— Zac Chase (@MrChase) February 15, 2016
Middle school children are always afraid of being “copied.” They loathe when their brilliant ideas is being taken, without asking, from one of their classmates. If even a whiff of plagiarism can be smelt, then swift justice must be dealt. And I was expected to adjudicate each case of copying and how egregious it was. I was expected to say, in each case, “Stop Copying.”
And yet, I didn’t.
I believe deeply in collaboration and the power of remixing and iterating upon ideas. Copying is the birth of the remix. Plagiarism is the start of a great collaboration. These were not popular opinions in my classroom (or with many other teachers in my building, come to think of it). But, they were non-negotiable for me.
I was not telling kids to look at each other’s papers or computer screens just because I didn’t care about original thought in my classroom. Rather, I was obsessed with folks finding answers and then pushing passed them. Copying answers is the easy part, but making them better is hard. When one child would find a great website resource for something they were researching, I would have ask them to share it with everyone. When another child would come up with a great thesis for an essay they were writing, I would ask them to tell others how they got there. This was all in an effort to create a community of copiers, a culture of taking each others’ ideas.
Many of my students were brilliant learners. They possessed incredible intellectual gifts, but many also exhibited an exclusivity of their own ideas that made for terrible community building. In order to create a community within the classroom, students must be able to see themselves as working on the same team rather than only looking for their own gains.
My non-negotiable stance for remixing ideas was only accepted after the students saw the benefits to not protecting their work so rigidly. They had to fight me and each other in the times where it seemed like someone else was unfairly taking what they had persevered to create. It also took a very real debate about remix culture for many of them to see just how useful building upon each other’s work could be in the real world.
It was not easy, but it was essential.