Take advantage of [the] misfortune of this country if you want to survive.
-Alleged advice from one bigwig in office to another
Do you remember the goody-goody two shoes apprentice nerd everyone made fun of in high school because he wouldn’t let anyone copy his assignments or peek at his coded notes? I wasn’t exactly that kid but I almost fit his shoes. Of course, I didn’t make a fuss about lending my notes or swapping minor assignments. Quizzes and tests were different matters though. The veiled nun in my head kept visiting me at night giving me sermons on the evils of cheating. I also resented the fact that I had to study for hours only to drag my feet groggily to a row of expectant fresh-faced classmates who did not need cucumber slices or coffee. But I let them copy anyway because the torture of ostracism was more painful than the permanence of eye bags or the imaginary monologue of a woman in a penguin suit.
There was one thing I couldn’t stand though and that was me copying from them on major exams. I cheated rarely in high school and when I did, it was only because the cryptic symbols of math looked the same as chicken scratches to me except that algebraic gibberish threatened to give me a heart attack. But it was when I was the one copying that the nun in my dreams brought me a whip.
Eight years after my last year in high school, I held authority over a high school social studies class of my own. For two years, I threw periodic fits over identical schoolwork. In my time, we had the sense to rephrase and change the context of assignments that we copied. Today, kids rip off pages from Wikipedia, photocopy them ten times, write different names on each copy and submit to the teacher. What makes them do this? Is it laziness, opportunism, stress or the culture of dependence?
I got so tired of reading perfectly written paragraphs that I made sure none of them would ever copy again. I made the skill of analysis a requirement for all my assignments, quizzes and tests. I stopped asking what and when and started asking my students how and why. Even if they opened their books in class they never found the answers until they learned to analyze by themselves. That cured cheating in my class.
Many of the non-teaching individuals I know never could understand my zero tolerance for cheating. They say it’s always been a part of school life and no student these days will survive without using each other. That’s just the kind of attitude that breeds the kind of future scoundrels rallies are organized against. Of course, I had many classmates who were chronic cheaters who grew up to be upstanding citizens of some other country, but would you rather take the chance hoping your kids won’t grow up into thieves in office? Tell them it’s ok to cheat a little to survive and they have a 50% chance of growing up into those thieves.
Do you want to clean up this country? Start with the kids. Tell them it is never acceptable to compromise and that cheating in any form is never right. If they’ve never had nightmares of nuns, you’re the only one who can help.