Dinner Table Ethics: Kaavya Viswananathan

The media frenzy over the Harvard teen accused of plagiarism provides a great opportunity to discuss ethics with our own teens. The nineteen-year-old's defense is that she has a photographic memory and that the copying was unconscious and unintentional.

It's wrong to copy passages from another person's book and pass it off as our own work. What about mimicking someone else's style of writing without lifting actual phrases or sentences? Is that plagiarism? How is plagiarism different from quoting and/or paraphrasing something from a book in a paper for school?

If Kaavya is telling the truth and it was unintentional, would that make a difference? And, given that there's a chance that she is telling the truth, shouldn't we err on the side of believing and trusting her? Aren't we called to defend when an accused person is pelted gleefully by others, even as Jesus did with the woman caught red-handed in plagiarism ... er, I mean adultery? In a culture where it's cool to be cynical and think the worst, it seems harder to be labeled naive than to "hope all things."


Mala said...

"Why does our society consider it "wrong" to copy passages from another person's book and pass it off as our own work?"

Because plagiarism is a form of stealing.

How would you feel as a creator and an artist if passages from "Monsoon Summer" appeared verbatim in someone else's fiction?

As for unintentional internalizations... the excuse would be easier to swallow if it occured once, perhaps twice. She's pretty and young and would probably have been *forgiven.*

But in excess of 45 incidents in one work of fiction -- it's a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

This blog is about as dumb and unbelieveable as the broad who wrote that sham of a fuckin book. PLEASE.

Mitali Perkins said...

Mala, if passages were taken from my work unintentionally, I would feel differently than if it had been copied volitionally. Helen Keller found herself in a similar bind as Kaavya years ago, gave the same defense, and was equally devastated by the accusation of plagiarism. I respect how Megan McCafferty has handled this, with grace and patience, waiting to see how things progress before leaping to judge or react.

And anonymous, peace be with you. My prayer for you is that you'll find grace and mercy as you journey through life.

David Lund said...

Dear anonymous, I can see why you choose not to identify yourself as the author of the words you wrote. Listen to that inner voice that tells you not to reveal your name-- it's shame, and it's telling you something. That voice might not be pleasant to listen to, but it's wise. If you start to identify yourself when writing, your voice will be transformed-- and people will listen to what you have to say.