Everybody’s doing it

High school students lie, cheat and steal, they admit on a Josephson Institute survey.

_Cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year and 38 percent did so two or more times, up from 60 percent and 35 percent in a 2006 survey.

_Thirty-six percent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent in 2004.

Thirty percent said they’ve stolen from a store in the past year.

However, 93 percent were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent agreed that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

Educators blame overloaded schedules and college pressures for students’ willingness to cheat on tests and plagiarize papers.

I wonder if the stress on group projects has persuaded students that they can turn in someone else’s work as their own. And, of course, the Internet makes it easy to plagiarize — though it’s easy to get caught too. (If you go online, you can find students complaining that the custom essay they bought online was plagiarized from old essays.)

Some of my old newspaper columns are being sold by essay companies. I wonder if I could demand a cut of the proceeds. Or perhaps the San Jose Mercury News, which owns the rights, should go for a percentage. They need the money.

About Joanne


  1. Cheating has been going on for a long time. I still remember kids copying homework, the encyclopedia, others’ test papers, etc., when I was in school many years ago. The truest form of assessment has to be ongoing, verbal communication, but this isn’t always easy. I also used to give short essay questions in class where everyone received a different question. This made grading less boring and cheating almost impossible. Once an assignment goes home, there is no guarantee that the student does the work. Parents and older siblings sometimes give help. The internet is just one way to copy work. It’s pretty obvious when students turn in papers that they didn’t write.

  2. I think I still have a copy of the Dating Guide for Nerds. I wonder how much it’s worth now?

  3. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    “Educators blame overloaded schedules and college pressures for students’ willingness to cheat on tests and plagiarize papers.”

    In the case of high school, I have a crazy idea. Instead of focusing on athletics, participation in extracurricular activities, and providing the students a GREAT social environment in which to mingle, perhaps they could instead focus on that silly notion called LEARNING and TEACHING STUDENTS. That just might free up the overloaded schedules of those poor darlings so that they can go to school to do what they are SUPPOSED to do in school. (And, in the educator’s eyes, give them less of a need to cheat.)

    As for college, that’s a different story. I’m a grad student/teaching assistant, and it comes down to this: if you feel like you have overloaded your schedule or have too little time to study, it COULD be a time management issue…or perhaps you really have overloaded yourself. As college students are now adults, as they are so repeatedly assured at that overblown event called high school graduation, they can take responsibility for themselves and make sure that when they take on any challenges in college, that they aren’t biting off more than they can chew. (I am fortunate to not have yet run into a clear cut case of cheating yet, but I know it’s only a matter of time. If not, I wouldn’t have to proctor and patrol the classroom on Test Day.)

    But ultimately, the educator’s biggest cop-out is the refusal to admit that students don’t apaprently have a sense of right and wrong, and why it is wrong to cheat on a paper or a test, or anything in academia. That needs to be hammered home early and often and reinforced with severe punishments…as was done in my upbringing through grade school and undergrad study.

  4. As a student, I know many people that have plagiarized and cheated and I know that I have done both in my past. The only explanation I can think of for my actions at least is being lazy. I totally agree that college is very stressful and can be overwhelming but in high school I had no academic stress. Even though I had a job and played softball in high school I still had a couple of hours each day to devote to studying and doing homework, but many times I chose to hang out with friends or watch t.v. Now that I’m in college and am forced to take out tons of student loans I put my education first. Maybe younger students don’t take their education as seriously as they should because it’s not costing them anything and a lot of times they don’t get caught or punished for doing it. I know that when I was in middle school and high school I cheated on tests, quizzes, and homework more times than I can keep track of and I never got caught or punished. I don’t know about other college students but personally I am way too scared to try to cheat or plagiarize here. My writing teacher always reminds us that there are harsh punishments and consequences for taking part in such actions and it just doesn’t seem worth it to me, especially since I am paying so much money to be here.

  5. I wonder where they learned that lying and cheating were ethical behaviours. Because, you know, kids don’t just come up with that themselves.

  6. The problem with cheating is the same problem that afflicts countries with rampant corruption. Once you reach the point where you think everyone is doing it, you feel entitled and not the least bit guilty. Once this mindset sinks in, it becomes very hard to uproot.

    How many kids of a generation ago would have admitted to their peers that they cheat, even when they did. today, it’s no big deal unless the teacher or administration catches on and punishes you. Then the remorse comes less from the act than from the act of getting caught.

