To Orwell Today,
Unfortunately a student at my school has presented your poem IN AFGHAN FIELDS from your site as his own. I am delighted that he has such good taste but we are looking for a significant learning experience for this 8th grader. I feel that discipline alone for plagerism is less effective than when discipline is paired with the education around plagerism.
He presented the poem to his teacher and it was chosen by a group of staff members for a poetry reading at a Cultural Exchange Center here in my state. He will not, now that we have found the true author, be performing at this event.
Could I have any thoughts you may have on this? I'm so glad you are available online. I would like, if you will permit me, to share your thoughts with him.
He is a bright young man (a refugee from Afghanistan) and has the potential for an incredible future.
Thank you in advance for your help,
Kathy, Assistant Principal
Thank you very much for your concern about the young Afghan boy who has presented IN AFGHAN FIELDS as his own writing. He being so young - grade 8 - and a refugee from the very nation the poem is written about, makes the case around his using it, in my opinion, more understandable than usual and I don't even like the word "plagiarism" being used. Afterall, I myself only adapted the poem from John McCrae's IN FLANDERS FIELDS.
As you perhaps know, if you have read my essay AFGHANISTAN REMEMBERED, I have an extremely close affinity to the children from Afghanistan.
Also, the fact that the poem is written in the first-person - as though it is an Afghan speaking - makes it even more understandable that he made the choice to put his name to the poem. I think that is an important aspect as to why he probably chose to do that - even subconsciously.
Actually, I am honoured that an Afghan national would choose IN AFGHAN FIELDS as his own. And one point that we must keep in mind is that the thoughts expressed in the poem are very important and the more people who hear the poem and think about what it is saying, the better.
I honestly believe that the best educational lesson here for the boy would be for him to be allowed to read the poem - as originally planned - at the Cultural Exchange event. This could be in addition to the staff choosing as well another student's entry for reading.
When the Afghan boy reads the poem he could say that he chose this poem because it is one that so profoundly expresses his feelings.
It is my feeling that we don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater here. The baby is, as you say, a bright young man with an incredible future. Let's make sure we handle this in such a way that he will trust us and not be afraid of us or have his spirit broken for this very small and understandable transgression in the scheme of things. Others in far higher places - university students and professional writers - plagiarize web material (far more sneakily) and get away with it all the time.
Please, if you could handle it the way I have requested, it would be a happy ending to this drama. Please let him read the poem at the event. It will bring pride to the school and to him.
All the best,
PS - Did you hear of the tragic story of the young Afghan singer, Nasrat Parsa, who was murdered in Vancouver last year? We in the western world have no concept of the suffering the Afghan people have endured, and are enduring, at hour hands, intentionally or unintentionally and knowingly and unknowingly.
Popular Afghan singer killed in Vancouver (attacked outside his hotel after a concert). CBC, May 10, 2005
To Orwell Today,
Thank you so much for replying so quickly...
I have worked with refugee families from Afghanistan since 1985. I too share tremendous empathy with Afghanis and those from other war torn countries. Hard to believe that the children in my city speak over 50 languages and at the present time, our largest population are Sudanese and Somali.
I also feel that your recommendations are not far from my perceptions.
Prior to working as an administrator, I was an art teacher. For centuries, artists trained by copying from the masters....we just didn't put our name to the piece without crediting the original artist. I don't mind him reading if he credits your work as you did McCrae.
I will speak to the teachers involved and get back to you.
I'm thinking today, May 22nd, about the email you sent on April 7th about the student who chose IN AFGHAN FIELDS as the one he would like to recite. Would you kindly update me on how it all turned out?
I apologize for not getting back to you sooner.
As a result of our email, the Principal, the teacher and I decided we would take your advice and let him read the piece. Prior to our email, his classroom teacher had spoken to his dad to tell him that he had signed his name to your work. We called him again, after our conversation, to ask that he read it at the Cultural Exchange Center. Our young man was hesitant, had to be talked into it but his father felt it would be inappropriate. He felt his son should have written his own work and would not let him present. For that we were sorry and even more sorry when our student didn't come to watch the others present.
Thank you for your guidance and patience as we worked with the issue. You taught us a new way to look at what academia traditionally feels is a pretty significant trespass.
That is a sad ending to the story.
Please tell the boy and his father that I was very happy that IN AFGHAN FIELDS was going to be read by one of the people who I care most about in the world - the Afghan children.
I hope he will recite IN AFGHAN FIELDS to himself whenever he is feeling homesick, knowing that there are many people in the world who lovingly care about his people and his homeland and want the IRAQ AFGHANI PHONY WARS to end and the foreign armies to leave.
All the best,
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~