Schools should allow students to self-plagiarize


Riley Jones

With a seemingly endless amount of essays to write, books to read and applications to turn in, it’s no wonder that every once in a while we face an essay prompt that is eerily similar to one we just answered or write an article assignment for biology that looks almost identical to an upcoming Spanish presentation.
The solution that immediately comes to mind to cut out needless work is simply to use one project for both assignments.
But in teaching circles, especially those in postsecondary education, it is accepted that students aren’t allowed to simply revise an old assignment to fit their new prompt. The concept is known as “self-plagiarism,” which is defined as “borrowing from [one’s] previous work without citation,” according to the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Many teachers maintain that plagiarism in any form is a problem, and while it is of course valid to give a student an F for copying someone else’s work — which the RBHS student handbook lists as a consequence for academic integrity — it can’t be justified to give that same student an F for revising his or her own good ideas.
Websites such as make it even easier for teachers to see all kinds of plagiarism, since these sites have databases of past student papers, along with assignments from the internet that are scanned for similar wording when students submit anything.
Words that have been copied from previous homework that a student submitted can show up as plagiarism, just like everything else, when it’s actually an innocent re imagination of old ideas or a crossover between two completely different subjects.
Certain ethicists make the claim that reusing old work is “double-dipping” and that without writing different papers, the credit for one of the courses is not earned. But the concept they call “double-dipping” happens all the time in the professional world for various reasons.
Teachers use the same lesson plans every year because they are the best way to help students grasp the course material. Doctors perform the same surgeries on patients with the broken limbs because they are the proven method to help bones heal more quickly.
Why deprive students of the opportunity to work as efficiently as professionals do?
Considering that the definition of the word “earn” is simply to gain credit deservedly, nothing says that the only way to deserve credit is to do more work. As long as a student can thoroughly answer both prompts in one paper, they have completed the objective of the assignments and, therefore, deserve credit.
While it’s always important to follow the policies that a school sets, it’s also important to be able to make change for good reason.
By changing the way we talk about “self-plagiarism” and submitting petitions that change schools’ policies to state that self-plagiarism isn’t actually a bad thing, we can make a concept that sounds unethical from the start into a mirror that reflects the nature of knowledge and study.