THE BLOG

The "Do Your Own Work" Ethic Is a Thing of the Past

07/07/2014 06:39 pm ET | Updated Sep 06, 2014

When I was in high school in the 1980s, we were told to "do your own work" and not to have parents or friends write our papers for us. We had to sign an Honor Code at the bottom of our tests and papers swearing that we had not cheated. A little extreme? No. It taught us about personal responsibility.

In college, our professors didn't tell us NOT to have our parents do our homework and papers because in the early 1990s, email was in its infancy, and having parents edit work would have involved the Pony Express. This is why, for some of my classmates, leaving home was truly like being kicked out of the nest. If their parents had been propping up their academics for years, they couldn't do it anymore. Sink or swim, you were on your own. Even plagiarism required a research trip to the university's library.

Oh, how times have changed! And not for the better. While the Internet has given parents the ability to monitor their children's grades, homework assignments, test dates and other activities, it's also taken away learning personal responsibility from a young age. Losing your assignment book back then was akin to losing your cell phone now -- a crisis! Now they ask mom to log in and see what's due.

The thing is -- too many parents are actually helping their children redo every homework assignment -- and are required to sign that they checked it. What is that? What ever happened to spending recess in the classroom finishing the previous night's assignment as punishment? Are there no consequences for anything except bringing a weapon to school nowadays?

While jokes and criticism of "helicopter" parents who are always hovering over their children are common, I'm not sure America realizes that many of these parents are "helicoptering" over universities too. Helping with homework. Editing papers and doing more that would have been considered cheating when I was in school. All they have to do is hit "send" and mommy and daddy are right there, in the dorm room, with them.

This came to my attention when I found out some of my interns have been sending blogs written for my business to their parents for editing prior to submitting them to me. Say what? I didn't hire your mom or dad. I hired YOU. For years, I've used their blogs as a way to measure improvement in their writing over the course of the internship and now I know that I've been wasting my time. I learned from my account exec that this has been going on all along and I was clueless. Why didn't she tell me? Because she was taught the same thing in college and didn't think there was anything wrong with it. Honestly. No guile there. This is how she was taught at her university.

She didn't endorse the practice, but she also didn't recognize that there was anything amiss. My reaction initially baffled her until we sat down and really talked about why I care whether our interns share anything outside of the office. And how it limits my ability to measure their growth. And how the confidentiality agreement they all sign comes into play... although guest wedding blogs for my business web site aren't really the best example.

To be clear, I'm not talking about having your roommate proofread your paper for typos when it's completely finished (always risky unless you're sure your roommate is smarter than you), I'm talking about getting a significant contribution to your work from somebody else. What ever happened to the "do your own work" school of thought?

Telling students to collaborate with other students, get their parents' opinion or visit the Writing Center for help with every writing assignment is COMMON PRACTICE now at most major universities. I know this because I reached out to a bunch of my friends' college-aged kids and asked about it. While not all of them had been specifically instructed to ask their parents for help, ALL of them told me their universities teach them to get group input on their writing prior to submitting it to professors. I think knowing that Catholic University, the University of Colorado and Rochester Institute of Technology all do it is a pretty representative cross-section to make my judgment.

Unfortunately, nobody is teaching them it's not okay to do the same thing when they get REAL JOBS in the real world!

Professors are doing a gross disservice to the students. Yes, it takes more time to grade and edit a bad paper than a good one, but that's your job! You are an instructor and you are supposed to TEACH the students, not give them homework for their parents or Writing Center tutors to help them with in college. For God's sake, how does that prepare them for the real world? It doesn't. Not one little bit. And their lack of skills becomes glaringly apparent when they get their first jobs.

Thank goodness I have a wedding planning company and violating our confidentiality policy with a blog isn't going to rock my world. However, I sincerely worry about the new graduates who are doing internships or embarking on careers at companies where the material and data is sensitive.

If you're interning or working on Capitol Hill or at a big defense contractor, sending a white paper to your parents to proofread would get you fired. Depending on what kind of information you're sending out of the office, you could actually be breaking the law.

After a lengthy discussion with my current interns and account exec about the problem, I don't think it will keep happening in my office. BUT I do think it's happening everywhere. And I think businesses need to be aware that somebody is teaching new hires that this is how you get your work done in real life. Because it's wrong and has to be addressed.

My account executive suggests universities should be teaching a "What to Do Differently after College" class to undergrads before they graduate -- and she's probably right, given what I've learned. Nobody's teaching them how to write good resumes, how to interview and follow up, or how to behave when they actually get into the business world and a real office.

I think it would be more effective for schools to stop teaching students to use a group mentality for their work. That's not how most of the world works, and within some companies and depending on what you do for a living, you cannot even share your data with colleagues without violating confidentiality. How are new grads entering the work force supposed to function solo if they've never had to do it in the past?

For those who haven't carried their own weight before, it's going to be an ugly reality check when they get to their first real jobs and are expected to "do your own work." Since universities are telling them to share everything, it's up to parents and businesses to disabuse them of that notion. Life is a competition. To win or succeed, you have to push yourself to the finish line. On your own.

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