Raising a Generation of Academic Cheaters

Cheating bothers me. As a child, I did not cheat. I was too afraid. Afraid of what teachers would think, afraid of upsetting my parents. Even more so, I knew cheating was wrong. Simple as that. Succeed or fail on my own effort. My grandparents were solid, ethical and moral people, my grandparents as the people I knew. Both of my parents are solid, hardworking people, who have busted their asses over the decades. I had good role models as far as family went.

I wonder if kids today have good role models. Last year, CNN ran a report of teachers cheating on standardized tests. 178 teachers and principals in Atlanta, GA, responsible for cheating.

Today, from StLToday comes another article of testing irregularities in Missouri. No spending on fraud detection, and dismantling of the oversight program. Now, the rule becomes “self-reporting.” Prepare for remarkable scores from school districts.

No Child Left Behind” is the real issue. NCLB created an environment which inarguably encouraged cheating. Tie money to test scores as a means of measuring performance and people will respond accordingly. I think we learned this in Microeconomics 101.

But I see hypocrisy. As educators, we declare a bunch of rules in our syllabi proclaiming all the Inquisition-esque penalties one might incur from cheating.

Yet, examples of adults cheating on behalf of students can be found over the last decade are easily discovered. The over-arching theme appears to be, “the end justifies the means.” In particular, “if the government cuts our budgets, reduces our funding, and tells us, what, how, and when to teach, we are forced to compensate by whatever means are available to us, regardless of ethics, as our children are the primary benefactors of our efforts.”

I don’t agree with cheating to accomplish the goal of securing funding. I support protests, emails to legislatures, demonstrations, letters to newspapers, whatever means to communicate to people and government alternatives.

Cheating sends the wrong message. Cheating tells our kids performing unethical acts is OK as long as the end result is OK. Those kids go through school believing cheating is fine, in fact, cheating is part of Life seeing how many adults have cheated. Those kids arrive in college with cheating an innate trait, like eating, or sleeping.

“I need to cheat on this exam. If I fail my exam, I lose my scholarship. If I lose my scholarship, I can’t get my education. I need my education. Thus, cheating is OK.”

“I need to cheat on this exam. If I fail my exam, I lose my insurance. If I lose my insurance, I won’t have medical coverage. I need medical coverage. Thus, cheating is OK.”

Students cheat, plagiarize, or find someone to do their homework for them. Then, a portion of these students will move on into the field of Education, in the classroom, or in administration, and cheating has simply become part of the ecosystem. Then, the pattern continues, as the new generation of educators has no real idea what constitutes cheating or plagiarism. The new generation of educators allow their students to “borrow” intellectual property from whatever source, mostly the Internet, without showing student the appropriate method for citing references.

How to fix?

Honestly, I’m not sure. Few students really understands the importance referencing information. New students arrive in college and their first experience with cheating is a zero on a writing assignment. Besides crapping writing, sources are not properly reference, if referenced at all. What worked in high school, they discover, does not work in college.

I do offer a solution.

I tell my students the following:

“If you are caught cheating in my class, I will not write you a letter of recommendation for anything, nor will I allow you to use me as any form of reference. Furthermore, if you are found to have cheated in any other course in my department, or any other department, I will do nothing to help you advance yourself. Forget it. That may not seem like a big deal, but faculty talk. Most faculty will not provide any reference or recommendation for any student who has cheated in a university course. Your reputation WILL precede you.”

My recommendation is college and university faculty should, as a body, adopt a similar policy. I’ve told my classes in the past should anyone be found guilty of cheating in our department, “you might as well find another major. No faculty will go out of their way to help or assist you. You won’t be considered for much, if anything.”

A zero may not mean much on any assignment, honestly. Investigation of cheating can challenge any department and institution. When wealthy students, coddled by indulgent parents, have their ego slapped, parents and kids have no problem hiring a lawyer to speak on their behalf. Administrators appear to have little backbone to support faculty against students who fight cheating accusations, as well. Faculty have to have all of their evidence in order or the student wins. My experience, and experience as told to me.

I won’t hold my breath, though. I once had college faculty take a course from me. His answers were remarkable. So, remarkable, in fact, I decided to google a sentence. As I suspected, the faculty person had plagiarized his essay, a cut-and-paste directly from a RAND corporation report. I gave him a zero, which he complained about to my superiors, requesting I not only re-instate his grade but offer a written apology. I submitted his plagiarized response to the administration along with the RAND report for them to make their own determination. Yes, they had no choice but to agree with me, the student had plagiarized. No punitive measures were taken against the faculty person for cheating in the course, however, and to me, faculty cheating far exceeds the audacity of new freshman cheating.

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