Character ed

As a parent, what would you do?

One day, you get the bad news: Your child has flunked a course. But there's more. Not only has he washed out, he's done so in the worst imaginable way. He's cheated.

As it turns out, 28 of his fellow 10th-graders have done the same thing, pulling information for a major botany project right off the Internet. From Day 1, parents and students have known that plagiarism would result in failure, and the teacher's evidence in this case is unassailable. Since the project counts for 50 percent of the semester grade, the kids are out of luck.

That was the situation recently in the small district of Piper, Kan. At first blush, it seemed like a classic case of bad judgment, abetted by the Internet, that should be punished accordingly. Instead, some parents complained about harshness, a school board jumped in, and the teacher resigned over their decision to ask her to reduce the weight of the project's grade.

Armchair moralists from around the US have weighed in on a case that has pitted the virtuous teacher against parents who don't want what they see as a simple indiscretion to mar a school career. Is a teacher being undermined to placate parents? Did the kids really understand what plagiarism is? Is a lesson in honesty and punishment for wrongdoing being lost in favor of one about squeaky wheels getting the grease? Are parents standing up for kids - or bailing them out?

Arguments can be made on both sides. But aside from evidence that plagiarism is a growing problem, the case puts parents in the spotlight. Everyone knew the rules - but wanted change when they didn't like the consequences.

Much lip service is given to character education. But it's worth asking: What would you do if it were time to offer kids a real-life lesson?

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