On Cheating – Part Two
Teaching to Learn.
To some extent, it should be argued that teachers have an obligation to not give students reasons to cheat. As a teacher, I was never a huge fan of tests and quizzes when it came to evaluating how well students understood what was being taught – not that there isn’t legitimate pedagogical value in such methods. And besides, I hated taking tests, too. Creative or more interactive forms of assessment naturally discourage cheating, but in the most ideal of situations, can also encourage students to find such activities to be more meaningful than as merely rote exercises.
And there is something to be said about the relationship between the student and the teacher. Sadly, this becomes more and more of a challenge with increasingly overcrowded classrooms and a talent drain in the teaching profession, but we shouldn’t be so cynical about the state of school education that we can’t believe that good teachers will relate to students and make learning more worthwhile. An all-too common rationale from students engaging in cheating is to justify their behavior by feeling as if they are rebelling against an oppressive and unfair or uninteresting classroom regime. Of course, some students will cheat regardless of even the best teachers, or even the most meaningful of work. That’s life. But it doesn’t have to be that way for everyone.
There is some indication to believe that students are simply not taught what is and isn’t cheating. If such is the case, then the definition of what is wrong simply needs to be made clearer. Slippages in morality and a tendency to rationalize dishonest behavior always seems to grow most where there are morally gray areas –perhaps the solution is to teach students the difference between the black and white distinctions between doing the right and doing the wrong thing – and why. Another university study indicates that “routine, lack of interest and overwork” as main reasons for the increased moral laxity towards academic dishonesty – which again points to the need for better teaching. Some teachers may not want to hear that, but that is the difficult burden that comes with the responsibility of being a teacher, as well as the responsibility that students owe to themselves.
On Cheating, Philosophically Speaking: “The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life.”[i]
Perhaps for many students, to cheat or not to cheat does not even amount to much of a moral or ethical decision. In fact, a very extensive survey of almost 30,000 students indicates, that despite cheating, such behavior doesn’t seem to affect their ethical view of their personal self. Something is clearly wrong here, as the Josephson Institute concludes. But let’s be serious. People often cheat, in school, in work, in life – because it’s an easy way out. The short-term benefits probably seem to outweigh the long-term consequences, but to think so is to live shortsightedly. More harmfully, someone who lives life through cheating and shortcuts might eventually fool themselves into thinking they are something they’re actually not. There is a danger in creating such fictions about the self, which almost seem to become true because they’ve been repeated so many times in someone’s mind. To allude to Sartre’s existential philosophy, it would be living an inauthentic life – and why would someone choose to do so?
As many students have noted, there seems to be a spectrum of what constitutes cheating and dishonesty; some forms of cheating might be, in their minds, more wrong or less wrong than others. But to think that cheating doesn’t hurt anyone? In an expansive article, it’s been noted that high achieving students are prone to cheating as much as struggling low achieving students, and the social costs are alarming: “They will be our doctors, our lawyers, our policymakers. And if the issue of integrity is on the back burner, that doesn’t bode well for all of us.”[ii] How safe would you feel about flying in a plane with a pilot who cheated their way through pilot training, or a surgeon who cheated on that course on open-heart surgery, if you were the one on the operating table?
For those of you who are so philosophically inclined, it’s worth thinking about cheating from the point of view of Kant’s categorical imperative – if everyone in the world cheated on everything, all of the time, where would be, exactly? As a society we’d pretty much be doomed. As I mentioned before, the social pressure to cheat is oftentimes considerable, but that factor cuts both ways: “What is needed, we believe, is a larger, more integrative vision of community in higher education … a place where individuals accept their obligations to the group and where well-defined governance procedures guide behavior for the common good.”[iii] The notion of the common good is a universal appeal; similar in many ways to the theory of the social contract that philosophers such as John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau have long discussed and on which much of human civilization is based upon. In the context of the discussion of academic cheating, this could mean establishing an honor code, as has been done in a number of schools and universities. In such a system, students agree to abide by a certain code of ethics and not to tolerate unethical academic behavior. Just because an individual can cheat, does not mean a individual should cheat. The inherent value of such honor codes can sometimes be its own form of learning – values such as integrity and honesty are not what is explicitly tested on an exam; those values are learned in every single moral decision we make, the big ones as well as (and sometimes especially) the small ones.
The student is ultimately the one responsible for his or her education; not the educator, and not the social and cultural environment in which they find themselves. For those that choose to take the path of least resistance, it’s their decision to do so and to live with the short and long term consequences. And it isn’t as if cheaters never get caught. Quite frankly, many cheaters cheat in very dumb ways (and I’m talking about even Oxford students here).
The appeal to cheat is seductive. And it’s complicated. At the very bottom, the “there has to be a better way to do this” mentality that is characteristic of cheating is fundamentally at the heart of innovation and invention. Yet at the same time, we can’t possibly ignore questions of integrity and other lessons of character that accompany the decision to do honest or dishonest work. Honest work is meaningful work, work that we are proud of – and if we aren’t spending our time doing things that are meaningful, why on earth are we doing it?
[i] Plato, The Republic
[ii] “Everybody Does It.” San Francisco Chronicle. September 09, 2007|By Regan McMahon
I believe, you have enjoyed Tyler’s posts, which have been more than thought-provoking.
Let me shout out aloud: “THANK YOU, TYLER!”
I would love to hear your take on cheating in schools. Do you take an easy shortcuts, too? Have you done it before? Yes? No? Why not, and why yes? How could be this kind of behavior outrooted from our educational institutions? Any ideas?
I cannot wait to “read you”, in comments!