Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Academic Dishonesty

School’s back in session, and it’s time to talk about cheating.

According to recent studies, over 90% of all students admitted to some form of academic dishonesty at one time or another. The educational community is shocked about this. What has happened lately to cause so many students to lose any sense of a moral compass?

However, this isn’t an issue of just recent times. In her book My Freshman Year, author Rebekah Nathan cites figures of 83% for 1993. That’s a significant rise from 1963’s figures of…81%

What’s going on here? Is cheating really rampant enough among our high school and college students for us to be worried about it? Have things gotten totally out of control?

I think it all depends on how you define “academic dishonesty.” Let me tell you a story.
My sophomore year in high school, Mrs Guyre, our English teacher, gave us a vocabulary test every Friday. We didn’t have to be able to spell them right, we just had to be able to define them. She was a new teacher, so she didn’t have her own room. She used the room we had her in just for that one class, then it was off to the next available room. My homeroom was right around the corner from the room we had English in, and one day, just to see what would happen, I put about three or four words, and their definitions, on the far corner of the blackboard.
She never noticed.
This was the beginning of a plan to have someone on the lookout for her every Friday, while I wrote as many words and their definitions on the board as possible before she got there. This went on for weeks, until one day the class got lazy and sloppy.
“Facetious,” Mrs Guyre called out. And as one 28 heads went up and looked to the far corner of the blackboard. She didn’t think anything of it.
“Ostentatious,” she called out. And again, 28 heads went up to check out the words on the board. About four words in, she figured out that something was going on, and then turned around to see the words on the board.
“OK, who did this?” she asked, and 28 fingers pointed in my direction.
“And just how long have you been doing this?”
“Oh…” I said, “about two months.”
She was not happy. Not at all.

What’s my point here? My point is that by our 10th grade standards, we had simply pulled a fast one on the new teacher for two months. We had “gotten over.” I’m willing to bet that none of the 28 of us had ever cheated on a test or paper in the classic sense of cheating, and yet, if you consider the broader term of “academic dishonesty” from an adult’s perspective, that little two-month game we played with Mrs Guyre surely qualified as a case of it.

Do over 90% of all students cheat or otherwise engage in some form of academic dishonesty? You bet they do. In fact I'm betting that most of it involves some form of "getting over" on the teacher like we did with Mrs Guyre.

Did over 90% of us do the same thing when we were their age?

If you’re honest with yourself, you know what the answer is.


  1. That "blackboard" "technique" is timeless. It's actually happened a lot at a school near you, but not for long.

  2. I think the increased propensity of "academic dishonesty" over time has a lot to do with the internet. And that 90% is really a low estimate. If you don't get all of your reading done for an english class, and you know your teacher does "reading quizzes" to test that you did the work, you're for sure going to spark note the chapters right before class. And I'd venture that at one time or another, every student has done so.