Cheating……Why do Students Cheat?

I’ve been thinking about this lately.  Cheating has been in the news.  Recently the most famous cheat of all was finally exposed and admitted his cheating.  Lance Armstrong – 7 time winner of the most prestigious bike race in the world , Le Tour de France – admitted cheating every year.  He did illegal things to gain an advantage and broke the rules.  His career is a disaster.  He was motivated by his need to win at all costs and while knowing he could cheat and still win. But he is exposed and his career is a disaster.

Why do people cheat when they know it is wrong?  This is a really difficult question to answer.  There are no easy answers.  People make choices and find ways to justify their actions even when they know they are doing things that are wrong.

Cheating in schools is a significant problem.  Why do students cheat in school?  It could be that:

  • They just don’t know the work/material and copying or plagiarizing is the easiest way out
  • They haven’t spent time on the work and are unprepared
  • They give their work to someone else to be a good friend
  • They want to gain an advantage over others
  • They don’t think their behavior is a big deal and feel it is okay to cheat, after all there are many examples of successful cheaters in the world.

A US News and World Report article in May 2010 entitled Most High Schoolers Cheat—But Don’t Always See It as Cheating provides some interesting information.   It refers to a study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that examined cheating among high-school students.  Here are some of the facts from the study, reported in the magazine:

  • 89 percent said glancing at someone else’s answers during a test was cheating – 87 percent said they’d done that at least once
  • 94 percent said providing answers to someone during a test was cheating – 74 percent admitted to doing it.
  • 47 percent said that providing test questions to a fellow student who had yet to take a test was academically dishonest – nearly seven out of 10 admitted to doing so.
  • Sixty-two percent said doing individual take-home tests with a partner was cheating (51 percent said they’d done so);
  • 23 percent said doing individual homework with a partner was dishonest (91 percent had done so); and
  • 39 percent said writing a report based on the movie instead of reading the book wasn’t cheating (53 percent had done so).

Students recognize cheating, they know what is right and what is wrong, yet many cheat.

In another study of approximately 23,000 students, there was evidence that incidents of cheating were dropping.  According to the survey, in 2010, 59 percent of students admitted they had cheated on an exam in the past year — a statistic that dropped to 51 percent in 2012. Those who claimed to have copied another’s homework also dropped from 34 percent to 32 percent over the past two years.  This gives us hope!

We have an honor code at LCS.  It is built upon the pillars of Responsibility, Trust, Fairness, Honesty, and Respect.  We pay attention to it.  It is important at LCS.  I want to heighten this importance for our community.  Adults in school seek to present themselves as role models for students. I believe, overall, students view their teachers as role models of integrity.  Role models are important for students.

All parents want their kids to make ethical choices.  When an incident of cheating occurs, parents are always baffled to learn that their child, raised to a high moral standard, engaged in unethical cheating.  So why is it so easy for kids to cheat?

When one considers the wider context of a competitive world where success is often equated to professional gain, material growth, bigger contracts, and a “win at all costs” approach it isn’t too difficult to view the copying of homework or looking over at a classmates test as a just a minor transgression.  In our world, how often do the ends justify the means?  We must celebrate role models of integrity and honesty.  High profile cheaters like Lance Armstrong should pay a significant price for cheating.

As a school Principal, it’s challenging.  Having said that, we must teach, model, and promote integrity.  We must use our tools such as our Honor Code and our capacity as role models.  We must promote and encourage principled behavior.  We must discuss, highlight, process, and reflect upon the many examples of unethical AND ethical behavior that surrounds us in this world.

We must fend off the challenges we face.  A quick search of “How to Cheat” YouTube videos turns up such titles as:

  • How to Cheat with a Blank Piece of Paper
  • How to cheat on any test #4 (Band-aids)
  • How to: 5 ways to cheat in an exam

These videos have millions and millions of views!  We can’t ignore reality. It is an uphill battle.

Personally, my goal is to live with honesty and integrity.  I want to model both qualities.   I’ve lied in my past and I’ve had to cover up actions, but I also accepted consequences if I made a mistake.  Most importantly when I made a huge mistake, I reflected and learned from it.  Noone is perfect.  We are all flawed and we all make mistakes.  Learning is the key.  One’s ethical and moral compass is nurtured and developed during school years.  Cheating on schoolwork is wrong and if you want to strengthen your courage and shape your moral compass, you step away from opportunities to cheat.

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