Their Cheatin’ Hearts

In one of my university classes the other night, I sat through some student presentations on [tag]academic dishonesty in education[/tag].  One group did a well-researched job on [tag]grade inflation[/tag], detailing its causes and potential cures.  The other group presented what on the surface appeared to be a primer on how to cheat and why it’s essential to do so in school, at any level.

Ouch!

I never realized the depth of the need to cheat to maintain a “competitive edge,” as one student presenter–himself an Advanced Placement student in his high school days at one of the most honored public schools in California–described it.  It seems that the smarter you are these days, the more inclined you are to find your “competitive edge” through new and ingenious methods of cheating.

The classes I teach are all based on written assignments with no tests, so cheating in the classroom is not an issue for me, as it certainly is in K-12 education and other college courses that rely on testing, such as the math and science curricula.

Still, when I teach history classes, the urge among students to plagiarize is so great that I shudder to read their papers.  Thankfully, I have the plagiarism-checking service Turnitin (which must be getting incredibly wealthy these days) to compare the papers against resources on the Internet for similarity.  I’ve busted several students this way, but the penalty is so mild at most institutions that the students don’t really care.  “What?  A zero on the paper?  Have to rewrite it?  Who cares?”

I remember one class on “U.S. History from 1945 to the Present,” as it was titled, for which this one blowhard student, whom I knew was cheating, turned in a masterful final paper that was clearly above the ability of almost anyone at any school who wasn’t a postgraduate fellow in history.  I sent it in to Turnitin and waited for the results.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.

A week went by and Turnitin still couldn’t provide an analysis, so with grades due, I had no choice but to score the paper an A and give the student an A for the class.

The next day, Turnitin finally decided to send back the results–almost 100 percent plagiarized (he changed a phrase or two here and there)!

I guess it pays in America to be a liar, a cheat and a blowhard.  Student presenter was right, sadly.

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