Corruption in the Culture: What Official Plagiarism Says About Washington, D.C.
The lesson is so well-embedded in human history that one would think it would be thoroughly understood by now. Absence of ethics in government creates a culture of corruption that infects every neighborhood. The frustrating failure of the African nations to escape from a cycle of economic failure, poverty, violence and dictatorship is a blinding illustration of this principle, but so is Washington, D.C.
It is a city that simply does not take ethics seriously. Marion Barry, a thoroughly corrupt mayor who virtually bankrupted Washington by handing out city funds to cronies and political allies, secretly smoked crack cocaine at night while lecturing school children on the dangers of drug use. Jail time didn’t end his appeal to D.C. voters, many of whom appear to have only one ethical principle in their repertoire—loyalty. Loyalty to corrupt politicians who gave a relative a job. Loyalty to neighborhood thugs who commit robberies and murder. Barry has been elected and re-elected to the City Counsel, and continues to have problems with the law. He hasn’t paid his income taxes. He has been arrested for reckless driving, and possession of drugs. Still, he is a Washington D.C icon, and a hero to far too many.
Washington has many dedicated and honest officials. It has also had within recent memory such outrageous examples of municipal corruption as a chief of child support enforcement who himself was delinquent in child support payments. Now the record of ethical hypocrisy in the D.C. government has another embarrassing chapter, courtesy of Victor A. Reinoso, the deputy mayor for education. The D.C. schools, with one of the largest budgets in the country, is a perpetual embarrassment, with under-performing students, crumbling school buildings, incompetent administrators and a terrible drop-out rate. New mayor Adrian Fenty has given up on the School Board and resolved to take over the school system. Reinoso recently unveiled a 31 page strategy plan for the mayor’s take-over, supposedly a vital tool in the daunting task of educating D.C. children.
According to the Washington Post, fully a third of the document had been copied verbatim from another community’s education blueprint. In short, the strategy plan for the schools was a work of plagiarism. Large chunks of it were lifted straight out of the plan developed for the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school system in North Carolina, with no attribution given. Charlotte-Mecklenberg, which no one has ever mistaken for Washington D.C., prepared its plan the right way, holding discussions with more than 500 parents, teachers, education experts and consultants over 100 days. The District, with its school system in crisis, couldn’t bother to do its own research, thought, or writing. To fix the schools, it engaged in conduct that would get any student in the schools suspended.
Reinoso has admitted responsibility, but he isn’t any more likely to lose his job than Councilman Barry. And indignant D.C. residents are actually writing into the Post, complaining that the plagiarism won’t matter as long as the plan “works.” That’s the lesson the school children of Washington will learn from this fiasco. No matter what teachers may say about cheating being wrong and the importance of doing your own work, and how much they emphasize the duties of responsibility and honesty, the message from the city’s leaders is very different and much more persuasive. Do whatever you can get away with. Cut corners. Steal if you can. Telling the truth is for saps, and so is doing an honest day’s labor.
The results of this persistent message are visible in the city’s health and crime statistics, showing an increasing murder rate, epidemic drug use, a stunning percentage of the male population in prison and far more births out of wedlock than in. Yes, Washington, D.C. is a city that doesn’t understand the importance of ethics. The irony is that the city’s population is living, breathing, suffering proof of how important ethical principles are, and what happens when a community’s leaders ignore them.