Dishonesty About Cheating

Jessica Lahey, at the Atlantic, posts this letter from a serial cheater (boldface mine):

I cheated all throughout high school. Not only that, but I graduated as a valedictorian, National AP Scholar, Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper, and I was accepted into the honors program at [school withheld]. To most educators, my true story is a disgrace to the system; I’m the one who got away. Now, I was talented enough in my cheating to be mostly hailed as one of the smartest and most ambitious students in my graduating class. But the one time I was caught cast a chilling shadow over my school, a shadow that briefly illuminated the overwhelming extent of cheating in my school, a shadow that no educator was then willing to confront. I have thought about that episode literally every day since it happened, and from those thoughts I have come to terms with my philosophy on cheating and how that fits into my greater perspective on education.

It boils down to this: we are told that cheating is wrong because we are attempting to earn a grade that we do not deserve. A grade earned by cheating is not a grade reflective of our true achievement. But my contention uses identical reasoning. I cheated because the grade I would have otherwise been given was not reflective of my true learning. I never cheated in a subject that I did not learn on my own terms. That is supported by my performance in AP testing. I took 9 AP tests in high school, scoring 5s on all of them except the one I self-studied for, on which I earned a 4. Never did I cheat on any of those tests, because I felt that they were fair representations of my learning. But in AP Biology, I cheated on literally every in-class test. The curriculum and test techniques of my absolutely atrocious AP Biology class were not fair representations of my knowledge. I felt cheated of the education I deserved, and thus to earn the grade I knew I deserved, I had to cheat the system. This is only one example. I also cheated throughout physics, introduction to statistics, Spanish, chemistry, and so on. But never did I cheat a subject that I did not learn on my own terms.

While most of my fellow cheaters, with whom I often colluded, may not have philosophized their cheating as deeply as I have, they intuitively followed the same reasoning. They knew that the classes they were attending were largely not adequately teaching them. And most of them went on to attend prestigious universities, majoring in the very fields they shamelessly cheated through in high school.

Needless to say, these liars–that is what they are–by virtue of graduating from “prestigious universities” will become tomorrow’s leaders. This does not bode well:

Consider what would have happened if they had gotten away with it: some, perhaps many, of these Harvard students would have gone on to join the ranks of our elite. They would have learned that cheating is ‘acceptable.’ They would have learned how to justify dishonesty and cheating.

What’s really pathetic is that I was in the same situation as this cheater–and he’s deluding himself. In high school, I too took AP Biology, and during the course of the year, I was getting a B. My teacher, who was a dick, told me that I would probably get a 3 or a 4. Turns out I got a 5 (the highest score and which used to allow you to skip introductory courses). I wound up getting a B+ in the course, possibly because the teacher didn’t want to have to justify why one of his few ‘5s’ didn’t receive an A. Was this course “not [a] fair representation of my knowledge”? That’s bullshit. According to the requirements of the course, I had not accomplished enough to receive an A. Different educational assessments always yield different results–just look at teachers who receive different evaluations based on which assessment exam their students are given. No correlation is perfect.

If this kid is so damn smart, then he should have been able to perform well on the exams. He could not do that, so he cheated. He has deceived himself into thinking that he is just an unrecognized genius, rather than a B student (that he also benefited directly from his cheating by receiving ‘excellent’ grades is unmentioned by the student).

This student learned the wrong lesson–and when he was caught, the school needed to teach him the right lesson, not the wrong one.

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2 Responses to Dishonesty About Cheating

  1. Robert L Bell says:

    I’m not so sure. Given that finding new and betters ways to cheat without getting caught is the primary driver of both Wall Street and Silicon Valley, and that any scientist who is smart and hard working and plays by the rules is chump and a tool, I’d say that the student in question is a Creative Class Disruptive Innovator who will probably do very well for himself in 21st century America.

  2. dr2chase says:

    I cannot tell you the name of the guy who left a friend’s name off a publication in his tenure packet — and he’s now dean of I can’t tell you where. Friend is still active in the field, would prefer not to make powerful enemies. So I’m sure this guy will go far — you can cheat with greater sincerity if you believe your own bullshit.

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