Solving Our Cheating Problem in Schools

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Is cheating a lost cause? Is it so rampant, all we can hope for is to punish offenders? Tim Elmore offers five big action steps we can take to turn the tide.

I am blogging about the cheating craze educators see in our schools. Recently, I shared these thoughts with the Huffington Post and it resonated with their audience as well. I recently offered a reality check on the cheating craze both in K-12 and higher education. It has involved both students and faculty/administrators. You’ve probably read—cheating in both high schools and universities has reached an epidemic level. Recently, 125 students at Harvard were investigated for cheating on an exam. Most got suspended. It was the highest number of students punished for cheating to date. But it’s likely just the beginning of such penalties. One survey revealed that about three fourths of 1,800 students at nine universities admitted to cheating on tests or assignments. But, is cheating a lost cause? Is it so rampant, all we can hope for is to punish offenders? I sure hope not. Today, I will offer five big action steps I believe we can take to turn the tide.

1. Talk about cheating—define clearly what it is and why it’s wrong.

Most kids know it’s wrong; after all they try to hide it when they do it. But I have actually met students who are clueless. They only hide cheating so the teacher won’t catch them. They don’t know it’s wrong. So, we must take time, perhaps over coffee, to talk over the moral implications. We don’t like it when others cheat us out of something—a business deal, marriage, finances, etc. Talk about the “golden rule.”

2. Help them establish their values and illustrate how they look in behavior.

No doubt, many students will say we just live in a new day—everyone is doing it. So why shouldn’t they grab what they can? It’s important to acknowledge this reality, but explain that all cultures have dynamic values and timeless values. Dynamic ones change over time, like clothing fashions, music styles, hairstyles, and even humor. But each culture must ask themselves: What is timeless? Some morals and values are timeless if a civilization is going to last: honesty, trust, mutual respect, empathy, agreement upon laws and enforcement, etc. Those are the ones we must embrace.

3. Create scenarios and test how they do.

Depending on the age of your students, create experiences for them to practice their ethics. For instance, one leader took his students to a shopping mall, secretly left a one hundred dollar bill on the floor outside a store and watched if his students returned it to a clerk when they saw it. Another passed out an exam, and four of them had all the answers on the pages. She wanted to see if those four students would bring it to her attention. You can get very creative, but it sets up a way to discuss timeless values.

4. Discuss ethical alternatives that will give them an advantage.

Today, there are plenty of alternatives to cheating, if students will apply themselves to learn them. (In fact, sometimes kids work so hard at cheating, I am sure if they made half the effort to study, they’d get an A on their test). Websites, from the Khan Academy (K-12 education) to sites that enable college students to study and retain what they’ve learned in a community are available now to minimize the need to cheat to get a good score. Our brains are incredible instruments if we use them well.

5. Discuss cultural realities and how they can use them honestly.

As you address this issue with students, keep in mind that they are growing up in a new day, run by Google not Gutenberg. Digital content is much easier to steal; social media makes it quick and simple to plagiarize. So, I believe we need to teach the new “meta competency” so many are talking about today: resourcefulness. The art of searching and finding valuable content and solutions. This is certainly the world they will graduate into as adults. Along with cultivating good memories so they can cite dates, wars and eras of history—we must teach them to use the new age they live in now. Creating and finding solutions are both valuable and honest work.

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