Anyone with children in the Eastern School District has reason to worry.
Not only does the district have preposterous new rules regarding students who are caught cheating, but district officials have an apparent inability to mount a logical and reasoned argument in defence of the policy.
The anger and disgust of parents, and the public, is entirely understandable.
What is not understandable is the district’s stance on the issue.
By not anticipating the objections to the new policy, the district is displaying the worst kind of “ivory tower” detachment, of not dealing with issues in a practical and reasonable way, but instead relying on the jargon that for decades has been thrown around like toys in education faculties.
The Eastern School District got it wrong immediately, with the premise of its new policy.
Cheating is not primarily about the people who cheat. Their feelings and prospects — upon being caught — are secondary.
Far more important are, first, the integrity of the academic system, and, second, support for the efforts of non-cheaters.
Notice that the comments by district officials are mostly about the cheaters — they need this, or they need that.
Here’s a district rationalization that should disgust anyone who has ever cracked a textbook: the new policy seeks to separate a student’s wrongful behaviour from his or her “academic outcome.”
In normal language, that means, cheaters won’t automatically get a zero on a test or exam — as justice and academic integrity demands — but will be given another chance to show that they know the material at hand.
It is indeed worrisome that the Eastern School District can get it so wrong on something so basic.
Behaviour is not separate from their beloved “academic outcomes” (curses on educational jargon; in former times, teachers simply and more accurately referred to “results”).
In fact, behaviour is an essential aspect of academics.
Responsible parents encourage their children to be diligent, hardworking and interested in their studies: put in effort; don’t be lazy; do your best.
The district’s new policy on cheating makes a mockery of parents’ efforts.
More importantly, the policy mocks students who don’t cheat. It insults their honest efforts to study and to learn.
The district has it backwards. It is the “academic outcomes” of students who are honest, studious and dedicated that should be a school’s priority.
A main challenge for teachers — and parents — is to encourage these traits among students.
By cheating — or plagiarizing — a student forfeits his or her right to an advantageous result. Giving a cheater a second chance on an exam or paper that he or she has cheated on sends a terrible message to everyone else: your honest efforts don’t matter.
This is a destructive message to let loose in the halls of academia, whether it’s a university faculty or an elementary school. Honest effort is essential to a good education. Students have to know that they — through their efforts and behaviour — are largely responsible for their own learning.
Then again, the educational system has for years been systematically removing personal responsibility from its students (see: no-fail policy).
Parents and students deserve better from the Eastern School District. The new policy on cheating reveals an ignorance and reprehensible attitude among the people who are running our schools.
One of the district’s main explanations was that similar policies regarding cheating are in place in other jurisdictions, and this change brings the district into line with them.
Any six-year-old can recognize the flaw in such logic.
“Why did you do that?” a parent asks.
“All my friends are doing it,” Junior replies.
“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?”
If you’re the Eastern School District, yes.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.