    Another problem is that too many kids who are not up to challenging coursework are force fed this notion that they have to go to college. Not everyone belongs in college, but the meme is that everyone should strive for this.

    Right now our society does not glorify hard work or intellectualism. While promoting advanced learning, it does not promote the qualities that lead to success. The heros of today are those that take shortcuts, because doing it the right way is for “rubes”.

    I’ll get off my horse now 🙂

  7. Kelsey Stuckey says:

    I just graduated from high school last year, and in everyone of my classes at least one person was always cheating. But no one was ever caught. This could be due to the fact that the teachers often left the room during tests, or just worked on the computer, not watching the class at all. Cheating on tests and papers has been going on awhile though, I’m not sure if there was a survey ever conducted on this subject before, but I believe cheating has been around as long as schools have.
    Teachers are to lax on cheating, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Keep your own eyes on your paper” or “Face forward” becuase students were cheating, and not being discrete about it either.
    If schools want the issue fixed, they need to crack down hard on kids cheating.

  8. What’s wrong with it?

    Can you give an answer that is clear and strong and “appropriate” for a faculty meeting? Or just some sort of cost/benefit analysis that posits no higher good than a self’s choices?

    A large percentage of young people I work with don’t believe in morality. Their beliefs aren’t coherent or rigorously thought through, but they tend to think the self’s desires are the only important criterion for deciding what to do. They’re comfortably beyond good and evil.

    This is what they’ve been taught.

  9. mlu –

    Hopefully, they still teach the golden rule at your school. I’d frame the problem out that way. It’s about respect for the people whose work the kids are taking credit for. If the kids (and faculty) are comfortably beyond that, you’ve got bigger problems.

  10. Catch Thirty-Thr33 says:

    Kelsey – You’ve never been in my class, then. My class is constantly patrolled by myself, my fellow graders, three tutors, and the prof during test time. Students cannot have bags with them, cellphones, or even baseball caps. I even check the men’s bathroom to ensure no answers have been posted there. (And the female graders and tutors among us inspect the women’s restroom for the same reason.)

    On the slightest provocation we split people up if we think they get too chummy during the test.

    Yes, there are always going to be new and novel ways to cheat, but at the same time, there is a parallel evolution of ways to catch those who cheat. It is a constant cat and mouse game to be sure.

  11. Cheating has been around since there were things on which to cheat. It’s a part of human nature – the drive to do well, and sometimes, that means copying the work of another person.
    I’m recently out of high school – the place in which cheating is the most incendtal. I cannot even remember the number of times I either witnessed other people in my classes cheating, and not said anything about it, or was asked to help someone else cheat, sometimes agreeing.
    Honestly, your title is absolutely correct – everyone does do it. Cheating has become such a natural part of school that people barely every think twice about it.
    I don’t know what to do to help decrease the cheating population, except to maybe have teachers keep a more watchful eye during tests. But even then, no teacher could watch every member of his or her class, especially one with a large amount of people in it.
    Let’s just hope that these people realize that once they’re in the “real world”, things are going to change.

  12. Catch Thirty-Thr33 — You do a great job, it sounds like. But isn’t it depressing that you have to go to such lengths? To borrow a thought from my buddy Amritas, are we such an “ends” society that the “means” no longer matter? All this cheating…kids aren’t actually LEARNING anything this way. So they get the A or B, but they don’t have an ounce of logic or facts in their heads! Rote learning is bad enough; I barely remember anything I crammed for high school, and I didn’t cheat my way through.

    I applaud your efforts to prevent cheating, but I weep for the fact that you have to work so hard to keep people from being dishonest and immoral. That, to me, was the most horrifying find of the poll. I think Colin is right that we’ve lost all remorse for the act of cheating; the only deterrent is not to get caught.

    (I didn’t plagiarize him right there, did I?)

  13. Catch Thirty-Thr33, your class sounds like mine. And no, it’s not depressing. ETS monitoring is even stricter, and has always been. If you want to stop something, you punish it severely. The only warning my students get is before I hand out the exams. One pair of wandering eyes, and I pull the test and eject the student from the room. No excuses, no hand wringing, and all incidents are immediately reported to the Dean of Students office and academic dishonesty charges are filed. Cheating is cheating.

    What’s really disturbing about this report is how high the cheaters’ “self-esteem” is. That’s what this “self-esteem” crap has gotten us: A generation of shameless sociopaths.


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