What Cheating Really Tells Us
I was pretty amazed (and disheartened) to read the following statistics the other day related to cheating and the perception of cheating among US High School students. Below are some of the highlights, or lowlights, as the case may be:
* 80% of “high-achieving” high school students admit to cheating.
* 51% of high school students did not believe cheating was wrong.
* 95% of cheating high school students said they had not been detected.
* Almost 85% of college students said cheating is necessary to get ahead.
* 75% of college students admitted cheating, and 90% of college students didn’t believe cheaters would be caught.
To be sure, we in schools often call cheating what in the real world is called collaboration, but the statistics above speak more to an attitude of acceptance related to getting ahead at the expense of others rather than partnering with others to achieve a collectively important goal. There are countless conclusions that can be drawn from these data points, ranging from blaming “kids today” for always taking the easy way out, to blaming my generation of “lawnmower parents” for abdicating our responsibilities for teaching integrity to our children in favor of fighting all their battles for them, to blaming a “Harvard-at-all-costs” education system that sets ultimate goals too high too soon for too many.
As with many tough issues at play in our world today, it’s easy to ask “why has this happened,” to lay blame, and then to walk away smugly. It’s harder to ask “how do we proceed,” to pose solutions, and to dig into reshaping a more positive future. It will come as no surprise that, on the one hand, the rise of this particular issue is certainly related to the absence in our culture of the core value of perseverance that we tout at PS—it’s easy to copy, cut and paste, plagiarize, and “borrow”; it’s much harder to conceive of one’s own ideas and then (through really hard work) flesh those ideas out into lucid and compelling arguments, solutions, or theories.
Just as importantly, though, I think this propensity to seek an “easier way,” is related to our continued dismissal of the importance of one of the most transformative (and undervalued) educational concepts around. The cheating statistics above and the concomitant scandals at more than one prestigious university speak to an educational culture that still values answers more than it values questions—really good, really provocative, really essential questions, as Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe have been defining and promoting for years.
Here are my essential questions . . . about questions: Can you “cheat” on a question that is, by definition, transferable to other topics and areas? Can you “cheat” on a question that provokes serious thinking rather than merely retrieval of content knowledge that’s readily available on Google, Wikipedia, or your friend’s iPad? Can you “cheat” on a question if you’re arguing through complex problems rather than ones that predict simple “right” or “wrong” answers?
In the end, can you really “cheat” on a question designed to promote and sustain more questions?
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