkansas who's also a college student and about to begin work as a student-teacher, doesn't blame Mrs. Trump for the problems with the speech—he suspects a staffer probably lifted the lines.

If the speech had been an assignment for his future social studies class, Waddles said he probably would have sat the student down and had a "heart-to-heart." He would have explained that plagiarism can get you "expelled from college."

We asked some of our Twitter followers who are teachers what they made of the controversy now surrounding Mrs. Trump's speech. Some said whoever lifted the lines from Obama missed some key lessons in English class.





And others pointed out that this is hardly the first political speech to face allegations of plagiarism—President Barack Obama faced similar questions when he ran for office. 



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