To Cheat or Not to Cheat?


Profesor X:

More than half of teenagers claims that they have cheated on a test during the last year and 34 percent have don’t it more than twice (Josephson Institute of Ethics).   It is an epidemic in our culture and is a symptom of a shift in priorities and morals.

Stanford University provides incoming freshmen (and freshwomen) with a fact sheet about cheating.  It includes many possible reasons for the recent increase in cheating: it’s a campus norm, lack of a campus honor code, penalties are not severe, faculty support of academic integrity policy is low, little chance of being caught, or increased competitiveness within a community.

It’s possible that many of these circumstances are present at Dougherty Valley, but it’s certain that the final cause is present.  Dougherty Valley is a competitive school.  Many students feel a daily pressure from home, peers, personal expectations, and instructors that they need to excel at a task that may or may not have immediate relevance within with their life.  They are asked to memorize and reproduce this task still without seeing a connection to their visible and livable daily lives.   Students are then asked to quickly reproduce these tasks and feel failure if their mastery does not come within a single examination.

This pressure provides students with the ethical claim that cheating is an acceptable outlet because little alternative is available for the levels of success that “quality” universities require.

But this claim fails.  It fails because it is a result of students being unable to live within the present.  Do DVHS students believe that cheating is wrong? Absolutely.  Do DVHS students believe shoplifting is wrong? Absolutely.  Therefore we do not have a complete crisis of morals.  But we do have a crisis when a future self is set as a justification for the unethical cheating action.  When students believe that they have no other option to achieve the college of their dreams, they result to an action that they would otherwise deem unethical.  By fusing this “future successful person” into their cheating actions of eye shifty-ness, cell phone expert photographer, or amateur tattoo artist, they are shorting their present self, and all of the negative emotions that comes with cheating, towards a self who in the future and may not exist, and that’s a travesty.  A common hackneyed Buddhism, which I’m sure is misappropriated in our American society, may apply here, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind of the present moment”.

But maybe you don’t believe that mumbo-jumbo. Then believe in the hard facts, research also claims that cheating is associated with dishonestly later in life.  In a survey of 154 college students, Southern Illinois researchers found that students who plagiarized in college reported that they were also more likely to cheat on spouses, engage in illegal activities, or “fudge” workplace documents (Ethics & Behavior, Vol 17. No 3).

I’m not sure how students rationalize “I’ll cheat now, but I’ll be a moral person later.”  I’ll assume it’s to get into a college that will make their life a success.  But, I can’t help but think about graduate school, medical school, Ph.D programs, or résumés, job recommendations, and copyright infringement.  These all help people be successful too.

Students need to have enough moral fortitude to live in the present instead of constantly putting ourselves into a world of the future.


Student Y:

A few weeks ago I began a quest for answers about the cheating trend at our school. I asked who was the ideal cheater, was cheating an operation between two compliant minds, or a crusade taken up by one lone individual?

Being a junior at Dougherty had prefaced some of the obvious aspects of the topic-people cheated because they wanted the best grades with minimal work. But I soon realized that cheating may be more than just a manifestation of student procrastination and laziness. There might be something deeper. More dangerous.

What is it that causes us to override our own moral codes? I’ve always thought the drive to desperation and breaking of moral behavior (especially from the student body at Dougherty) was a mystery. From kindergarten we are taught several basic rules: share your toys, use your words, don’t eat the glue, etc. But cheating was an issue so frowned upon that nobody even explicitly tells us it is wrong-we are simply expected to know that. The same way no one teaches you that taking your clothes off in public is necessarily wrong. You just kind of figure it out.

So given that our perception of cheating is fairly ambiguous, why are people so surprised when it happens? I mean honestly, I’ve witnessed student desperation reach the point of no return and I think it’s time someone spoke up. The fact is that when overachieving students like us live in a polarized environment that tells us academic success is the ultimate end goal, why is it suddenly a phenomenon when students take up destructive behaviors to achieve it? I’m sick of teachers, parents, and administrators acting like cheating only reflects an individual student’s bad moral character. We, the collective conscience of the student, know completely well that cheating is a sign of something much worse. That otherwise ethically mannered teenagers are willing to engage in risky behavior if it means a higher GPA. It makes me physically sick to think that the people who are supposed to be guiding us are, in fact, completely ignorant of the psychological hell each of us experience on the journey to get the A. Most of us at this school would do anything-honestly, anything-to nab a perfect transcript to send off to the college of our dreams. Stop acting so surprised that this has become a problem.

It’s irrational because from the beginning we are indoctrinated to believe that everything we must do is for college. Become the president of this club, start this charity, play this sport, juggle this workload, write this book in the process, whatever it takes. I don’t think cheating is an excuse for laziness. I don’t think cheating is a sign that a student doesn’t care about their future. I think students at Dougherty see cheating as an escape. And who blames us? Some of us sleep less than three hours a night, and still have to deal with stacked classes and extracurriculars every day. Some of us aren’t lazy; we’re exhausted.

In all honesty, we aren’t the only ones cheating. We are also being cheated. Cheated out of a truthful perception of reality and academic futures by our parents, teachers, and peers. Cheated out of a normal teenager-hood because we are forced to grow up too fast. Cheated out of the recognition of our true self values because we are taught that we mean nothing more than a number or a letter grade on a piece of paper. Cheated out of the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and keep stumbling along until we find ourselves. Cheated out of the truth that we don’t have to be Ivy league alumni, CEOs, or surgeons to be successful and happy. Cheated out of ability to choose our own futures, and maybe mess up early on so that later we don’t find ourselves in lives, careers, places that we hate.

We are told that we must be competitive because everyone is trying to beat us. The competition is in everything-school, extracurriculars, sports, test scores. Why does this happen though? The truth is that students pressure each other to be perfect almost as much as anyone else. The cycle is infinite-parents pressure their kids, kids struggle with their own insecurities, and release that frustration by finding flaws in others. We need to challenge the distortion that our futures are so warped to include only the absolute academic elite at the top and everyone else in the dregs of society. If you are truly successful, you wouldn’t need to whip it out and wave it in front of people’s faces like a boy going through puberty. You aren’t that special. Your parents are wrong.

I am not a straight A student. I have not discovered a cure for cancer. I have never been in a science club, a math competition, or entered a technology contest. Every weekend I put on a suit and debate students from all over the country. I take pride in being the only female forensics captain at our school. I am a loud, proud, raging feminist who will kick your butt in any discussion about foreign policy. And yet when I tell others that I want to study chemistry or engineering in college, I am met with a quizzical look, because the only ‘obvious’ path for me is to become a lawyer. There is no ‘obvious’ or ‘correct’ path, so stop cheating yourselves out of opportunities. Stop letting others tell you that you are worth nothing more than your SAT score or your GPA. Numbers are infinite calculations of arrangements set up to add value to things that would otherwise have none. Think about that-a SAT score with no numbers. Only a faint feeling of accomplishment at having passed a test that means you can apply to American colleges. That in itself should be enough to propel you forward.

To all those that are surprised or disgusted by cheating and similar academic dishonesty: you shouldn’t be. Instead, do something useful and challenge these distortions in front of you. Realize that if such a degrading academic practice can happen somewhere as uptight as this school, that means there’s a problem with this system and those who enforce it. It means that the desperation to achieve a forsaken number on a piece of white paper is more important than upholding certain ethical behaviors and standards of fairness. And that desperation does not happen overnight, or by one person. It is a cycle, a system. Cheating is not a symptom of a morally corrupted student body-it is a cry for change.