Cheating is the norm

All of My Favorite Students Cheat, writes Christopher Doyle, who’s taught for 25 years, in Education Week.

They copy homework (the most frequent form of dishonesty), crib on tests (second-most-favored tactic), and lift text from the Internet (either verbatim or with minor changes in wording). There have been a few outliers who refuse to engage in it. Ironically, I encounter them most often in so-called “lower level” classes.

Six years ago, he started teaching at a suburban, upper-middle-class, high-achieving public high school.

One of my students lifted three paragraphs from my own review of a book assigned in advanced-placement U.S. history class. He took the review from a website, ignored my name on the byline of the journal in which it appeared, and pasted it into his essay. I caught three other plagiarists that first year, but no one else was so brazen (or maybe he was just in a hurry).

Savvy students denigrate that plagiarist. “It’s stupid to get caught taking things from the Internet,” one told me. “No one should be doing that” because it lacks subtlety. They rationalize other forms of cheating as more acceptable. Some claim thoughtless pedagogy justifies their own copying of homework. “We aren’t going to respect teachers who give us photocopied worksheets as ‘busywork.’ We’re not going to waste our time doing that.” Others assert they are “sticking it to the man,” who makes them overwork. Still others say that “as long as we do well on the tests, the homework doesn’t matter.” Grades are “the bottom line.”

Doyle’s students believe they need to get into a prestigious college and therefore need to get excellent grades in AP classes, while piling up extracurricular activities and taking SAT prep classes. They can’t do it all without cheating.

Yet they do feel guilty about it, Doyle writes. They want to succeed without cheating, but don’t believe they can.

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  1. (the most frequent form of dishonesty)

    And one utterly not worth caring about. It’s homework, done for a checkoff on a box. Hardly worth caring about, and certainly not the equivalent of cheating on a test.

    Lifting text is plagiarism, which has its own name and shouldn’t be conflated with “cheating”.

    So what everyone thinks of as “cheating”–either looking at someone’s paper during a test or actively conspiring with other students to do so–is not even mentioned in the excerpt. Cribbing is far more self-reliant–not a good thing, and certainly cheating, but at least involves effort.

  2. Well-designed homework is meant to develop skills and lead students into the application of what they’ve learned in class and the readings. In my (university) courses, homework counts for at least 50% of the course grade, and I do encourage students to collaborate on finding solutions, while doing independent write-ups. AND I STILL GET STUDENTS WHO “BLOW OFF” THEIR HOMEWORK OR TURN IN SHODDY OR INCOMPLETE WORK. Needless to say, these folks don’t excel come test time, and they’ve often lost too many points to even pass the course.

    I don’t need to penalize cheaters; it’s too easy just to flunk out the slackers.

  3. I used to write sample essays for the NYS English Regents. Sometimes kids would copy my essays word for word, hand them to me, and not expect me to notice I had written them. Sometimes kids hand in work that’s clearly from professional writers and expect me not to notice. What’s really upsetting is the likelihood they’ve done this before and nobody noticed, or chose to notice.

  4. I wish I could bring myself to care. As colleges demand so much from high school kids–4.5, perfect SATs, community service, sports, Chinese and Russian, etc., etc.–how are the students supposed to do it all? If college admissions were blind, based on GPA and SATs, no resume, no essays, no recommendations–I think you’d see less cheating.

    And if teachers in high school didn’t assign meaningless essays, they might get more substantial work.

  5. So what do we do? Just give up and let the kids cheat? Let everyone just cheat, and the people who are honest are chumps who won’t get ahead? Just like we just forgive the people who bought “too big” of a house and now don’t want to pay their mortgage? Or bail out banks that made risky bad investments?

    I know: I’m a chump. I never cheated in school. I worked hard.

    I don’t know. Maybe it’s time for me to get out of academia. I caught two guys “collaborating” on a stats homework today. During class. After I had explicitly told people to do their own work.

    Dammit, I try to make the work not-too-taxing and “meaningful” and people still cheat.

  6. “We aren’t going to respect teachers who give us photocopied worksheets as ‘busywork.’”

    Spot-on. Teachers are the biggest plagarists. It is illegal to copy workbooks, yet Math teachers do this all the time.

    School is 90% busywork, as one would expect of an institution that serves mainly as an employment program for public-sector employees. If this is not so, why cannot any student take, at any age, at any time of year, an exit exam such as the GED and apply the taxpayers’ age 6-18 schooling subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified private-sector employer?

  7. I don’t believe the majority who cheat feel guilty at all. Instead, when they get caught, they cry about their terror of not getting into college, and sob how terrible they feel unable to handle the pressure. It is an easy out. It’s a simple manipulation, and adults are unable to do anything about it, even if they wanted to.

    There may be some guilt on occasion, but it’s fleeting, and it goes away with practice.

    The issue of whether copied homework is cheating or not gets to the intersection of academic honesty in the cheating sense, and intellectually honest studying in the learning sense: students do not know what they don’t know. They don’t know how doing a problem with the help of a TA or a student is different than copying, because they don’t understand what authentic studying looks like. Students don’t do authentic work academically, in the sense that most of them have no clue at all how they would recognize the difference between producing a right answer from scratch, and recognizing a right answer when they see it. They don’t know that to summarize in their own words means to have read something, closed the book, and then described what was read 5 minutes later. they think that since they said “that makes sense” after they read it, but they can’t quite get the idea across, largely rewriting what they read elsewhere counts as their own ideas.

    When so few students can discern these differences, it’s easy for them to convince themselves they are not cheating.

  8. i think people assume that homework or classwork or any myriad of assignments have no value because they personally do not value it. that is, they do not see the point, or because they value their time spent doing other things over their time spent on an assignment. but that doesn’t mean that an assignment does not have value. for years i avoided practicing scales and learning complicated music theory. i practiced the piano for hours, but would fake the correct fingering. i didn’t see the point. i didn’t see the point of spending a half hour or an hour a day on playing scales and warm ups because they weren’t fun and i could play advanced pieces anyway. my whole view changed when i got to college and realized that i couldn’t hack it as a piano major — the most complicated pieces require correct fingering, and agile fingers — both of which are accomplished through hours of scales and warm ups. i didn’t do the work when i was learning the basics and i screwed myself over in the long run. the same applies to school assignments. just because you don’t see the value does not mean that the assignment is inherently without value.

  9. Part of a teacher’s job is to inspire kids–to seduce them into loving what you do. If you love what you do, you can show it and share it. Of course, nowadays, with test scores being all that matters, you’re going to see less of that, and more and more sophisticated cheating. Kids who come from places where test scores are all that matters currently seem to have the edge over American kids, but they’ll quickly catch up.

  10. Part of a teacher’s job is to inspire kids–to seduce them into loving what you do.

    Oh, please. Talk about being doomed to a life of disappointment and frustration.

  11. NYC Educator is right to an extent. But “seduction” to do the right thing is only one prong of a multi-pronged strategy that needs to be implemented to improve our students, academically and morally. There is a serious moral issue here. Many Ivy League applications are inflated by the fruit of cheating and lying. It’s like the steroids scandal in sports. Those who refuse to cheat will often lose out. But they’ll keep their integrity, probably get more true learning (which is the point of school anyways, right?), and they’ll still manage to get in to a non-elite college. As responsible adults we need to shame liars who get into Cal and extol the honest hard-workers who get into Sacramento State.

  12. I think we also need to punish cheating harshly –put a black mark on the students HS transcript, for example. Parents will go ballistic, so principals will need to stick to their principles, if they have any.