Christians see the world in moral terms. Sin and judgment are part of our vocabulary. We all know the command “thou shall not steal,” and when we hear plagiarism many of us think sin.
In his book, Plagiarism, Intellectual Property and the Teaching of L2 Writing, Joel Bloch (2012) suggests that we set aside moral language when dealing with plagiarism. The moral language can invite swift judgment, and if we are too quick to punish plagiarism, we may end up undermining the students’ rights to practice and make mistakes as they learn the ins and outs of academic writing.
Bloch proposes that we replace moral metaphors like theft and crime with game metaphors: if you want to join in the game of academic discourse, you need to learn how to play by the rules. An infraction of the rules may result in a penalty.
The game metaphor has some advantages from a Christian perspective. Game language does not arouse the heightened emotions that theft metaphors evoke, and the lower emotional charge is less likely to incite angry retribution. A lower emotional charge may allow us to recall the rights of the student rather than focusing exclusively on the violations of our own rights as teachers.
A possible disadvantage of the game metaphor, as Bloch mentions, is that it lacks “moral seriousness.” Do lighter metaphors predispose us to excuse plagiarism rather than seek the reconciliation that forgiveness offers?
Although I see the game metaphor as useful, I do not think Christians need to abandon moral language in discussing plagiarism. I do think, however, that Christians need to broaden the moral lexicon that they use in discussions of plagiarism. They need to incorporate ideas like respect, empathy, and trust. The language of rights should not only be applied to authors but also to language learners, and a Christian approach to plagiarism should honor those rights.
Bloch, J. (2012) Plagiarism, Intellectual Property and the Teaching of L2 Writing. Multilingual Matters.
Heidi Vande Voort Nam (MA TESL/TEFL University of Birmingham) teaches in the Department of English Education at Chongshin University in Seoul. She is co-facilitator of the KOTESOL Christian Teachers SIG and was the Chair of CELT Seoul 2016.