Cheating Students: How Our Schools Fail the Humanistic Vision of Education

By Raskin, Tommy | The Humanist, May-June 2013 | Go to article overview

Cheating Students: How Our Schools Fail the Humanistic Vision of Education


Raskin, Tommy, The Humanist


STUDENTS CHEAT in high school. In fact, a lot of high school students cheat routinely. A 2010 study conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics found that at least 59 percent of high school students had cheated on a test in the past year, and over 33 percent had cheated more than twice. People who work in our high schools know that cheating is rampant but they ignore it: the constant whispering during tests, the scrawled answers on forearms, the use of cell phone cameras to take pictures of "cheat sheets" before finals. Meanwhile, non-cheating students don't blow the whistle on rule violations because they want to avoid being labeled "snitches" and "jerks."

However, it's dangerous to ignore the cheating epidemic because it reflects the absence of effective education, which has always been the source of human progress and enlightenment. Cheating reflects a deep social crisis that cannot be solved with more tests, more test proctors, more test preparation, and more test anxiety, which is the usual bureaucratic response these days. Ultimately, the cheating crisis can only be solved by rethinking our schools, which are currently modeled after Industrial-Age factories, and redesigning them to fit the educational and moral requirements of modern society.

The nature of work changed in the wake of industrialization in the nineteenth century. The employee no longer built a product alone as a craftsman or tended to the field as a farmer, but rather worked on an assembly line in which he or she repeated the same mundane tasks. The fulfillment of work was lost in the regime of strict oversight, frequent punishments, and inhumane conditions in which factory workers were forced to operate. For tardiness, workers were beaten or fired. The productive process allowed for no active or stimulating thought, and people worked only out of a necessity to make a meager salary in order to survive, The Enlightenment values of inquiry, tolerance, and autonomy championed by Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, and others were traded for factory life and industrial the organization.

Modern-day schooling is still shaped by this disciplinarian industrial model, which became dominant in the twentieth century. "Learning" (like work) is a means to the end of good grades (like wages). Learning is not meant to be intrinsically enjoyable in school. All the school administrations I've experienced have placed a bizarre emphasis on discipline, not student engagement, as the key to success. Schools develop elaborate three-page absence policies that punish students for being away from the classroom, and generally prevent students from obtaining credits anywhere but the classroom. But if school is so great, why do we need to scare kids into going? Why do school systems need huge armies of truant officers to coerce daily attendance? Like the activity in industrial factories, much of schoolwork isn't fun, engaging, or inspiring, and people only put up with it so that they can graduate, go to college, and then reap the economic benefits they're promised for getting diplomas. What a waste of talent.

I go to a very large, diverse, and highly ranked public high school in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland. My interactions with students and teachers there, in addition to interviews with educators and students at other public and private schools, have taught me that today's schooling is flawed in a fundamental way. During half of the tests I take, I see students blatantly cheating. I also see students preparing to cheat in elaborate ways in order to minimize the chance of getting caught. On one occasion, before a foreign language test, I took a quick survey of the class to find out how many students were planning to cheat. Because the six students sitting closest to me were all going to cheat, I decided to take issue with it before the test started.

"I always see people getting away with cheating in this class" I told the teacher after raising my hand. …

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