Rarely today does a student come through school without cheating-not occasionally, but regularly. Students share homework, copy someone’s test answers, or borrow someone’s project. They think nothing of it. That’s the way of their world.
Recently when I asked my students to study for ten minutes before a vocabulary quiz, one student used his time to make a cheat sheet instead. Then he couldn’t understand why I was upset with him. The really bad part is that the next week, he did exactly the same thing. He couldn’t believe I actually called his mom for such a minor offense.
“Mrs. Ellis, you done me wrong. Everybody cheats,” he said. “What’s so wrong with that? It was just a little quiz.”
Before we succumb to complete shock though, let’s consider the world we live in, the world my students have grown up in. Students who don’t want to write papers can search the internet for a suitable paper to turn in. Every topic imaginable from “Women in Shakespeare’s Plays” to “Why Abortion is not Murder” is out there in Cyberspace, waiting for a click. If a student has enough money, he can find someone to custom-write his papers and lower the chances of being caught. Some of these services are even free. Just for the asking a student can print off a paper to turn in to his English teacher and claim the work as his own. Plagiarism? What is that? And what does it matter?
It really is starting to matter in college. We hear often about students being expelled for plagiarism. Then parents criticize the college.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” one parent said. “What did he do that was so wrong? It’s not like he murdered somebody. I don’t suppose the college realizes its ruining his career.”
The famous Pearl Bailey said the first and worst of all frauds is to cheat one’s self. All sin is easy after that. We are cheating ourselves when we rationalize away our faults or those of our children. Is there any morality left out there? Is there just one iota in this land of the free and the home of the brave?
What exactly are we teaching our children? They see their sports idols cheating by using steroids to enhance their performance, to give them an unfair edge over the opponent. They hear our country’s leaders preach integrity but then lie, cheat and steal. Integrity means nothing except as a tool to garner votes. The word sounds good.
Consider Tom Daschle, for example. Remember him? He said, “Make no mistake, tax cheaters cheat us all, and the IRS should enforce our laws to the letter.” President Obama nominated him for Secretary of Health and Human Services, but Daschle withdrew his name on February 3, 2009 because of an escalating controversy over his failure to truthfully report his earnings and to pay income taxes. We could fill the whole newspaper with stories of such politicians.
What about the role of education? Think for a minute about the No Child Left Behind policy, which was created by politicians in some ivory tower somewhere above the clouds. From the minute it was passed, teachers said, “No, it won’t work. Too many problems. One size doesn’t fit all.”
Setting a deadline to reach perfection was in itself a red flag. 2014 is the magical year. By then every child in the United States should be passing all the right tests. Success simply means jumping through hoops. And so many schools are doing what the students do-they’re cheating. They pass students who don’t deserve to pass so the school can make AYP. They tamper with tests. They teach the tests. What other choices are there? We’re talking about losing federal dollars and having overseers come in to fix their problems. Call it whatever you like. I call it cheating, and it’s just as bad-maybe worse—than what students are doing. Educators should know better.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem. The only fix I can see for it is to start practicing and preaching integrity at every level of society, to demand it in government, and first and foremost, to model it in our homes for our children and grandchildren.