You’re Only Cheating Yourself 741.4

by Michael Josephson on September 21, 2011

in Commentaries, The Nature of Character

It’s in the news all the time – kids are cheating in school in new ways and at unprecedented rates.

One of the reasons is the way schools and parents deal with or ignore the underlying issues of integrity and character. For instance, a popular thing adults say to discourage kids from cheating is, “You’re only cheating yourself.”

Of course cheating damages credibility and character, but it’s also dishonest and unfair. Cheaters don’t just cheat themselves. They cheat everyone affected by their cheating including honest students who are put at a competitive disadvantage and college admission officers and employers who think a student’s grade accurately reflects his or her competence. What’s more, cheaters dishonor their families, teachers, and schools.

When we tell kids they’re cheating themselves because they aren’t learning the material, we have to remember that most kids who cheat think what they’re asked to learn is unimportant. They’re quite comfortable not knowing the value of X or the capital of Zimbabwe. As to mastering skills, cynical and coldly pragmatic students believe that learning to cheat is more useful than learning the material.

Finally, it’s dangerous to promote self-centered, cost-benefit calculations about cheating in a way that ignores or minimizes the crucial moral issues of honesty and honor. Nearly two-thirds of high school students cheat on exams because they’re not afraid of getting caught and they get better grades.

To address the problem, we must promote integrity, not self-interest, and we must tell kids that whether they get away with it or not, cheating’s wrong.

Of course, it helps if we really believe that.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kaitlyn September 21, 2011 at 9:44 am

This is a great article and it brings a good point too. Students learn from example most of the time. So if teachers will or can find a way to teach students that cheating is wrong maybe it will be more effective.

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RJ September 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Kaitlyn, it’s not a teacher’s job to teach students that cheating is wrong, it is the responsibility of the students’ parents.

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abe September 22, 2011 at 10:21 pm

How about any thoughtful adult in a reasonably clear role related to the child/student? Sunday school, Scouts, sibling, aunt/uncle, grandparent, friend. It’s worth the risk that the child, and possibly the parents, might be disturbed, uncomfortable, even upset. Someone, and maybe everyone, will learn something.

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PMF September 23, 2011 at 7:40 am

I think it’s everybody’s job to teach that cheating is wrong. Cheating seems to be a life skill that almost all pick up at one time or another. Parents, educators, clergy, employers – people from all walks of life should share in that responsibility.

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