Academic Cheating: A Social Norm?
Written by: Maureen Weaver
As an innocent eighth grader, after the last student had exited the room, I approached my American history teacher.
“Hi, I just wanted to let you know that the girl who sits next to me was cheating on today’s test,” I said politely. I wasn’t angry or specifically trying get this girl in trouble. I didn’t even know her. But my teacher never walked around the room, and I thought she would want to know that students in her class were cheating. Every test, the girl next to me would “casually” slide notes out of her binder for assistance. For a while, I was unsure of what to do. Finally, though, during the test over the fifty states and their capitals, I had had enough. Why did I have to study for hours when she could get the same grade or better with zero effort? I knew it was unfair, and it bothered me. The response I received from my teacher bothered me even more.
“Oh, I know. She cheats on every test, but it’s only hurting her,” she casually remarked with a tone that implied there was nothing she could do about it.
I walked out of my history class feeling, rather confusingly, like I had done something wrong in reporting something wrong. Yet pointing to the contrary were all the morals that the school had so openly flaunted in the beginning of the year. I was listening when the principal and various teachers said that if a student cheated, they would receive an automatic zero on the assignment, the offense would be permanently plastered on their record for colleges to look at (the proverbial scarlet letter of academics) and that all chances to get into honor societies like NJHS in middle school would be instantaneously eliminated. In short, I was given the impression that cheating was serious.
After the encounter with my history teacher, I was confused, struck to the core. Ever since, I’ve been trying to puzzle out questions regarding what should be done when a student sees another student cheating, what leads people to cheat in the first place and if teachers are willing to uphold the school policy. In my search, I’ve discovered some valuable answers.
First, the issue of cheating has been played down, laughed about and brushed off enough that now a passive attitude infects countless minds and is spreading like a highly contagious disease.
“Everyone has done it at one time or another” junior Myriah Warren said, exemplifying the point perfectly.
In my English III AP class, my teacher set up an open discussion where everyone would stand under one of four posters to represent their feelings on various issues; one of these issues was cheating. The results of this particular survey stunned me. A handful of students placed themselves under the poster that said they agreed with cheating and would openly take part in it. But the majority clustered under the banner saying that they would take no action if they saw someone cheating, even though they don’t agree with it. Their passivity digs at my heart; our society teaches people to hide uncool morals, to excuse and play down the wrong.
“It’s wrong, but I don’t really care. It doesn’t affect me,” sophomore Emma Whitworth said regarding cheating.
But cheating is serious. Responsible students have the right to be bothered.
In English class, Ethan Terry and I stood alone under the banner that not only encompassed disapproval of cheating, but also taking action to stop it.
“My parents taught me that cheating was wrong. It’s taking the easy way out,” Terry said.
A singular question haunted me after this experience in my English class: why were there only two of us? Are students afraid to report other students? Are they even supposed to? Reporting every instance of cheating and giving people’s names is certainly not what I advocate. If nothing else, I am clear on at least this one repeated and blatant message: nobody likes a tattletale. So I searched for a clear, precise solution regarding what a student is supposed to do about cheating. Principal Vaughan provided me with an answer.
“If a student is cheating off of you, yeah, you can tell the teacher. I would hope that a conscientious student would approach the teacher in a private conversation and say ‘hey, there’s some cheating going on.’ That way, there will be no conflict between any two students,” Principal Vaughan said.
My question was clearly answered, but still I know that with most, not wanting to report cheating doesn’t spring from fear, passivity or not knowing what to do. The reigning problem is that students don’t honestly believe that cheating is wrong. Students in my English class under the “disapprove of cheating, but would take no action” section openly voiced their objection to reporting cheating. I received a concise summary of their inner thoughts as every excuse from shouldn’t someone be given a break for their “one-time” cheat, to you shouldn’t lose a friendship over cheating, to its just not nice to tell on someone else, was propelled across the room.
“If someone really wants to know how to do something during a test, I’ll help them as long as they don’t just want the answer,” one senior said after shamelessly admitting that she had helped someone on a test just periods before.
Just because people like this genuinely seem to see so no fault in their actions doesn’t mean that they are not accountable for their wrong. Every single excuse for cheating is a mere attempt to cover-up underlying guilt, silence a nagging conscience and sweep all dirty feelings under the rug. And it’s wrong. Morally, lawfully, utterly wrong. Desensitization of what should be core moral values is a skyrocketing tragedy.
“I never once cheated. It’s a huge problem. It’s a shame that it’s seen as common and acceptable and that so many students don’t take pride in their own work. They don’t learn how to work hard. They take the easy way out,” Mrs. Warrington, my English teacher, said.
