You may have read about the recent cheating scandals at Harvard and New York’s prestigious public high school, Stuyvesant, and thought, “oh, who can really say they’ve never cheated.”
But as investigations continue into the cheating, what becomes clear pretty fast — heck, the students even admit it — is that cheating isn’t only for the lazy, only for the boneheads, only for the jocks. It’s part of the culture of these institutions.
Which isn’t to say every student cheated. Only that it’s rampant, it’s known and, worst of all, it’s tolerated.
New York magazine and the New York Times both have recent articles that take a deeper look at what happened, especially at Stuyvesant, and how really smart kids came to rationalize their really unjust behavior. Some said cheating had to happen in order to get through all the homework required of them every night — that sometimes it came down to cheating and getting sleeping, or working through the problems and pulling all-nighters.
Others seemed to say that being super-strong in one area, say, physics, sort of earned them the right to cheat in their weaker areas, like Spanish.
And since the cheating wasn’t simply one-on-one, it was a whole network of students sharing homework and exams on Facebook, in texts and via photos, it was more endearing kind of cooperative group project going on — each providing answers in subjects of strength and accepting answers for subjects that were their weaknesses.
The new Stuyvesant principal wants to curb cheating and has asked every student this fall to sign a pledge agreeing to not cheat and to also turn in those who they know are cheating.
What is unclear to me is whether she is also asking faculty to follow protocol when they catch a cheater. From these stories, it’s clear that plagiarism and cheating were often forgiven — students were simply asked to stop or to retake a test. The students weren’t given clear boundaries for what constitutes cheating and there don’t appear to have been consequences for the vast majority of the cheaters.
These stories also hint that the high-stakes-ness of it all is pushing kids to cheat, and I can see that as a reason but not an excuse. Teens shouldn’t have to exchange honesty in order to have good grades, friends and sleep. Those should all be doable.
What’s really interesting to me is that in none of these cheating scandal stories do we hear a thing about learning or projects the students may have been genuinely interested in. It’s all about racking up the grades or the points in order to take things to the next level. Does the kingpin allegedly behind the Stuyvesant cheating network ever mention his interest in physics? No. He only talks about the overall scores that his aptitude for the subject, plus a whole lot of cheating, have helped him achieve.