Home School Court Report
Current Issue | Archives | Advertising | About | Search
No. 4

In This Issue

Getting There Previous Page Next Page
by Kaylyn Carlson
- disclaimer -
Take an Honest Look: Instilling Intellectual Integrity

Integrity. As a parent, you work to instill this virtue in your child in many ways: Tell me the truth. Do your own work. Finish the job all the way. Often, the choice to educate at home involves religious or moral reasons—so character training is a high priority.

Teach your student to cite sources.

Life presents many practical examples of the consequences of character failure: businessmen who bilk their customers end up losing business—or, like Bernard Madoff, they are arraigned for fraud. Journalists who plagiarize or play fast and loose with their facts get canned; not only is their credibility permanently damaged, they may also tarnish the reputation of their employer. The New York Times, reporting in 2003 on the scandal of journalist Jayson Blair, quotes an email from the Times’ metropolitan editor, Jonathan Landman, to Times staff: “Accuracy is all we have. . . . It’s what we are and what we sell.”1 And, you strategically warn your children, students who cheat flunk . . . even at home.

After you have delivered these messages to your student, however, stop to consider how intellectual dishonesty creeps in through the back door. Your student will probably not intentionally falsify facts in research papers, but other forms of intellectual dishonesty are more insidious threats to the truth and integrity that you are seeking to cultivate.

There are two aspects you should be particularly aware of as you teach your high schooler: the grey areas created by technological innovations in the information age, and the age-old challenge of evaluating opposing viewpoints with loyalty and charity. As with any other virtue, you can teach and model the value of intellectual integrity to your student.

Scrupulous citation in an open source world

Your student knows it would be wrong to “borrow” the answer key for a test— that would be cheating. But have you communicated clear guidelines about “borrowing,” or plagiarism, in writing assignments? Writing, no less than the pop quiz or final exam, needs to be your student's own work and a true reflection of his learning.

Here for You

HSLDA members may contact our high school coordinators, Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer, for advice on teaching teens. Call 540-338-5600 or visit www.hslda.org/contactstaff.

Check out www.hslda.org/highschool for more helpful information on teaching teens.

In an article published earlier this year in the journal In Character, author Christine Rosen commented on the increasing number of scandals involving journalists caught plagiarizing. The “plague of plagiarism,” as Rosen terms it, extends even more problematically to students who no longer understand the demand of ethics as they incorporate the endless streams of information found online into their writing—often without citation.2

Your student must understand how and when to responsibly use another writer’s ideas. Stealing quotes or ideas is every bit as wrong as Bernie Madoff making off with Grandma’s retirement savings.

Safeguarding truth starts with teaching your student how to cite all sources. (See the “Intellectual Honesty Online” sidebar for help teaching the mechanics of citing internet sources.) But don’t stop there. Encourage scrupulous (which means “having moral integrity”3) searches for the author of any quoted or borrowed work and citation of work without a byline (as is the case for many online articles).

The 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style points out in a section entitled “The Advent of Electronic Sources,”

Authors should note . . . that anything posted on the Internet is “published” in the sense of copyright . . . and must be treated as such for the purposes of complete citation . . . (emphasis original)4


Here are just a few websites with helpful information on plagiarism and proper attribution.

On plagiarism and general citation questions

  • The Yale Writing Center has a number of articles about using sources, including an explanation of the different citation styles and a section on plagiarism outlining when you must cite, what constitutes acceptable paraphrasing, and how to determine what is common knowledge.
  • Plagiarism.org provides resources for teachers and students on preventing plagiarism.
  • The Council of Writing Program Administrators offers a distinction between plagiarism and “failure to use and document sources appropriately” that may be helpful in responding to specific questions about your student’s work.

Online guides to various citation styles

Christine Rosen also points out that truth itself comes under attack as sensational rewritings of history and fact propagate freely.5 It becomes harder to ferret out falsehood, or even to evaluate the veracity of a writer’s facts, in an age of user-created information. The New York Times discovered this when Jayson Blair’s invention of sources and scenes became gut-wrenching, but untrue, news coverage.6 The antidote is to cultivate your student’s appreciation for truth—even when it takes work to discern truth, or when it turns out that the facts don’t help her debate case or support the thesis of his research paper. Verifying that an online source is reliable and accurate is just as important to intellectual integrity as not making up facts out of thin air. Let your student know, and make your grading reflect, that you value truth and honesty in his writing above polished sound bites of dubious origin.

