in January, I have posted a blog with poll question: Have you ever cheated on exams in school? Asking this question was for many Slovak students a normal question and great oportunity to share methods on cheating. But for many others it was non-sense question. My friend Tyler Shores, has labeled above question as non-sense, with instant reply: NO to any cheating at school! Tyler wrote, exclusively for Inspiring Shipments, his generous thoughts on cheating. Before we start, let me introduce you Tyler, who I have “met” via his talk @Google in September last year;-)
Tyler Shores is a writer and currently a graduate student at the University of Oxford. Tyler’s research interests include – the impact of ebooks and digital technology on literature and printed books; literature and the experience of reading in relation to philosophy, psychology, cultural studies, and sociology. At the University of California, Berkeley he created and taught a course on The Simpsons and Philosophy. He is a contributor to the Blackwell Popular Culture and Philosophy book series – including: Heroes and Philosophy, Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy, Arrested Development and Philosophy, and 30 Rock and Philosophy. He also currently contributes to The Oxonian Review, a literary publication based in the University of Oxford.
By Tyler Shores
A couple of weeks ago, news broke about a now-former Harvard student who lied, cheated, and stole his way into one of the world’s finest educational institutions. Among the many transgressions the student was charged with: fraudulent grades; lying on a Rhodes Scholarship application; falsified claims of authorship of papers and lectures; and lying about having attended MIT.
This recent, sad example shows just how far the depths of cheating and dishonesty can reach. Of course, most of the academic dishonesty that we encounter or are confronted with is not likely to be on such a scale as this incident. Academic dishonesty takes on many minor, perhaps seemingly inconsequential actions, as well as much larger lapses. The point is: academic dishonesty has very real and serious consequences, which deserve to be discussed.
My intention is not to overly moralize such issues, but rather to encourage us to think about some of the reasons why people might be tempted to engage in such behavior, and to raise questions about the nature of what cheating means from a larger, social perspective for all of us.
It’s the technology, stupid.
To paraphrase an old campaign slogan, there is much to be said about the way that technology has changed our perception and even the fundamental relationship between our access and use of information.
An entire generation has now grown up in a “free” culture[i] – access to content of all forms online has led to a tendency to think that everything online should be free. Obviously the social benefits of free information for all have been tremendous. But there is a darker side – information that is used freely is very different than that which is stolen or used dishonestly or illicitly, such as movies, music, or ideas and words on a page. The ease of click, copy, paste is an obvious trouble that can enable some to misappropriate the ideas of others as their own (or rather, to think that they can). But, to lay the blame simply on technology only gets us so far in our thinking. As has been noted on the alarming rise in the rate of cheating: “Cheaters are causing the rise. Technology is a catalyst.”
One implication is that the finding and taking of information seems to have become confused with knowing and knowledge– just because one finds information, it’s far from equivalent to knowing the information and making that information one’s own instead of mindlessly copying something. This larger question of knowledge is a problematic outcome of the digital age we live in, and something we’ll want to discuss further.
The Problem with Grades.
A significant part of the problem of cheating lies in the fact that students tempted by such intellectual shortcuts are confusing the means with the ends. In thinking about what education is, we might consider that the value lies in the process of learning, and not simply the grades that result from the learning process. Speaking as someone who was a student, then a teacher, and now a student once again, there really does become a point in our lives when learning for the sake of learning becomes more important than grades. Grades and other external measures can be poor measure for the importance of learning to us as individuals.
In universities, students are paying for education. Cheating through such education is the same as cheating one’s self out of the money paid for that education. Let’s think of it this way: would someone pay to see a movie, never see it, and then ask someone else what they thought it was about? Not likely, because it’s the experience of seeing that movie which someone pays for. That same reasoning applies to the experience of learning.
Grades have become overly valued – by students, by teachers, and by institutions – over the education itself, which is truly a sad state of affairs that needs fixing. Grades for many students are a necessary means to an end; good grades are needed to get into better schools, which mean better jobs, and so forth. The ‘succeed at all costs’ mentality that many of us live with and around in our everyday lives have moral costs: “It is not that we love honesty less, but that we love success more.”[ii] There are no easy solutions.
Social pressure is another indisputable factor when it comes to cheating. Where cheating is widespread, even students who don’t engage in dishonest behavior might feel there is a ‘cheat or be cheated’ imperative. After all, if everyone else is cheating, should you cheat in what otherwise seems to be an unfair competitive situation? A culture of dishonesty can have an invisible influence about the way that everyone construes what is right, and what is wrong.
There is a certain moral relativism at play here – one very popular justification that dishonest students resort to is that ‘everybody does it.’ (I’ll have much more to say about this discussion of ethics and individual behavior in the next part). Oftentimes the explanation is likely to be much simpler: students will cheat because they can cheat. Other reasons could be more personal; others cheat out of desperation. The pressure to succeed at all costs is heavily felt by many students, and shows no sign of letting up in today’s schools. Those who cheat might think they aren’t good enough unless they cheat – and while in the short-term of a single test or class such cheating may even prove beneficial, in the long-term, always and inevitably, that kind of behavior becomes a crutch.
Such reasons as those just discussed don’t make it right to cheat, just more comprehensible. So far, our discussion gives us some sense of the ‘why’ of cheating. Let’s look in our next part on what all of this means.
(to be continued in part TWO)
[i] For more on this, you might want to check out WiredMagazine’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson’s thoughts on this subject.