Are Teachers to Blame for Cheating Students?

Cheating on examThere was an interesting article about what we can learn about teaching from students who cheat. The article references a book called Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty written by James M. Lang.

The article suggested that nearly 75% of students cheat during college and I would guess the number is closer to 100% if you count things like glancing at a neighbor’s result to see if it matches your own. I doubt there are many people at all who have not engaged in at least the mildest form of cheating at one point or another.

The article suggests that certain types of teachers and methods of teaching engender cheating. I’m going to go into that in a minute but I want to quickly talk about what the article was not about.

While reading the comments on the story it became clear that majority of people thought the article was somehow absolving students of culpability if they cheated. That this was some sort of attack on personal responsibility. The idea being that it wasn’t the student’s fault they cheated, it was the instructor. That’s not what the article was about at all. If anyone chooses to cheat, regardless of the circumstances, they should face the consequences of their actions. Again, that’s not what this article was about in any way but I’m trying to prevent comments that are off topic.

Back to the point of the book and the article. The first point of the article suggested that failure was becoming less of an option. With mandatory federal dollars involved in passing an exam, both teachers and students didn’t see failure as viable. The students had to pass the test for the school district to get the money. This led to an environment where students spent most of their time in repetitive (read boring) drills designed to pass the test but not necessarily designed to actually learn material. The book cited several studies in which students who embraced failure as a part of learning ended up learning more.

Certainly in life we often tell people they cannot succeed unless they are willing to fail. In an educational environment where failure is to be avoided at all costs it makes perfect sense to me that achievement and higher level learning would suffer, counter-intuitive though it is. The book suggests rewarding perseverance and hard work over achievement. Again, this seems illogical but a closer examination seems to me to reveal veracity to the idea.

The best way to find achievement is through hard work and tenacity. If we want achievement and don’t stress the methods necessary to get there; we simply invite, even encourage, cheating. If we strongly encourage hard work, study, and perseverance, achievement will take care of itself.

The second thing discussed in the article is that a stimulating environment produces better results than a boring classroom. This seems to me to be self-evident but I’ve witnessed a number of educators suggest otherwise. Learning should not be fun, it’s hard work, I’ve heard more than once.

The article again references the idea of the government mandated testing which results in a stagnant and dull learning environment. Disengaged students don’t learn and often cheat.

The idea here is more straightforward. Educators who provide a stimulating and interesting environment produce students who cheat less and learn more. I have no doubt this is true. It’s easy to think that students fail more difficult classes at a higher rate; however, I think the premise of the article is correct. That a stimulating, interesting, and engaged teacher often has a class that is far more difficult than other teachers but that the students score higher and learn far more. That’s the goal, isn’t it?

I’m certainly not saying we can eliminate cheating altogether but if we can reduce cheating, increase learning, and make things more fun; isn’t that a noble goal? I’m also not saying that those that cheat shouldn’t be held responsible. I’m saying that we shouldn’t dismiss the idea that cheating might be more the fault of the educator than lack of ethics by the student.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Officials Cheat – The question is How Much?

Cheatingmajor story in sporting news involves the basketball coordinator of officials in the Pac 12 conference offering a reward to his referees if they called a technical foul or ejected the coach of a particular team in the conference tournament. The league has done an investigation and declared the statement was made in jest and that there is nothing more to it; this despite the fact that during a crucial game the coach in question was given a controversial technical foul.

I want to get something out of the way up front. Officials cheat. They do it at every level of the sport. They are people just like the rest of us and there are always going to be some unethical members in every profession. To pretend there are not any cheaters is ridiculous. I’ve seen it in every sport I’ve played beginning with a called third strike on a pitch that was literally over my head when I was eleven years old. The umpire didn’t like me because I looked back after a bad call on the pitch before. He sure showed me.

When the referee kicked me out of the pool after my opponent elbowed me to the face he was cheating at the behest of the opposing team’s coach who was his friend. That’s a fact. Our team’s best player, Jimmy Croyle, kicked out for the game, three kick outs means out for the game, in the first period. Right. No cheating there.

When the St. Louis football Cardinals got the short end of call after call against America’s Team the Dallas Cowboys in the 70’s and early 80’s that was cheating. When NASCAR rigs races so Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins that’s cheating. When the NFL wants the New England Patriots to win the 2001 Super Bowl it somehow happens. Just to show I’m not totally biased, when the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team gets the benefit of bad call after bad call in their favor, that’s cheating too.

The referees know who the league would prefer to win a game. The vast majority of referees call the game to the best of their ability without bias, but they know who the cheaters are. They work with them every day. Sure good officials make mistakes from time to time but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about referees who use their power to slightly influence the game towards a result they desire. It happens all the time. Now we’ve got league officials openly encouraging them to do it? That’s serious.

The human element you say? You can shove the human element where the sun doesn’t shine. My chance for a state championship was stolen by a cheating referee and I’d be willing to bet everyone who’s played in any sort of competitive sport has a similar story. To the refs who cheat, maybe your son will come up to you one day and ask, “Why would he cheat, dad? Why would he do that?” You’ll know the answer, won’t you?

I hate cheaters and when they are the officials I get hot.

There is only one solution. We can fire a person here and there but the ability to cheat by simply “missing” a narrow judgement call will always be too tempting to resist. Only when we make emotionless machines the final arbiter will we get fair results. It’s not easy to do but there are some sports where it is possible, tennis with the lines and baseball with balls and strikes to name a couple of examples. Tracking devices in the balls to determine exactly when they go out of bounds, into the goal, etc. This is possible. The sooner the better.

For all the great officials out there, who do a difficult job to the very best of their ability, I salute you. The world needs people with that sort of integrity. To the cheaters, to those who encourage them to cheat? To you I can only shake my head and despair for the lives you’ve hurt.

Anyone ever cheated by a referee? Tell me in the comments.

Tom Liberman