Cheating: That's What It Is
Students buy term papers at Direct Essays.com and other Internet resources that offer high quality essays and term papers. They copy sentences and whole paragraphs and paste them into their assignments. Some simply take the whole essay or term paper and hand it in as their own. Why? For grades, of course.
They cheat on standardized tests too. If teachers use standard tests, or even very similar tests, semester after semester, students can purchase old copies from students who took the course previously.
Why do they cheat? Is it because some teachers use the same tests over and over again? Is it because some creative entrepreneurs have made it easy for them? Is it because cheating is tacitly condoned? Is it because winning is the goal and grades are the means? Is it because some teachers don't make the material personally relevant or interesting enough?
A recent editorial in the New York Times, "How Teachers Can Stop Cheaters" by Mark Edmundson, professor of English at the University of Virginia and the author of Teacher: The One Who Made the Difference, offers some good insights into how teachers can discourage cheating and encourage critical thinking. What's needed, according to Edmundson is a more personally relevant treatment of material and more creative testing.
While students may hold themselves accountable for getting good grades, one way or another, there is some evidence that many don't hold themselves accountable for critical thinking.
Recently I attended a meeting where High School seniors joined their principal, some parents, and other community members to discuss where this year's graduation ceremony should be held. Among the choices is a very plush, convenient, high tech facility that happens to be a church. Some of the adults at the meeting objected to using a church for a secular event on the grounds that holding the ceremony in a church; violated our constitution's intent to keep church and state separate, disregarded the rights of minority students and their families, and disregarded the rights of tax payers who did not approve of spending their tax dollars to support a religious organization.
The comments some of the students made convinced me that they don't expect themselves to be responsible for considering principles. Comments like these, "I'm just a kid. I'm not even old enough to vote." "The church is the best facility. Who cares where the money goes?" and "Majority rules. Most of us want it at the church, so that should be all there's to it." These children, and some of their parents I might add, were unwilling or incapable of discussing the issue based on the principles involved. They simply relied on their principal to secure the most comfortable facility for their graduation service, disregarding the comfort of minority students and their families, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Luxury, convenience, and comfort for the majority should not be the only variables upon which this decision is be based. It has much more far reaching implications and students ought to be aware of these.
Had these students argued the point based on the principles, I may not have agreed with them, but I would most certainly have respected them, their teachers and their parents. However, if the adults don't hold students accountable to think critically, why should students hold themselves accountable?
There is to be a 'advisory' discussion of the issue with senior students and their principal at a later date, a meeting at which students will be asked to vote on the facility of their choice. Never mind, their vote doesn't have any teeth in it. The principal will decide. I asked, "How will these students be prepared to discuss the issue?" What a wonderful opportunity to teach critical thinking, I thought. What a great chance to make the material personally relevant. What a chance to allow minority students a voice.
Will the Christian educators at this school take advantage of "the teachable moment"? Will they invite an expert on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to discuss civil liberties from a non-Christian point of view with these students? We'll see.
But we can't hold students and educators entirely responsible for the pervasive cheating problem in our schools. We live in a nation that is obsessed with competition. As long as winning is the goal cheating can be expected.