We've been talking about weird things undergraduates do lately. Here's another weird thing undergraduates do.
In my introductory classes, I often have my students write little essays in which I pick an argument we've discussed in class, ask them to state it in a clear way, give some sort of justification for each of its premises, and then give an evaluation in which they present an objection to the argument and explain how it works. This is usually something we've already talked about, too. So, after we've read the sixth Meditation and discussed it in class, the assignment might say, "Explain mind-body dualism, then state, explain, and evaluate Descartes's conceivability argument for this view." Nothing weird so far, I don't think.
But I've noticed that a small but substantial minority of students sort of freak out at this point, especially early in the semester. I get a bunch of emails from students who are worried about plagiarism, and so they don't want to copy arguments and definitions and stuff from the handouts. And I get a bunch of emails asking if I want them to make up their own argument for mind-body dualism. And, relatedly, I get quite a few papers that don't contain anything that remotely resembles anything that Descartes ever said, ever. When I ask the author of the paper about it, I often hear the same stuff about how they were worried about plagiarism and they thought I wanted them to make up their own argument.
I think this is really weird. It is really weird, right? The purpose of in-class handouts is to serve as a guide to understanding the material. Why wouldn't I want my students to make use of them in completing their writing assignments? Are there really teachers out there who would bust students for plagiarizing the handouts they hand out in class?
And why would I want my intro-level students to make up their own Descartes's argument for dualism? Why wouldn't I want to use an assignment like that to check for comprehension of the material we've been discussing in class? And why wouldn't the fact that I say I want them to discuss Descartes's argument for dualism be a clue that I don't want them to make up their own?
Plus, it's hard to make up your own philosophical argument. These are students who have literally no background in philosophy whatsoever. Why would I make them do something so difficult so soon? (Of course, it's possible that my students don't realize that it's difficult, or if they do they don't realize what a reasonable guy I am.)
I think this is so fucking weird. I mean, if you were taking an evolutionary biology class, and you had been talking about Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium, and in the context of that discussion there was an assignment to state and explain Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium and address some related controversies, nobody thinks you're supposed to make up and explain your own Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium. Do they?