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Head Of Canada’s Largest School Board Resigns Over Plagiarism

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The Toronto District School Board will have a new Director of Education in 2013. Image: Wikipedia
The Toronto District School Board will have a new Director of Education in 2013. Image: Wikipedia

Last week, thousands of children in Toronto learned an important lesson about the seriousness of plagiarism, from the head of the largest school board in Canada.

Plagiarism (pronounced like play-jer-ism) is when you copy someone else’s work and claim the ideas or writing as your own. When you use someone else’s writing in a school report, for instance, you must let the reader know where the passage came from. That’s known as “citing the source” or “giving attribution.”

Chris Spence was the education director for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). He resigned (quit his job) on Jan. 10, after admitting that he plagiarized some parts of a column on sports and exercise he wrote for the Toronto Star newspaper. The column ran on Jan. 5.

A sharp-eyed Toronto Star reader let the newspaper know that some parts of Spence’s column appeared to have been plagiarized. The Star found that Spence had copied sentences from several sources including online blogs, a 1989 New York Times column and an online encyclopedia. He didn’t mention in his column that the words he was using had been written by someone else or put quotation marks around the paragraphs to signal to the reader that he was quoting someone else.

Here is what Anita L. Defrantz wrote in a New York Times column in 1989:

We are challenged through sport to use our minds in guiding our bodies through the dimensions of time and space on the field of play. Learning the skills of sport provides opportunity to experience success. Sport builds self-esteem and encourages teamwork. We learn the importance of goal setting, hard work and the necessity of dealing with disappointment.

Here is what Spence wrote in his January 2012 Toronto Star column:

We are challenged through sport to use our minds in guiding our bodies through the dimensions of time and space on the field of play. Learning the skills of sport provides opportunity to experience success.

Sport builds self-esteem and encourages teamwork. We learn the importance of goal setting, hard work and the necessity of dealing with disappointment.

Since the Jan. 5 incident, other examples of alleged plagiarism have been uncovered concerning Chris Spence including a speech Spence gave, other newspaper columns he wrote, a blog post and in his PhD dissertation. A “dissertation” is an important research document students write as part of attaining a university degree.

Plagiarism is a particular focus in the field of education, because students do research and must often use information taken from many sources. Students are told that whenever they use other people’s ideas and words they must ensure the reader knows where the information came from.

In his letter of resignation, Spence said he regrets that he has “not set a good or proper example for the many thousands of young people (he has) been privileged to meet and know.” He said he wants to make amends (make up for) what he has done.

In a statement on the TDSB’s website, Spence said he is going to take an ethics course at Ryerson University, he will try to locate all of the places where his Star column has run and have them removed and “an apology put in its place,” and he will post an apology on his Facebook page and via his Twitter account.

He said, “I am ashamed and embarrassed by what I did.”

As part of his resignation agreement, The Star says Spence will receive about seven months’ pay. Spence’s employment contract was for $272,000 a year.

Related links

The original column Spence wrote for the Star is still up on the newspaper’s website, with an added paragraph at the beginning noting that the column “includes substantial unattributed material from several other sources.”

Spence wrote an apology which appears on the website of the TDSB.

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Do you think Chris Spence should have resigned from his position because of his actions? Why or why not?

Reading Prompt: Text Features
Parts of this news article were taken from other sources. How does the journalist let the reader know that certain phrases are not her own?

Junior
Identify a variety of text features and explain how they help readers understand texts (OME, Reading: 2.3).

Intermediate
Identify a variety of text features and explain how they help communicate meaning (OME, Reading: 2.3).

Grammar Feature: Bibliography
A bibliography is an important part of all essays and assignments. In a well written bibliography, information can be found about all of the books or websites that were used. Did you know that there is a specific way to write bibliographical information. To write a bibliographic entry for a book, use the following format:

Last name of author, First name of author. Title of Book. Place where book was Published: Publisher, Year.

Find 3 of your favourite books and write down their bibliographic information. Write your entries in alphabetical order according to the last names of the authors.