In recent surveys roughly 6 of 10 college undergraduates admit to cheating on assignments and exams. Given that no one readily admits to anything these days—epidemic levels of lying being yet another sad problem of our modern age—we can probably assume the percentage is even a tick or two higher. Little wonder. Academic dishonesty has, as with so much of our society’s day-to-day venality, gone high tech. Although old standards like tiny crib sheets and carefully inked notes on the palms of one’s hands still have their place, numerous “study sites” ranging from SparkNotes to Course Hero have put everything needed to avoid the arduous work of studying and learning a mere mouse click away.
Of course, given how pervasive the problem of dishonesty has become throughout our society, the question of how to change an amoral culture is not one for just our schools to solve. Although more sustained attention to spotting and punishing cheating in our schools is certainly necessary, it is, in and of itself, not the answer. If we cannot articulate precisely what constitutes cheating and why it is a major problem for our students and their futures, it will be difficult to convince anyone—student, educator, or parent—to invest their time and energy in the incredibly frustrating task of turning the tide.
Think of it: How do you convince a child that the hard work of honesty is more rewarding than convenience of deceit? Given the sweeping sleaze of our civic, professional, and entertainment cultures, it’s just a little difficult to find role models that our students can emulate. Indeed, it would probably startle most parents to realize just how bereft of heroes their children are; it is a situation that is very nearly an insidious form of child abuse. Little wonder that there seems little issue with cheating one’s way through life until, at some point in adulthood, the full weight of what has not been properly learned and what has been unthinkingly sacrificed comes crashing down. I sometimes wonder if so much of the unfocused fury that informs our society’s daily life is simply a result of so many realizing just what the hucksters, charlatans, and fast-buck artists of the past several decades of stolen from our souls—not to mention our pocketbooks.
We need a paradigm shift in our public schools and beyond that starts from a single simple proposition: the success of our world is going to wholly depend on our ability to honestly account for our places within it. The time for passively shrugging our shoulders and reaching for the television remote is long gone. The time for living our lives by precepts picked up from infomercials and morally bankrupt entertainment is past. The time for neglecting all the many threads that connect each of us to one another has to become a bad dream from another lifetime.
In terms of dealing with academic dishonesty, we can start by admitting it is all too common in our public schools and work to address the issue in two very basic but significant ways: Adults can commit themselves to being better role models by addressing those matters of their own lives they would prefer no one knew and children can be made aware that the adults in their lives are now more vigilant about monitoring their schoolwork and insisting on achievement that is honestly attained. I readily admit all of this is a deceptively tall order, and even the idea of attempting it is probably causing more than a few to roll their eyes in dismay. After all, it might well be the case that an honest accounting of academic success will show our educational system is more frayed than we might imagine. Given that sweeping bad news under the rug and hoping the problems will go away is as ingrained a habit among educators as those in most any profession, admitting just how many students would fall short if forced to complete their work honestly and completely is likely not an enticing prospect.
However, if we cannot do this now—when the cracks and strains and flaws of short-term thinking and massaging the numbers to achieve the desired outcome in all aspects of our nation’s public, personal, and economic life is so abundantly clear—when will be the proper time to do so? The bag of tricks is empty, we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul with a fistful of imaginary wealth, and our leaders are busy pointing their fingers at one another to deflect blame from themselves. Parents, can you imagine a better time to sit down with your children and have a thoughtful, loving, and deeply felt discussion about the need to take pride in being part of a long overdue solution to our world’s ills—not just another bland symptom of moral and spiritual bankruptcy by cheating their ways through school?
Honesty can start today if we will just expend the effort to make it so, and the effects will be felt beyond our public schools. Please make this fresh start with your child today.