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Cheating at School: Start the Discussion Early

Talking about cheating at school is a conversation that needs to begin early and happen often. Situations and ethical dilemmas that we never faced will confront our kids every day.

Lisa, from Grown and Flown, writes:

The first few weeks of school are special ones. Kids are still finding their way among classmates while trying to gauge their teachers’ approach and expectations. Slates are clean and possibilities hang in the air.  Parents often take the time to express to their children their own hopes and concerns for the school year.

I start every September giving one son the you-must-do-your-best talk.  Another son has just outgrown the annual you-need-to-be-more-organized talk and the third I prodded to move out of his comfort zone socially and extra curricularly.

But I can say with some certainty that I never kicked off a school year with a conversation about academic dishonesty. And in the wake of cheating scandals this year at Harvard University, Stuyvesant High School, and a Long Island SAT testing center, I am pretty sure I missed an important opportunity here.  Did I fail to discuss cheating because I didn’t think it was a problem at their school or was it because I didn’t think it would be a problem for my child? 

Truth: it just never came up.

Academic cheating is a pervasive problem and if, as a parent, you have left the conversation until high school, or even middle school, it may be getting late. The number of students who cheat is simply staggering. According to the Educational Testing Service, between 75 and 98 percent of college students report having cheated in high school.

And among middle schoolers, two-thirds admitted to cheating while 90% said they had copied another student’s homework. Cheating occurs among both weak and strong students, male and female students and part of the rise in incidence is blamed on increase pressure for good grades and the decreased stigma associated with academic dishonesty.

Cheating in school is not new, but the number of students engaging in such practice and the means with which to do so, are rising steadily.  Technology is part of the problem.  Facilitated means of communication and ease of reproducing work means that students can move large quantities of information with stealth and the lines between helping, collaborating, and cheating become even more difficult to define.  Like any crime, there are means and there is motive and while technology provides the means, increased academic pressure is widely viewed as the motive.

Conventional wisdom suggests that we need to tell our children that cheating is wrong, that cheaters will probably get caught and certainly never prosper and that grades are not that important.  Yet here I believe the conventional wisdom is wrong.  In this as in all parenting activities it is important to retain credibility.  By telling our children that classmates who cheat will get caught and will not benefit by their deceit, we will simply be seen as naive and hopelessly out of touch with the 21st century classroom.  

They don’t think cheaters fail to prosper, they think we fail to understand.

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Do you talk about cheating with your kids? Let us know in the comments.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lisa Buchman (Editor) September 13, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Thanks for this post. There are many ways to have age-appropriate discussions about cheating—from over a board game to a backyard game of kickball. I've found the potential to disappoint Mom and Dad severe enough punishment for the under-10 set—what do others think about older children?
Bob Rohr September 14, 2012 at 12:48 AM
Disappointing Mom and Dad may be part of the problem. Parents send kids to Kumon, hire Tutors etc. There is intense pressure for these kids to do well or disappoint Mom and Dad. These kids are under tremendous pressure. It sometimes causes problems later.
Mike September 16, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Interesting piece, but the issue of cheating, lying, deceit, a "me first" attitude goes well beyond the walls of our schools. Cheating in school is just symptomatic of the selfishness of society overall. All one needs to do s look at our so called leaders both locally and nationally. Hardly a week goes by without some sort of scandal. Can you turn on a TV show or go to a movie which also does not delve into cheating in relationships and marriages. Imo, our society has bought into moral relativism - anything goes, there is no longer right and wrong; do whatever you want as long as it does not bother or intrude on society. So, yes, I agree teaching your kids not to cheat in school is important. However, I believe it is part of a larger discussion that there is good and bad, right and wrong.
Lisa Buchman (Editor) September 16, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Hi Bob, I agree on the pressures. I meant disappointment more in the moral sense—if you cheat, that is breaking not only rules but a trust from your parents to do the right thing you've been taught (not cheat). I agree with the writer - I'd rather see a lower grade than a cheating student.
David September 16, 2012 at 04:51 PM
If your classmates are cheating and getting away with it, and it's taking away your chances for success (usually calibrated by college admissions and scholarships) it's a real dilemma the would-be honest student is facing. Do you want your kid to have his or her success diminished? It's the fault of teachers and those who constrain teachers' choices regarding student evaluation and grading. Assignments should not promote cheating. They should be designed to resist it. It may be time to put even more grading weight on in-class tests, administered with strict proctoring. That means the teacher is watching closely and/or walking among the desks during testing, students are spread as far apart as possible, random seating is assigned for each test, etc. Otherwise we're going to continue saying that cheating is bad, but it would continue and even increase.
David September 16, 2012 at 04:58 PM
In fact, with the pressure on teachers now to bring up the performance of the low end of the class, it's likely that some teachers are subtly encouraging cheating by those who might not pass otherwise. I don't have any names in mind, but I can see the temptation could be there. It would get the teacher out of trouble for having students not pass, and the teacher doesn't have to get his or her hands dirty by manipulating grades. Critical evaluations, including regular major exams (not just annual state tests) should be administered like the SAT. If students complain that this shows a lack of trust, well those may be the students who would have cheated otherwise, and we can say it's to prepare them for the environment of major standardized and college exams which are always given this way.
Bob Rohr September 16, 2012 at 06:07 PM
I agree with you Lisa. However the pressure to get the best grades, go to the right College etc, has pushed morals to the back burner. I am sorry to say the disappointment from the Parents many times comes if the Child is caught. If you spend any amount of time, you will be sadly disappointed as to where their priorities are. You are correct in your outlook, and I hope you can spread that outlook.
Mike September 16, 2012 at 06:19 PM
As I already mentioned, it goes beyond schools. This focus on doing whatever one needs to do to get ahead, to get over whether in school, business, politics, etc is pervasive in our society. It is a result of the moral relativism that our society has do readily accepted.

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