Ask Not for Whom the Students Cheat: They Cheat for Thee
Feb 28th, 2011 • Posted in: Commentary
by Rushworth M. Kidder
What you’re about to read is a stealth column. On the surface, you may think it’s just another piece about education. So if you’re in the corporate, military, or government sectors, you may be tempted to click on by. Don’t. This column is about your organization.
Start with three data points. First, today’s high-school students are cheating at unprecedented levels. A survey by David Wangaard of the School for Ethical Education in Milford, Connecticut, and Jason Stephens of the University of Connecticut finds that 95 percent of high-school students say they’ve cheated in the past year — even though 57 percent agree that “it’s morally wrong to cheat.” True, the survey covers only six schools in the Northeast and it assumes that admitted cheaters answer surveys honestly. But having looked at such surveys for more than 20 years, I think these numbers are probably on target.
Second, on a weekly basis, 44 percent see other students cheating on tests, while 82 percent report seeing cheating on homework. Our high-schoolers, it seems, inhabit a culture of corruption so visible and embedded that almost all of them could weekly lead you through the halls, point to other students, and say, “Yeah, I saw them cheat.” Cheating in school is no under-the-table game, like international bribery or government bidding scandals. It’s brash, in your face, and widely known.
Third, only 12 percent of these kids report seeing cheaters getting caught. They see cheating all the time, and they know teachers see it, too. But they can find hardly anyone — teacher, administrator, or peer — willing to enforce penalties. When the researchers asked students what changes they’d most like to see in school, what came through was a longing for adults to take a much stronger stand against academic dishonesty.
There are lots of ways for school staff to do this, including greater transparency, deeper moral courage, and programs that build such strong cultures of integrity that help students say, “Cheat? No way. That’s not how we do things around here!” But this is a stealth column, remember? It’s not about school programs. It’s about a much bigger question: “So what?” What’s it to me, as a corporate executive, if students cheat? Why should I, as a general or admiral, worry about high-school dishonesty? If I’m a senior civil servant, how does youthful fraud affect my department?
You know the answers. This is your workforce. You’re already hiring these people. They’ve finished their education and now they’re in your organization. If you don’t think that matters, ask business guru Warren Buffett. “In looking for people to hire,” he notes, “you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. If they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
Kill is a strong word. No, Admiral, you won’t actually get killed. Instead, your military unit — or your business enterprise or your government agency — will simply grind to a halt. Your smart, vigorous workforce will invent so many innovative scams, schemes, and workarounds that things will just freeze up. Their mastery of deception, blame shifting, and mutual protection, which they learned early on, will become legendary. What’s more, they’ll create within your organization a culture of convenience, compromise, and corruption for the next generation. And all of it will happen on your watch.
What can you do? Remember that you’ve got a massive force on your side, which is that kids don’t like it this way. They long for strong leadership to stand up against cheating. They want to work in cultures of trust, honor, and respect. They want to admire the adults in their lives. Sure, they may mouth the hip language of rule-free living, but they crave the boundaries and discipline within which they can truly excel.
How can you help? “Hey, kids,” you need to be able to say, in every way possible, “things are different out here in the world of work. Unlike high school, we don’t cheat. We live in a culture of integrity, and we’re looking for kids who have the values, the reasoning skills, and the courage to join us.” If you can’t honestly say that, of course, don’t pretend to: Kids can smell hypocrisy a mile away. But if you can, let them hear from you. Unless you speak up, what are kids to think? Simply this: that by learning to cheat they’re doing what you want.
A modern-day John Donne, writing about for whom the bell tolls, would have put it much more succinctly than I have. Never send to know for whom the students cheat, he might have said. They cheat for thee.
I think that the reason that the number of students cheating is increasing, is because it has become easier than before. There is more technology that is smaller and holds more information that can fit in a students pocket that allows the students to easily access the information. I think that there is a way to prevent this from happening, but it is more time consuming for the teachers and they aren't willing to take the time. I disagree with cheating, but at the same time I feel that teachers should make the tests more realilistic. They should allow student to use notes and books, because when a situation in real life they will have those tools to help them answer questions.
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