Ponies Are No Excuse…
Today, I need to teach a lesson to my class about plagiarism. Let me tell you, there is almost NO better time to be an English teacher speaking (and teaching) about the dangers of taking credit for other people’s intellectual work. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Convention basically made it effortless to point to times that it is both inappropriate AND hugely embarrassing to copy other people’s work and claim it as your own. More importantly, these are massive media stories, that exist completely outside of school.
The easiest one to go with, since it was so heavily reported on, is the Melania Trump speech this past July, which was quickly identified as taking sections from Michelle Obama’s speech at another date and location, for a different event. Those accusations started to fly around pretty fast, and as a result, the Republicans got Wolf Blitzer from CNN to speak to Sean Spicer (the Communications Director for the RNC). Spicer was set up on the 19th of July to do “damage control.” Spicer was in incredible form, I remember seeing the clip during the summer…he said that it was just seventy words in a 2000-word statement, and the lines were similar to words said by musicians. And then came this, which blew my mind:
“Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony said ‘This is your dream, anything you can do in your dreams you can do now.’ I mean, if we want to take a bunch of phrases and run ’em through Google and say, hey, who else has said them, I could come up with a list in five minutes. And that’s what this is.”
Wait, what? Spicer basically said, “Melania didn’t plagiarize Michelle Obama. She plagiarized Twilight Sparkle. Pay attention!” Let’s just sit back a minute…Spicer isn’t saying that plagiarism is bad, in fact, he’s more or less saying it’s fine, so long as you are taking the intellectual material produced by fictional ponies.
To his credit, Blitzer didn’t take that bait. Instead, he said, “The similarities are pretty stark.”
You can’t stop that PR train though, when Spicer gets it moving. He was ready for wolf Blitzer and his “sticking to things like facts.” Spicer shot back, “I just quoted Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony. She said something similar too, so did Mrs. Obama plagiarize her too?”
Incredible. The defense there, if you look closely at it is that sure…Melania was plagiarizing work. But, according to the Republican spokesperson at the time, so was Ms. Obama. That’s right, True Believers…apparently Twilight Sparkle is the secret source of inspirational material being used by both parties, without credit.
And that…that is why we have one Angry Pony today.
I’m also having to talk about using multiple sources of information in research, and synthesizing them into your own work, so that’s pretty useful, you see? Granted, my lesson on the subject is more serious in tone, but only slightly more so. One of the key thrusts is trying to make the students critical of so called “news” sources, and able to discern what is a trusted source.
That, then, brings up issues of trust and biased sources, which are pretty tough to explain to modern students. Part of that is actually well supported by my sarcastic conversation here…I mean, Spicer is the Communications Director of the RNC. He is a primary source, but he is also clearly biased. Getting young people to acknowledge both of those facts at the same time…and connect them into a relationship that might need criticism, is tough.
Thinking about the spurious logic of the summer, I fired up the digital editing program, and did some collaging. After a little while, I came up with this…pretty much the vision that Sean Spicer expects me to believe:
When I assign a research paper in a few weeks, we will have to see how much of this week’s discussion sticks. I’m hoping a decent amount…I’m trying to use real world political and business examples to make the rights to intellectual work a more meaningful concept to the students.
By the time we get to that paper, maybe Twilight Sparkle will have calmed down a bit. Either that, or be made a Cabinet member, depending on your news source.