“Cheating will never stop. Ever. As long as kids are going to school, there will be cheating. The weird part is that sometimes cheating can be harder than actually doing your own work, but people still do it.” Ethan Van den Berg, junior
While taking a stroll around the Gregory School campus, at least two things can always be heard: first, some variant of a modern hip hop/rap song blaring around the senior locker area, and second – and more important – discussions pertaining to cheating.
It is no secret that The Gregory School has a problem with cheating. Now, this is not to say that all students cheat, or that cheating is simply “brushed under the doormat” or ignored by faculty and administration. The academic and disciplinary consequences for cheating and plagiarism are sound and effective.
But why do students cheat? What is the root of this problem?
To answer that question, let’s begin by looking at the life of a typical independent school student. More often than not, a student at an independent school is privileged. Having grown up in a family that provides her any and all necessities, an independent school student is likely to be accustomed to a sheltered, safe environment.
Now, don’t misunderstand the point – this is not to say that coming from a fortunate family and not having to face many genuine struggles is bad; that would be counterintuitive. Privilege simply contributes to an explanation as to why the phenomenon of cheating at an independent school like The Gregory School is as common as it is.
For a student coming from a sheltered, nurturing environment, the idea of doing her own work, which involves taking the risk that she could be wrong, can create a paralyzing fear. She may not know how to face this fear head on. The rigor of the curriculum in most of her classes suggests to her that not only is a high performance standard achievable, but expected. Nothing less will do.
Given the small class sizes here, it is all too easy to feel like a sore thumb when visibly struggling or misunderstanding a topic in class. So, what does a struggling student do?
She masks her confusion; then she asks her friends.
Part of the explanation for cheating boils down to the fear some students feel that they are inadequate, which is related to the fear of failing. When a student worries that he is not capable of answering or responding correctly on his own, or he does not even care enough to do so, he reverts to cheating.
This mental model of perceived inadequacy in the face of difficulty, combined with the fear of failing, must be fixed as we students head into adulthood.
What students who cheat, copy, or plagiarize may not know is that being wrong or not understanding something can actually be a good thing. Our small class sizes and our independent school environment are meant to provide a sense of encouragement; faculty strive to help students to be successful, not by pressuring them to be right, but by being there when they’re not.
When you cheat, you don’t learn how to “fail up.” You don’t acquire the skill set needed to pick yourself up again after a fall. The skill of learning how to learn from failure is more important than any skimming, summarizing, or speed-writing skill you’ll ever learn in high school.
So, to sum up (maybe summarizing is an important skill): Do your own work. Take the F on the botched assignment if that is what you deserve. Learn that failure is not the end of the world, and that it doesn’t define who you are. Move on. Rise above. But don’t cheat. If you do, you will never learn how to learn. Honest work and serious effort, even if they result in a poor outcome, are always better than passing off mindlessly paraphrased versions of your best friend’s work as your own.
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