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The Milton Measure

Why SparkNotes Shouldn’t Be Taboo

by on Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Every year, we hear the administration emphasize the pivotal role that academic integrity plays in our community. We’ve all most likely signed a form in one English class or another that prohibits us from using certain study guides including SparkNotes, CliffsNotes, or any other resource that provides plot summaries or analyses of literature. According to teachers, these resources allow some students to gain an unfair advantage over others.

Yet we all know peers in our classes who have used SparkNotes before, some of whom use the site on a regular basis. We might not admit it, but we ourselves might have used an unauthorized website, book or other resource in a moment of desperation and panic. However, not everyone who accesses these prohibited resources is brought before the disciplinary committee– arguably, the majority of students who have cheated in this regard escape punishment. So, how can we make the system more fair?

Before I continue any further, I want to emphasize I do not condone cheating in any form. But I don’t think using SparkNotes should be considered cheating. According to a 2012 article published in The Sun Chronicle entitled “Is Sparknotes Just Cheating?” Attleboro high school teacher Larry Carpenter states that, “it is futile to attempt to forbid students to use [SparkNotes],” and “to attempt to do so creates a needlessly adversarial relationship between the students and teacher.” The student handbook states that: “One type of cheating about which Milton Academy tries especially hard to educate students is plagiarism, the act of taking someone else’s work as your own.” I agree with this statement completely. I maintain that plagiarism should be prohibited; however, simply viewing SparkNotes or any other study guides isn’t cheating. At least, it shouldn’t be.

We as students should have free access to study guide resources that we can easily access now and well into our future academic careers. Students will use these websites regardless of the administration’s wishes. Furthermore, this rule set by the administration is unfair to students who do abide by the academic integrity guidelines. If the issue of students gaining an unfair advantage over others who follow the rules is truly important to Milton’s values, wouldn’t permitting students to access—not plagiarize—sites such as SparkNotes level the playing field for everyone? This change would also allow students to effectively learn how to separate their own ideas from those they read online. A student knows that his teachers regularly monitors these study guide sites and have access to plagiarism-detecting software, so he will learn to make his work his own, a skill vital to any career in academia. Instead of dismissing the thought of students having open access to SparkNotes, we should acknowledge the ideas that these study guides bring to the classroom table. A 2010 New York Times article, “A Professor’s Review of Online Cheat Sheets,” states that though these study guides are “no substitutes for reading great works of literature,” they nonetheless “stimulate thought and deepen insight.” Isn’t that what learning is about?

Though allowing unimpeded access to such study guides entails some problems, the drawbacks of allowing SparkNotes are minimal compared to the learning opportunities these study guides bring. For example, some may argue SparkNotes merely encourages students not to read the unabridged course material and that it promotes a culture of dishonesty. However, because students are forced to use direct quotations in essays or revise their work for similarities to SparkNotes to avoid plagiarizing, these two problems are effectively resolved.

Whether we like it or not, cheating – in this case referring only to viewing SparkNotes and other study guides- happens on Milton’s campus. Proposing an effective method to stop or even limit students’ access to study guides is difficult, if not impossible, for the administration. In lieu of continuously and fruitlessly attempting to prohibit students from using study guides, we should simply grant students unlimited access to these resources, just so every student learns the essential skill of ensuring that his work is his own. This prospect may seem scary, but it just might mean that every student at Milton Academy is truly given an equal platform upon which to excel.

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Posted by on May 22 2015. Filed under More News, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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