My eighth grade teacher definitely made a negative impact. However, there are teachers who uphold dignity, honor and no cheating. My teachers this year are the most encouraging group as a whole that I have ever had. My math teacher openly announced that he gave two people zeroes last year for cheating on a test. Also, my physics teacher showed no shame in telling us that last year, when two test copies were stolen from her desk, she followed through with tracking down the culprits. Moreover, the AP/Dual Credit United States History department discovered that during a recent quiz, students had taken and distributed pictures of each version. The day after she found this out, my history teacher was extremely upset, proving that she has a healthy intolerance of cheating. None of these teachers just let it go. They chose to fulfill their responsibilities.
“It’s always the teacher’s responsibility to catch people cheating in their classrooms. They need to talk to kids and tell them about the help options that the teacher provides, like staying before or after school to help. This way, students won’t feel the need to cheat. Teachers should also take precautions, like walking around the room and making multiple test versions. It is definitely their job to constantly be monitoring,” Principal Vaughan said.
Encouragingly, exemplary teachers, even on the national level, are seizing their responsibilities. At the University of Central Florida, Professor Richard Quinn recently discovered that over 200 out of his 600 business students had cheated on the midterm. By closely examining the unnatural bell curve, he was able to pinpoint exactly who was guilty. The cheaters who openly came forward received the least amount of punishment. Most have chosen this path of repentance and are now required to attend an ethics seminar before completing the course. Everyone, whether they cheated or not, has to take the midterm over.
“This type of behavior cannot, will not be tolerated,” Professor Quinn said.
Decreasing cheating, however, does not solely depend on teachers. Parents are charged with the responsibility of teaching their children right from wrong. And even if they were never taught themselves that cheating was wrong, or if they chose to disregard their training, parents should never accept the lie that they can’t expect their children to follow the ideal morals that they never did. Despite their own actions, parents hold the responsibility to instill solid morals in their offspring.
“I never directly had a conversation with my parents where they told me ‘cheating is wrong.’ I just assumed it. I was raised to work hard and do my own work. I was raised to do the right thing,” Principal Vaughan said.
Such ethics are a crucial part of a child’s upbringing. Children should also be taught about consequences, as nothing in life, including cheating, comes free of them. Students who cheat on any daily assignment or quiz, even if they tell themselves they will learn the material by test time, are much more prone to never learning it at all. They cut corners by cheating once, don’t get caught, and when their favorite TV show comes on or their friends invite them to a party the night before the big test, what’s to stop them from doing the same thing they did on the previous worksheet or quiz? The answer “nothing” pops up, deceptive but blaring. However, even if they suffer no immediate consequences, students will feel the impact of their wrong doing down the road.
“In college, a test is what makes or breaks you and you won’t know how to study,” junior Terry said, vocalizing one of the many detriments of cheating.
However, if there are such ruinous consequences to cheating, then why did the majority of the people in my English class discussion feel that interfering when a friend was drinking, using drugs, or being physically harmed was a totally different matter than interfering when a friend was cheating? Taking drugs leads to friend’s harm, and so does cheating.
“There is a lot of pressure put on students to do well. I can understand that. But when students cheat, they are doing themselves two disservices. One, they will not know the material when test time comes and two, the foundation of integrity that each person tries to build their life on will be ruined every time they cheat,” Principal Vaughan said.
The prevalent excuse of “well, they’re only hurting themselves,” precisely proves why it is for someone’s own good to be confronted. It may serve as a wakeup call, telling them that they need to get their priorities straight. Honestly, if someone is desperate enough to cheat, even just once, it probably means that they didn’t have time to study the night before the test and that they’ve been too tired to pay attention in class. These kind of people need sleep, rest and relaxation. Maybe getting caught cheating will finally make them simplify. In the long run, any student, even a friend, may be thankful that by being caught they were saved from a web of exhaustion, pressure and guilt. Don’t keep a suffering friend by letting them cheat, gain a true friend by not letting them cheat themself.
Report cheating when it feels appropriate, and hope that teachers will seize the responsibility of catching their students. Encourage friends not to cheat, and shun casual justification for it in conversation. And if cheating has become a habit, know that it is never too late to admit fault and make a change. Retain integrity, keep a squeaky clean conscience and be an audacious advocate against cheating. Simply because it’s right. Simply because everyone does not cheat.
“I never cheat. I see people cheating a lot and it really bothers me that they could be getting better grades than me, but not working at all,” junior Brooke Taylor said honestly.
I’m not trying to land scathing judgment in anyone’s lap. I’m trying to encourage those who choose integrity, to let them know that they are not alone. I’m also trying to eliminate all the bothersome excuses that litter the air. And especially, to those who have never been told that cheating is wrong, I’m sorry, but it’s time to make a change.