why we cheat

Joanne Jacobs reminds us of why trying to prevent cheating is an uphill battle – the teacher’s voice, if it’s heard at all, is a lonely echo in a world where cheating is considered to be totally normal and generally worth the risk.

7 thoughts on “why we cheat

  1. I had case of plagiarism last semester – and when I made my report to the appropriate person (this was in Cont. Ed.) the response I got was, essentially, “are you sure you want to pursue this?” I think the person to whom I made the report was worried that by reporting the student, I would discourage the student, possibly to the point of leaving the course/program/college.

    My response was, essentially, “hell yes, I want to pursue this.” I have students sign a contract at the beginning of the semester, including a clause that says they have read and understood my policy on plagiarism. I cover it in class, and teach them how to integrate and cite sources. Despite these preventative measures, cheating still happens, and it infuriates me, as I’ve said before.

    When the administration apparently discourages taking a hard line on cheating, we have to be concerned ~ is cheating so prevalent that we have to accept it, or worse, encourage it?

    In this particular case, I made my stand, but promised to discuss the case with the student – who never came back, so the whole thing became moot, which I suppose begs the question: was the administrator right?


  2. I think the administrator was probably right in the sense that if cheating had actual repercussions, the student would probably leave. My response, however, would have been exactly the same as yours – there is a larger principle here, and that includes protecting, not the student who cheats, but the students who do their work honestly. Like you, I recognize that this means I have to teach students exactly what cheating entails and exactly what will happen if they do it. And still, students cheat, so clearly something bigger is going on here that is out of our control – which doesn’t diminish our responsibility to do what IS in our control, and enforce penalties that will at least remind students that cheaters do not always prosper.

    Today we do our first in-class essay, and I am doing my best to arrange things so that cheating will be, if not impossible, very difficult. As I reported in an earlier post, though, someone usually finds a way to try to buck the system.

    I’m struggling to see cheating, not as a personal moral failing, but as a symptom of something much bigger. Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics has done some fascinating work on it, particularly on teachers who cheat in order to raise student test scores and preserve their own jobs.


  3. Part of the problem is not simply that we lack a sense of the moral failure that cheating is (oh how little we seem to be concerned about dishonesty these days!), but our culture teaches students that the bottom line is all that matters, in business and in education. It’s not the learning process that matters, it’s the grade or the passing of the course. We have lost respect for education in this society.


  4. True – and, unfortunately, the most effective deterrents to cheating are bottom-line repercussions: if you cheat, you will fail the course, and have a blot in your file. It seems that there is something fundamentally bottom-line about the way our minds work. I’m not sure I think it’s entirely a cultural problem; I think it might be about how we’re programmed, and that the inclination to cheat is something that needs to be taught OUT of us by parents, teachers and society, but it’s not happening. I’m thinking seriously about doing my MEd research project on this.


  5. I wonder how much literature there is on cheating in the past two hundred years, say. I’d be very interested in reading a history on cheating and plagiarism at the College/University level.


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