Citing sources: Hey, teachers, practice what you preach
Sasha Johnson-Freyd

Copyright 2008 by Sasha Johnson-Freyd. Reprinted with permission.

First published as:

Johnson-Freyd, Sasha (2008, November 17). Citing Sources: Hey, teachers, practice what you preach. Eugene, OR: The Register-Guard, pages D1-D2, 17 November 2008.

Citing sources: Hey, teachers, practice what you preach
By Sasha Johnson-Freyd
For The Register-Guard
Published: Nov 17, 2008 05:00AM

Living: Personal Life: Story

I slouched low in my chair, doodling little stars on the corner of my notes while my teacher droned on about how to properly cite sources. Again. Geez, how many times will they teach us this?

We get it: Don’t plagiarize. Cite every fact. Do it in the proper Modern Language Association citation style, which if we forget from class we can find by looking in one of the hundreds of Web sites and books they give us for reference. Every single year, teachers go over and over this.

Shouldn’t we have this figured out by now? Apparently not. Apparently, enough students are still not citing sources in high school that we have to be retold the same information every week. Why don’t we get it? Why are teachers still teaching this?

The reason is this: Teachers do not practice what they preach. Citing sources is not something one must just learn by memorizing rules. One must also learn by example.

Every day, teachers hand students readings or worksheets on brightly colored paper, and students dutifully take and read them. I have one question about these handouts: Who’s the author?

One reading clearly was copied out of a book. I can see the copy marks around the border. Which book? Who composed these questions we are supposed to answer? Even if my teacher did write this, how can I know without clear accountability? The papers we receive from teachers are very rarely cited.

The example we get is that it doesn’t matter if teachers attribute their sources. Students must think: It shouldn’t be any different for us. If teachers can plagiarize, so can we.

Once I asked a teacher about how one would cite a certain obviously copied worksheet we received, hoping she would realize it had absolutely no source cited. She looked at me strangely, confused by my question. She seemed to think I was asking how I would cite my answer to the question on the worksheet.

The impression a student gets from interactions like this is that sure, we have to learn about all this stuff, and use it correctly to get credit. But actually, in the real world, teachers show us that citing sources apparently doesn’t matter.

There is an easy fix. Students would learn and understand more about citing sources if teachers led by example and consistently followed the rules of accountability. Teachers then would not have to use valuable class time repeating the “do not plagiarize” lecture, time that could be spent learning something new.

I recommend that teachers go through all the material they hand their students and write the sources on them. It may take some time, but at least they’ll be giving the example of the value and importance of accountability. Isn’t that the purpose of citing sources?

Maybe if students understood this ideal, they wouldn’t be so prone to plagiarism.

Sasha Johnson-Freyd, 15, is a sophomore at South Eugene High. The 20Below column is open to writers between the ages of 14 and 20. E-mail your 500- to 800-word essay to Please include your full name, age, address, phone number, year in school and where you attend school. There is no payment for a published column.
Also See Sasha Johnson-Freyd Home Page Alexandra ("Sasha") Johnson-Freyd Art

Also See


Jennifer Freyd

Return to Jennifer J. Freyd home page