Policy on cheating insults hardworking students

Brian Jones
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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 bjones@thetelegram.com.

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Recent comments

  • Petertwo
    October 29, 2011 - 04:27

    Why do some feel that they have to cheat? What sort of environment is it that makes them feel that they have to cheat? If they do not understand something, or of what may be expected, then where is the help for them? Are some in the wrong place and are being humiliated due to some sort of ignorance of others? Pushing them down the cracks does not work either.

  • Makayla
    October 28, 2011 - 15:05

    Reading along, somewhat wondering where you were going with this until paragraph #7. Did you, bychance, lose focus? "Cheating is not about the people who cheat......feelings and prospects.....are secondary." Followed by paragraph #8 ...."first, the integrity of the academic system, and second support for the efforts of non-cheaters....." So what actually are you considering secondary, the feelings and prospects of the cheaters or support for the efforts of non-cheaters? Really, you speak of "ivory tower" detachment yet you appear to preach from a pretty 'high horse'. I really don't believe that the district is offering blanket protection for all cheaters all the time as you imply, but are rather giving second chances to improve. Have you never had a second chance given to you in life or have you been so privileged as to have the perfect parents/be the perfect parent with the perfect children and never want for anything. There are many children struggling in school because they are dealing with turmoil at home; they are tired, they can't focus, they sometimes can't study due to their home situations, etc., etc. Do they deserve a second chance to write a test because they happened to try to read their neighbours answers or wrote the answers on their sleeve? Was it wrong, yes absolutely. Was it unforgivable, no I don't think so. Unfortunately, ESD can't pick and chose who they give the second chances to or they'd have people getting on their high horse screaming discrimination. Obviously I don't agree with you on this one.

  • Pete
    October 28, 2011 - 12:13

    The author makes some excellent points, based on some naive assumptions, though. First off, cheating is part and parcel with corruption. The first evidence of corruption should lead to an investigation, not summary punishment. The parent may ask why? and their sarcastic reply makes their point accurately (in St. Johns's it was the harbour, not a cliff - which drove the point home even faster). But the missing question is which friends? There is all sorts of potential corruption in educational systems, from instructors favouring some students to recycled exam questions given by lazy teachers year over year - should they be summarily fired [seniority or no seniority] when half the class knew exactly what was going to be on the test? If one wants to deal with corruption they have to deal with it all?? However the more annoying item in the column is the presumption of quality of behaviour. In the denominational system generically bad behaviour was rebuked, of course, but lack of expected religious observance would lead to the punishment of isolation, at least. What our new public school system needs to do is to start from scratch with a course on corruption in society (not necessarily sin) - but they will have a difficult time explaining all the accepted theft of intellectual property , piracy, plagerism, that has become intrinsic with the digital/cyber world of the 21st. century - lol?.

  • Kathy
    October 28, 2011 - 11:35

    Excellent column Brian. Where in the world has common sense gone? The message being sent to students is that it's okay to do do bad things, so long as you don't get caught. To send such a message in an academic setting is plenty bad enough but will obviously encourage some kids to expect to get away with misdeeds in other areas of life as well. I'd like to sit down and have a chat with the people who come up with these hairbrain ideas.

  • Mike
    October 28, 2011 - 11:09

    Well said Brian.