COMMENTARY 762.5: Cheating — We Don’t Want to Ruin Their Lives

A few years ago, 14 students at an affluent public high school were involved in a school break-in. They weren’t vandals and weren’t trying to steal anything. Their goal was to alter the computer records of their academic transcripts so they’d have a better chance of getting into premier colleges.

Some people were horrified, others amused, and still others treated the matter as a minor youthful indiscretion. The superintendent fell into the last category. “It’s a one-time infraction of the rules,” he declared, imposing a five-day suspension.

Corrected transcripts were sent to the colleges involved, but the schools weren’t told about the burglary or falsification of records. The reason? “The students were under a lot of pressure and made a mistake,” the superintendent said. “But we don’t want to ruin their lives. They learned their lesson.”

They learned a lesson all right. They learned that there’s little downside to doing whatever it takes to get what you want, even committing a felony. They learned that even if you get caught, you probably won’t suffer serious consequences.

Come on! Suspending high school seniors for a week is a vacation, not a punishment.

This sort of excessive leniency sends a terrible message to kids about right and wrong. The superintendent then trivialized the act by calling it a “mistake.”

A mathematical error is a mistake. Forgetting someone’s birthday is a mistake. Getting into a bad relationship is a mistake.

But breaking into a locked office to alter documents isn’t a mistake. It’s a premeditated act of dishonesty and should be treated as such. If that means the students may suffer long-term impact, so be it. That’s what justice requires and responsibility is about.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Some disturbing data on rampant cheating in schools and the ethics of high school kids

See this powerful short video from

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