As my previous post suggests, I'm knee-deep in academic dishonesty paperwork. But in the course of chasing down one apparent case of plagiarism, I made a new and possibly more horrible discovery.
Without going into the specifics, let me present a roughly analogous fictitious example. Let's pretend that I'm teaching a 20th-century American novel, and I get a pretty good essay with one entirely gratuitous paragraph claiming that some event in Chapter Five is an allusion to the French and Indian War.
This strikes me as mildly odd: it's not impossible that there's an allusion to the French and Indian War--I can see what the student is talking about--but there's no reason why there should be; it doesn't add any layer of meaning to the scene or to the novel as a whole. Moreover, it's a little weird that a student should make this particular observation (I mean, the French and Indian War? The average undergrad doesn't know squat about that).
So I run a few checks, and bang! There that claim is, in SparkNotes--a whole stupid argument about this stupid supposed allusion (which I'm now even less convinced by). The student hasn't taken anything verbatim, and nothing else about the essay seems suspicious--but come on: The French and Indian War! A twentieth-century novel! It can't be a coincidence.
I haul the kid in, and he's surprised and terrified. The student stammers out that he loves this novel, and read it in high school, at the same time that he was taking a class in Early American history. He remembers this allusion, because he thought it was so neat, the first time he read the book, to know what his English teacher meant when she referenced the French and Indian War--because he'd just studied that in history class.
His high school teacher was cribbing from SparkNotes.
Imagonna bang my head against a wall for a while now.