Supporting "homework" (was: Re: Checking a Number for Palindromic Behavior)

rurpy at rurpy at
Thu Oct 22 19:05:48 CEST 2009

On 10/22/2009 02:24 AM, Andre Engels wrote:
> On Thu, Oct 22, 2009 at 7:04 AM, Dieter Maurer <dieter at> wrote:
>> Steven D'Aprano <steven at> writes on 20 Oct 2009 05:35:18 GMT:
>>> As far as I'm concerned, asking for help on homework without being honest
>>> up-front about it and making an effort first, is cheating by breaking the
>>> social contract. Anyone who rewards cheaters by giving them the answer
>>> they want is part of the problem. Whether cheaters prosper in the long
>>> run or not, they make life more difficult for the rest of us, and should
>>> be discouraged.
>> A few days ago, I have read an impressive book: "Albert Jacquard: Mon utopie".
>> The author has been a university professor (among others for
>> population genectics, a discipline between mathematics and biologie).
>> One of the corner therories in his book: mankind has reached the current
>> level of development not mainly due to exceptional work by individuals
>> but by the high level of cooperation between individuals.
>> In this view, asking for help (i.e. seeking communication/cooperation)
>> with individual tasks should probably be highly encouraged not discouraged.
>> At least, it is highly doubtful that the paradigm "each for himself,
>> the most ruthless wins" will be adequate for the huge problems mankind
>> will face in the near future (defeating hunger, preventing drastic
>> climate changes, natural resources exhaustion, ....); intensive
>> cooperation seems to be necessary.
> I think you are much mis-interpreting the quoted text here. Steven is
> arguing against "asking for help on homework **without being honest
> up-front about it and making an effort first**".

This are several issues the originating thread.
q) How a posted question can be categorized:
 q1) A posted question
   q1a) is a homework problem.
    q1a1) Poster was "up front" about it.
    q1a2) Poster failed to mention it was homework.
    (AFAICR, Steven was the only one to include this "honesty" issue.)
   q1b) isn't a homework problem.
 q2) The poster
   q2a) supplied code or other evidence that he tried to code a
   q2b) didn't supply such evidence.

r) And how it should be responded to:
 r1) What kind of answer to provide.
  r1a) No answer.
  r1b) Hints, possibly a number of them sequentially.
  r1c) Actual example code.
 r2) Who should make the decision about (r1).
  r2a) One of the group's "we"s.
  r2b) Each participant based on his/her own judgment.

While you say Steven is concerned about the combination
q1a.q2b concern about q2b is really independent of q1.

> We are all willing to
> help people who say "For such-and-such homework assignment I created
> this-and-that program but I still cannot work out how to do so-and-so
> part." The problems come when someone shoves a simple problem at us,
> and basically says "I must write this simple program, please do it for
> me." The canned response for that is "What have you tried and where
> did you get problems?" - look for a way to cooperate with people, to
> help them where that is necessary. What is being argued against is to
> just give the people the code in such a case. Steven and others are
> *looking for* cooperation, not shying away from it. Cooperation in the
> form of "try to do it yourself, and if that fails, we will help you".
> What we don't want is 'cooperation' in the form "just shove your
> problem on our plate and consider yourself done".

That kind cooperation is similar to the cooperation
demanded by police when interrogating a suspect, i.e.
it is not really cooperation, it is coercion ("we" will
punish you (by not answering your question) unless you
do what we tell you to).  The power to provide an answer
or not resides exclusively with the answerer, the
questioner has almost nothing to bargain with.
(Although the concept of "cooperation" seems fuzzy
enough that it could be argued over forever.)

While there are undoubtedly cheaters and those who
want to (as the stereotype goes) get an answer without
doing any work themselves for either their programming
course or to prevent "us" from feeling taken advantage
of, I personally feel that many cases do not fit that
stereotype -- the posters have made an attempt on the
problem and simply failed to mention it, or were too
intimidated by the problem to attempt code, or did provide
evidence but in a form that does not satisfy one of the
regulars, or some other perfectly innocent explanation.
Thus, in general, I prefer to cooperate with them by
answering their question.  Of course if it becomes
clear that the poster really is taking advantage of
my (or our) cooperation then I will stop cooperating
with him/her.

It is rather like the legal systems of many countries
that consider the harm done by punishing the innocent
more evil than the harm done by failing to punish the

Overall, I think that cooperating with those asking
questions here will improve the tone of this group,
improve the image of the python community, attract
more people to Python, and ultimately further (in a
tiny way) the free flow of information that is the
foundation of FOSS and liberty itself -- the benefits
to human society that I think the book Dieter Maurer
described says are among the results of cooperation.

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