Since When is Copying Homework Ethical?  

Posted by inkstainedhands in

A few months ago, one of our teachers knocked on the classroom door and called a few girls out of English class. I was among the number. While I wasn't happy about missing English class, I was curious to know what could be so important that it would warrant being called out of class.

It turned out that our school wanted to start an opinion magazine in imitation of the letters column in newspapers such as Yated. They wanted to give us a forum for expressing our opinions on controversial topics. A few girls were chosen to be on the editorial board (including me) and it was our job to introduce some topics we thought were important enough to be discussed. We put together a list of three topics and some general writing suggestions. All the eleventh graders were then given the assignment of taking a position and writing a convincing letter about whichever topic they chose. We (the girls on the editorial board) have already gone through all the letters, choosing for publication those that were well-written and presented good arguments.

Right now, I am typing up some of the letters we chose for publication and one of them really seems to be making my blood pressure go up. It was written anonymously, so I can't give a self-righteous lecture to the author, but I thought I might at least respond to it on my blog.

The three topics were:

  • Is copying homework ethical? Why or why not?
  • What is more important in class, quantity or quality? Should a teacher strive to finish the curriculum, or should she take time to answer girls' hashkafic questions in class?
  • What should a grade reflect, effort or test results?

I wrote an extremely long two page letter insisting that teachers are under no obligation to answer questions in class, because girls will take advantage of them and ask dozens of questions just to waste time. Perhaps I'll post my letter on my blog some other time if anyone's interested. Right now, however, I want to tear apart this anonymous letter I'm typing up for the magazine.

The girl starts off by claiming that "copying homework is ethical." This in itself is a ridiculous statement, in my opinion, but perhaps if she had managed to come up with a plausible argument, I would not have been so upset.

She continues to say that "many of our assignments are busy work." Um... sweetheart, are you planning on going to college or getting a job? If you are, I suggest you start practicing now. Perhaps you can get away with avoiding "busy work" now, but try that stunt when you have a job and you won't have one anymore.

Teachers often say that their homework assignments are to help you review and understand the material better. After explaining that her friends don't mind letting her copy their homework, our anonymous writer argues, "If I do need to review the subject, but choose not to, it's not your problem, it is mine." It is not entirely certain to whom she refers when she writes "you." There are two options: a teacher or a classmate. If she is referring to a teacher, then yes, she makes a valid argument. That is only true, however, if the teacher was assigning homework for reviewing purposes. If the assigment was meant to be marked though, it is the teacher's business if this girl copies someone else's homework and tries to pass it off as her own. Assuming "you" refers to a classmate, on the other hand, this girl no longer has a valid argument. If she simply chooses not to do her homework, it is her problem and only hers. But if she then wants to copy her classmate's homework, it becomes her classmate's business as well.

As her final proof that copying homework and lying to the teacher about who did it is ethical, she writes, "Don't tell me that you never copy homework." I think this is what really set me off. A hundred people doing the same unethical thing does not change the fact that it is unethical! Two wrongs don't make a right!

It does not matter whether I have copied homework or not; I know it is unethical. When I say lashon hara, I know it's a sin. I don't try to cover up my guilt by exclaiming, "Oh come on, it's not like you've never done it yourself."

If you're going to copy homework, go ahead and copy homework. I can't stop you, the teacher can't stop you (and she probably doesn't even know you're copying it), nobody can stop you if you set your mind to it. (The spiritual consequences are a separate topic. Once again, though, the state of your soul is none of my business.)

But please, if you're going to do it, at least have the decency to be honest about it. Don't lie to yourself; you will not benefit from it. Your excuses don't make your actions any more ethical, so why waste your breath?

If I were her, I would not have started this essay off by claiming that copying homework is ethical. If she wants to defend this common practice of forgetful teenagers, she should have merely stated that copying homework, under certain circumstances, is excusable. Perhaps then she would have made sense in her letter. But saying that it's ethical?

There are more points in her letter that bug me, but I have spent enough time venting already. I still need to finish typing the other letter. Then I have homework to do, and I really need a lot of time for that because... well... I actually do my homework instead of frantically copying it five minutes before the teacher walks into class. And if I don't do it for whatever reason, at least I'm honest about it and I can tell the teacher that I didn't do it.

(Now you see why I might have some difficulties in the friends department in school.)

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at Wednesday, April 22, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I believe the school will be using this column to understand the girls in your school, and maybe even to fight back. For example: asking too many questions and wasting time, now the teachers will know they just want to waste time and dont really care.

April 23, 2009 at 9:54 PM

The teachers knew that all along though, which is why some teachers have a no-questions policy in class.

And besides, most girls wrote indignant things such as, "How am I supposed to know something if the teacher won't answer my questions?" If girls want to waste time in class, they won't actually admit to it.

April 23, 2009 at 11:02 PM

Copying is not ethical, however, it is no one's business but the student's whether she does the assignment or not. Yes, she'll get the grade she didn't deserve, but in the end, it will be her problem that she doesn't know the material.

In college, at least the one I went to, plenty of professors could've used a lesson in ethics too.

Regarding your response, I disagree. A teacher should be able, after spending time with the students to notice when someone is asking a question or screwing around. When the question is genuine, the teacher should answer the question, otherwise, what's the point of the class, go read the book and you gonna get same results.

April 24, 2009 at 12:51 AM

I agree with Moshe on copying and teachers answering questions post-class.
I don't know if you (you==girls in yeshiva) ever spoke about copying from Torah view. I remember few years ago when i was back in learning we spoke about it. We came to a decision that copying is almost equal to lying and may be stealing. Don't remember why said it was stealing though.
Anyway grades in school don't mean much as there are people who had top grades and who doesn't know anything or can't apply knowledge in practice and there are ones who had worse grades but they just couldn't fit in school's rhythm while being very knowledgeable in the areas of personal interest.

April 26, 2009 at 9:21 PM

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