My students plagiarize. I teach ESL to adults at a local community college. Plagiarism has been an ongoing problem, but since the onset of Covid, it has become a major plague. Spring semester 2020 began in late January and was humming along normally (albeit with some worrying news from Asia) until suddenly Covid made a grand entrance into our lives in the U.S. You know the rest. Immediately after our spring break, all classes went completely online. Up to that moment, we had already been using computer programs and sometimes did assignments online, but in the blink of an eye everything changed and ESL students, especially adult immigrants with families who are frequently already stretched to the limit, found themselves struggling just to keep their heads above water. During the following fall semester and into spring semester of 2021, class sizes diminished dramatically. This semester especially, classes seem to be at an all time low. My current class started with just nine students (versus 24 a year ago). Three of those nine have since withdrawn from the class, two of them because they were going to fail anyway. There are yet two more of the remaining six who are still failing.
So, why are those two continuing to fail? Because they plagiarized. Why did they plagiarize? Because it’s convenient when students are already working online and because they are insecure about their abilities to know the right answers to questions on an online test and because they are not confident enough to think that they can express themselves. How many other students have either plagiarized by copying phrases from the Internet without me catching it or by asking their fluent relatives to write their online homework for them? I don’t know that, but again, why do they plagiarize? Because they don’t believe that they are enough.
It’s easy to catch them most of the time. Suddenly there is a word that I know they don’t know or maybe just a way of phrasing something that an ESL student wouldn’t do. I can copy and paste too. I just google it and presto, there it is. It’s easy to find fault with them, but many of us do the same sort of thing in our lives. It’s easy for God, or even someone we know, to catch us at copying someone else’s inspiration or life. Suddenly, they see us do something that doesn’t fit in with our character or we’re talking about a topic without being genuine since it’s not our life. Do we also think that we are not enough? I think that we could all ask ourselves that question. What happens in our daily lives that we feel is too much for us? Are we accusing God our Father of requiring too much of us? I have to ask myself that question. Is God not able to strengthen us? Do I trust his life in me? Honestly speaking, it’s often easier to look at what others are doing and copy their inspiration or their way of doing things instead of praying for my own inspiration and listening for God’s answer. Isn’t that the same as plagiarism? Plagiarizing is copying what others have said or done. Am I plagiarizing the lives of others? To rely on God in my own life to give me inspiration and guidance can seem daunting. It’s so much easier to follow the leader or to simply do what my neighbor is doing.
However, God is not asking me to be like anyone else. If he wanted me to be like my neighbor, why didn’t he just make a whole bunch of clones? But no, he didn’t do that. Not only did he give us unique personalities and gifts, but he also let us be born into different cultures and circumstances. We all have different life experiences and outlooks on life. He made each one of us unique and gave us gifts and talents that can be useful in the situations that we find ourselves in. Because I don’t have to live your life and you don’t have to live mine, I shouldn’t try to be like you or do things the way you do them. What is God inspiring in my life?
Some personalities in the Bible never appeared to lack confidence. They seemed to know innately that God’s life in them was enough. Joshua and Caleb declared to the children of Israel: We are well able to defeat the giants in the Promised Land. David knew beyond the shadow of doubt that God in his life would slay Goliath. He demanded, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sa 17:26) In Philippians 4:13, Paul writes: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
In the end, we are all well able to take on God’s plan for our lives if we believe that he has given each one of us, his children, the right gifts and talents to do the things that he wants us to accomplish in our lives. He didn’t give me the talents to accomplish what someone else needs to do. He gave me the talents to accomplish events and plans along the road in my life, and what he is asking of me is not so far off that I need to plagiarize someone else’s life or reach into the sky or into google or ask Alexa for the answer. No, his answer is very quiet and close at hand. It’s right in my mouth and in my heart. It fits right in with the personality and interests that he gave to me. Truly, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.