Kay Wyma helps us ease into Monday with her second D Moms Daily column focused on her journey to raise self-sufficient kids. This week, she ponders the causes (and ramifications) of cheating at school.
By Kay Wyma
“Character is higher than intellect.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Cheating has found itself the topic of many a headline these past few weeks. The New York Times apparently started the current conversation with their article on Sept. 25 entitled: “Stuyvesant Students Describe the How and Why of Cheating.” In June, 71 students were caught cheating at New York’s flagship public school, indication of an epidemic sweeping across academia all over the country.
Cheating is easy these days, even convenient. Technology places at the fingertips of every student the ability to gather and share information. Homework cheating is a given. Test cheating rampant. Standardized test cheating on the rise.
“Academic cheating is a pervasive problem and if, as a parent, you have left the conversation until high school, or even middle school, it may be getting late. The number of students who cheat is simply staggering. According to the Educational Testing Service, between 75 and 98 percent of college students report having cheated in high school. And among middle schoolers, admitted to cheating while 90% said they had copied another student’s homework. Cheating occurs among both weak and strong students, male and female students and part of the rise in incidence is blamed on increase pressure for good grades and the decreased stigma associated with academic dishonesty.”
Parents must start the conversation since kids start swimming in the murky waters earlier and earlier, justifying their actions with each stroke. Apparently, it’s not their fault they have to cheat, it’s “a system designed to grind them down.”
Per the NYT article:
“Although Stuyvesant has a reputation for being cutthroat, students say collaboration, not competition, is the norm.”
“Take-home exams are seen as an invitation to work together.”
“They’re proud of their achievements in college,” she added, “and sometimes the only way you could’ve gotten there is to kind of botch your ethics for a couple things.”
Most common of all, those who take exams in earlier class periods are expected to help their friends who take the same tests in later periods, several students said. And though most appear to understand that they are violating the rules, some students seem unsure about where helping ends and cheating begins.
“The lines did get a little blurry,” Alison Reed, 17, a senior, said.
“It’s seen as helping your friend out,” Daniel Kanovich, 17, a senior, said. “If you ask people, they’d say it’s not cheating. I have your back, you have mine.”
Eeeek! Cheating isn’t cheating?!… “botch your ethics for a couple things”?!
Here’s one student’s take:
“It’s like, ‘I’ll keep my integrity and fail this test’ — no. No one wants to fail a test,” he said, explaining how he and others persuaded themselves to cheat. “You could study for two hours and get an 80, or you could take a risk and get a 90.”
The thought of sacrificing integrity for a grade leaves me sick.
“Have you ever cheated?” I ask the kid sitting next to me on one of our many rides to and from school. Before he could answer, I quickly added, “You can be honest. I’m not fishing for anything or trying to tell you something, I’m just curious. Have you ever cheated?”
He answers. We discuss. I follow up: “Why do you think people cheat or don’t cheat?”
The why: because everyone’s doing it; because the end justifies the means; because even if the teachers know, they look the other way; because it’s all relative. And apparently “it” means truth.
As a parent, do I dare connect a few of inferred dots? Might some of our early on stepping in, helping out, doing for rather than letting them do it themselves (see also: class projects, homework, college applications, …), and contributing so much that these kids consider anything beyond basic help as “collaboration” rather than cheating.
The why not: character matters; integrity is important; once you cross the line you can’t go back.
I look at my kid. “Please don’t ever cheat. It’s just not worth it. You are so much more important than any grade. Don’t believe anyone or any pressure that might convince you otherwise.”
Back to that student who said it all, “It’s like, ‘I’ll keep my integrity and fail this test’…no. No one wants to fail a test...” This mother can almost hear herself jumping-up-and-down yelling, “YES!!! FAIL THE TEST! PLEASE… just don’t cheat. Your integrity is in play.”
Yet another conversation we need to be proactively having with our kids – early. Character is worth SO much more than an “A” … or any grade, for that matter. Remind me as I continue the fight to keep my hands out of what needs to be their business.
Thanks for walking the road with me.
Kay Wyma is the author of Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. She shares the hilarity and the tears that come with raising adolescents & teens on her blog The Moat … because who wants to walk that road alone.