Tell the Truth Now: Are You a Cheater?

November 22, 2009

Student dishonesty has been the topic of discussion at several conference sessions I’ve attended here at Miami University. It’s so easy to cheat. Cut and paste to create a report cobbled together from other people’s words, use your cell phone to store answers for a test, buy a research paper online, write quiz answers on your forearm. It’s no big deal. Lots of people are doing it, right? I know I’ve been dishonest both in and out of school. Skip to the bottom of this blog to read some of my dirty little secrets.*

Not long ago I sat in the back of a middle school classroom observing a student teacher in action. Her students were taking a test and as I watched, one girl wrote something on a piece of paper, rolled it up, inserted it into what must have been an empty pen prepared for this purpose, and handed the pen to her friend who pulled the note out and hid it under her test. This was all done quite furtively and had I not been sitting in the back of the class at the correct angle, I’d never have seen them. Perhaps they were just passing the gossipy kinds of notes that middle schoolers delight in, but from the way they were acting, I suspect it was answers they were sharing.

Have you ever cheated? I’ll be surprised if you were able to answer no to this question. If you did, it means you have never pushed the speed limit by a couple of miles or filched a grape in the grocery store, checking to see if they were sweet enough to tempt you to buy a bunch. It means that you haven’t speeded up when you saw a yellow light and that you’ve never appropriated some extra packets of Taco Bell© hot sauce or Mickey D’s ketchup. It also means you’ve never taken a pen or pencil or paperclip that didn’t belong to you or grabbed a handful of candies at the restaurant checkout instead of the single piece you were meant to have. And how about these possible transgressions: Did you ever make a call that deliberately favored you or your team in a sports event? And what about music downloads and sharing computer programs?

For almost two decades, I’ve been giving my students an ethics quiz, asking them to anonymously answer yes or no to the following questions and also asking them to report on other school-related cheating they’ve engaged in or observed.** Give it a try:

1) I have used Spark Notes, Cliff Notes, or other reading aids and pretended the ideas were my own.

2) I have pretended to read an article, text, or other assigned material.

3) I have appropriated material from the internet and passed it off as my own work.

4) I have cheated on a test.

5) I have copied someone else’s homework or other assigned work.

6) I have done an assignment that was due at the start of class while I was in class instead of completing it out of class as assigned.

7) I have worked on other things during class, including but not limited to other coursework, surfing the net, etc.

What comes next is. . .nothing. There’s not a single thing I can tell you about why it’s not good to cheat in school that isn’t something you could write about yourself. Sometimes, it’s good to tell people things they already know, but this isn’t one of those times.

Have you ever cheated in school? Why?

I call them footnotes.
• Student caught with vocabulary words written on the soles of his shoes

* Mea culpa. I confess. I have been known to take the occasional extra Taco Bell© hot sauce packet or two or more before the company made it available in bottles which can only be found occasionally and only at one grocery store in my town and what’s that about? Come on, corporate Mexisellers, if you want to protect your packets from the likes of me, you need to make sure that good stuff is readily available. Many years ago, before TB’s dotted the southern landscape, I used to drive two hours to the only franchise in Georgia to get my bean burrito/bean tostada fix and satisfy the cravings born during my formative years in southern California. Their lovely TBellistas used to sell me hot sauce by the trayful if I begged prettily enough.

** So far no one has claimed not to have cheated in school. The most common kind of self-admitted academic dishonesty? Pretending to read assigned materials. And yes, I’ve done this too, but not often because I honestly love to read just about anything, even shampoo bottle labels and the sides of cereal boxes and chapters and articles assigned to me in class. Oh, and here’s another thing: sometimes I’m frantically reading the minutes from the previous meeting of the Faculty Senate at the start of the meeting instead of ahead of time as I should have done since they were sent out early as an email attachment for that very purpose–early perusal. Please don’t kick me off of Senate. I’ll try to do better. Really I will.

And another note: I’ll be getting on the train later tonight in Cincinnati. More from me once I’m reconnected.


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