optimistic for “honest work”

how to cheat with your iPod (image from gadgetspage.com)

That’s what Charles Lipson calls it – “honest work.” And I love the concept. 

In the last couple of weeks, since the first day of classes, my college composition students and I have been talking about cheating.  I’ve asked them to consider this not as an issue about themselves (that is, not as a “Don’t plagiarize” message from me) but as a social issue, a cultural question.  We started with David Callahan’s The Culture of Cheating, a chapter called “Cheating from the Starting Line.”  One of the main ideas that came out of my students’ reading and discussing this chapter was that the issue really isn’t just about cheating. 

Really, it’s about the bigger educational approach.  The students don’t value learning.  They don’t value education.  They value schooling, the grades, the diploma, and what all of that means in their future.  Our current learning system doesn’t allow students the room to consider the process as the important part.  The result, the product (the grades) – that’s what matters.  Some might say that this is just poor excuse from cheating students (and their parents and teachers that ignore it or condone it).  I don’t believe so.  I don’t excuse the cheating behavior, but I also don’t want to ignore the motivational factors behind their choice to cheat.  The broken system or the approach certainly doesn’t  justify cheating, but it may explain widespread cheating.  I understand that if we want to address the cheating issue, we also have to ask how we can instill joy of discovery (a.k.a learinng) and teach them something relevant, something interesting, and something ENGAGING. That’s the buzz word these days, I know, and this makes it kind of a cliche.  But it’s a buzz word for a reason.  It’s important.  Really important. 

cartoon from cartoonstock.com


I believe that most often students who want to learn, who value learning and place it above other things (like grades) do not choose to cheat.  I believe that in most cases they choose to cheat when they feel cornered and when they panic (for whatever reason, including their own failure to manage time or the assignment).  This means, I believe, we can discourage cheating.  We can deter it.  We can prevent it.  We can do something about it.  And this is good news.


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