Integrity starts with attitude

The second aspect to consider when teaching intellectual honesty—cultivating virtues of loyalty and charity in considering opposing viewpoints—can be even more challenging than pinning down the correct way to cite a user-created web page! Loyalty and charity guide the way you understand, communicate, and respond to the arguments or ideas of others.

David Wilson explains the principle of loyalty this way in his logic textbook, A Guide to Good Reasoning:

The principle of loyalty . . . says that your clarification [of an argument] should aim to remain true to the arguer’s intent. This principle does not say that you should feel fondness for the arguer or that you have any obligation to try to defend the argument. It applies before you decide how much you like the argument; its point is strictly to ensure that the clarified argument you go on to evaluate is the arguer’s argument. (emphasis original)7

In other words, an intellectually honest response should deal with an idea in such a way that its proponent would recognize it as his idea if he were looking over your shoulder.8 We recognize the failure of this principle when we notice people arguing past one another—not understanding or responding to each other’s true points, whether intentionally or not. The virtue in ordinary communication of really hearing and responding to what people mean when they speak to you carries over into the academic world.

What does this look like in your homeschool? Even if your high schooler isn’t clarifying arguments in a formal logic course, she is more than likely summarizing the opinions of authors she refers to in research papers and reports. She may disagree with an author as much as she wants, but she must disagree with what he actually says, not with an oversimplified or extrapolated argument that he does not and would not make.

The principle of charity works similarly. It “requires that you adopt the paraphrase that makes the arguer as reasonable as possible.”9 Wilson continues by offering a “golden rule” for evaluating arguments (or, in your teaching, any idea that your student is attempting to understand and respond to):

Imagine yourself in the same circumstances as the arguer, and imagine that you have spoken or written the same unclear words. What are you likely to have intended by them? How would you want to be understood? (emphases original)10

Think back to the old admonition against hitting a man when he’s down. Even if a writer doesn’t express his idea as clearly as would be desired, charity forbids taking advantage of his weakness to avoid the point of his argument. Sometimes this means granting that people can have a slip of the tongue or a typo without intending to distort facts or say something off the wall. Sometimes it means taking into account the historical or cultural presuppositions of a speaker—not blindly accepting their validity, but factoring them in as you seek to understand the speaker’s meaning.

A respect for truth means that your student need not fear stripping the gloves off and handling ideas as they really are. But you, as a teacher, must lead the way.

Getting off on the right foot

If you’re still wondering about the logistical details of this mission, there are a few lines of attack you can take. Focus a part of your student’s writing course on a discussion of plagiarism (check out the websites in the “Intellectual Honesty Online” sidebar for helpful talking points). Consider going through a logic course with your student, since learning sound reasoning skills is an excellent way to begin the pursuit of intellectual honesty. Check out HSLDA’s Homeschooling Thru High School page (hslda.org/highschool) for more resources. And, if you’re a member, consider taking advantage of the expertise of our high school coordinators and call or email for personalized advice and encouragement (see “Here for You”).

However you choose to nurture intellectual honesty, don’t let this issue slide in your homeschool—for goodness’ sake.


1Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception,” New York Times, May 11, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/national/11PAPE.html?pagewanted=all (accessed May 25, 2010).

2 Christine Rosen, “On the Plague of the Plagiarists,” In Character, March 15, 2010, http://incharacter.org/features/christine-rosen-on-the-plague-of-the-plagiarists/ (accessed April 26, 2010).

3 Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, s.v. “Scrupulous.”

4The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), 17.6.

5Rosen, “On the Plague of the Plagiarists.”

6“Times Reporter Who Resigned.”

7David Wilson, A Guide to Good Reasoning (Boston: McGraw-Hill College, 1999), 73.

8Ibid., 74.

9Ibid., 80.

10Ibid., 81.