Monday, July 18, 2011

A Prognosis: Hope Your Cardiologist Didn't Cheat on HisTest

Face it, we are a cheating culture, a culture of cheaters and we condone it, explicitly or implicitly, despite our virtuous sermonizing against it when we do our taxes, get more change back than we should have and say nothing about it, or were not charged for an item we bought at the store and keep walking towards the door.

I read with horror yesterday about how teachers in the Atlanta School District were caught and confessed to helping their students cheat on achievement tests in order to preserve their jobs and not lose government funding denied to poor achieving schools. In some cases teachers met in a cafeteria and with the blessing of their administrators, erased wrong answers and bubbled in the correct ones.

As a former teacher I can sympathize with wanting your kids to succeed and the pain of seeing them fail. Many a time I lamented having to give failing grades to a student who tried hard or who I particularly liked. It was so easy to just give them a passing grade and no one would be the wiser. The student would certainly have not complained. Statistics show that most students cheat at one time or another on tests and that most do not see it as wrong "because everybody does it".

In fact, I remember at times looking at the answers of the kid in front of me or to my side in class and copying. In high school, I survived Biology by sitting next to one of the brightest  girls in class. She would do all my written work, and I would do all the anatomical drawings of insects, frogs and amoebas for her. We both got A's!

In my college English classes I often caught students cheating by copying essays directly from a book or magazine, or copying each others papers. I read every single paper and I could tell each one of my students after returning their papers what topic they had written about, so it was not that difficult to find duplicates. Easier to spot were those papers copied from professional sources; the vocabulary, diction and sentence structures gave them away.

In one case, I allowed three young men into my class who were on the school's basketball team who simply "had to pass their English requirement to play for the team", according to the coach who personally called me on the phone asking that I let them into my already full class.

On one assignment two of them turned in an identical essay, word for word! It was a no-brainer. At the very least, they could have tried to change a few words or sentences around, but no they were identical! They must have thought I was stupid. Naturally, I asked to speak to them after class, and told them cheating was unacceptable in college. I also took the opportunity to call their coach "personally" to tell him about the incident. Did they learn their lesson? Who knows.

But teachers helping their students cheat, now that's a new one for me. For the most part though, besides writing some prompts with a ball point pen on my wrist or palm once or twice in order to pass a test, I was mostly an honest guy and didn't cheat on tests, especially in my latter years in college (now, on taxes that's another matter), becoming my own anti-cheating patrolman.

Thus, I began each semester with a lecture on the virtues of not cheating the gist of which was the moral: When we cheat, we advocate and condone cheating and make it acceptable for every other person to cheat us, and ended it with this admonition:
 "For those of you who see nothing wrong with cheating on tests, I hope your Cardiologist or heart surgeon did not get his medical degree by cheating on his tests. Good luck."

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