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Are You A Cheater?


Everyone in the room was cheating except for me. Our proctor had stepped out to answer an emergency phone call in the hallway. Pencils dropped and a dozen eyes nervously darted around the room. Instantly, the classroom changed from a serious, silent work environment into a bustling, frantic machine of open note books, dog-eared text books, and rapid whispers. The tension was palpable, thick like the knot building in my throat.

“I have a copy of the answers,” a tall girl near the front of the room announced in a horse voice. She pulled out her phone, “there was an email.”

“I got that email too,” another student said. Several students chimed in at once, either expressing their approval or surprise. I quietly swallowed my disgust. The clock on the wall ticked loudly like a bomb on the verge of explosion. I wondered how long it would take for the door behind us to swing open.

“Well, hurry read them out,” someone else said. A few students laughed as they inched further towards the edges of their seats. It was as if their winning lotto numbers were printed in her email.

Everyone was turned in the tall girl’s direction, eagerly awaiting her response as if their lives depended on it. Maybe their lives did, but I had studied, had studied hard for weeks. I didn’t need the answers. Or did I? If she read them all out loud, how would I avoid overhearing?

I attempted to tune her out and read the first question of the exam as she recited the answers in a quick, succinct voice. The letters fell on my shoulders, one after the other, hitting my conscience like jagged pebbles. My peers feverishly filled in the bubbles of their scantron sheets, never questioning the validity of the answers… or the messenger.

I almost snapped my pencil right in half when our classroom’s door handle clicked. The guilt-ridden silence that ensued after the hushed gasps and panicked zipping of pack backs overwhelmed our group like a tragedy.

In less than three minutes, the girl three seats in front of me had managed to read off 40 answers. I looked down at my sheet in order to avert my eyes from all the others and realized that I too had completed up to 39.

***

Even high achieving students cheat and for most repeat offenders, cheating began in middle school. Education Portal reports:

ack in 1940, only 20 percent of college students admitted to cheating during their academic careers. Today, that number has increased to a range of 75%-98%.

And it usually isn’t about just getting the grade, it’s about getting ahead. According to a survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics of 12,000 high school students, 74% admitted to cheating on an exam at some point during the past year to get ahead. In addition, news stories about Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, the Air Force Academy, and Harvard University have populated the press with evidence that cheating is still a major issue in the academic realm.

But why?

According to a similar article written this year in the New York Times, “Experts say the reasons are relatively simple: Cheating has become easier and more widely tolerated, and both schools and parents have failed to give students strong, repetitive messages about what is allowed and what is prohibited.” Donald L. McCabe, a professor at the Rutgers University Business School, and a leading researcher on cheating, supports that claim:

I don’t think there’s any question that students have become more competitive, under more pressure, and, as a result, tend to excuse more from themselves and other students, and that’s abetted by the adults around them.

Justifiable or not, here are some of the reasons why cheating occurs:

1. Performance concerns
o Need to excel at any cost

2. External pressures
o Academic
– Semester workload too heavy
– Others’ cheating puts me at disadvantage
– Professor/text did not adequately explain material
– Too many tests on one day
o Nonacademic
– Pressure from parents
– Job leaves no time for study
– Illness prevents adequate preparation
– GPA for athletic qualification
– Financial aid depends on GPA
– Good grades needed for job or graduate school

3. Unfair professors
o Overly harsh grading
o Unfair tests designed to fail students
o Unreasonable workload in course

4. Lack of effort
o Did not attend class
o Did not study, do reading, etc.

5. Adherence to other loyalties
o Helping a friend
o Loyalty to a group (fraternity)

6. All’s fair in love and academia

7. Opportunity
o Unexpected opportunity arose
o Instructor left room during exam
o Instructor wasn’t watching carefully
o Other students didn’t cover their paper

8. Campus ethos
o Others do it
o No one ever really gets punished/caught

I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit– I’ve cheated. I’m not proud of it, nor have I ever done it again. Chalk it up to youth and ignorance. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s a difficult thing to confess and this post is probably the first time I’ve ever truly acknowledged my past misjudgement. However, since I’ve experienced the temptation, I now have extra insight and understanding when dealing with my own students.

What do you think? How can we as educators, students, and academic leaders curb the rate of cheating in America? How can we instill a higher level of pride and integrity in our student’s academic performance? And what about this Culture of Cheating and Generation Me mentality, that is seemingly taking over campuses?


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