I’m ashamed to admit that I joined the academic “cheater’s club” as an 8-year-old third-grader.
I walked home one Friday afternoon worried about what my mom would say about a failing quiz burning a hole in my take-home folder. My solution was to carefully erase my wrong answers and pencil in the correct ones before my mom came upstairs from painting the basement. When she looked over my “F” and said the answers seemed correct, I nodded earnestly in agreement and secretly celebrated my deception. That was, of course, until she walked me back to school to talk to my teacher, Mrs. Z. Mrs. Z took one look at the paper, looked at me quizzically, and pointed out my eraser marks to mom.
Third-grade me apparently wasn’t much of an anomaly. Two decades later, a rising number of elementary students, more than half of American teens, and Ivy-Leaguers have all made news for participating in some form of academic cheating. This is problematic because frequent instances of youthful cheating has been linked to adult dishonesty.
What can parents, teachers, and students do to curtail academic dishonesty? These three behaviors can help to eliminate this classroom cheating:
- Focus on Learning, Not Grades. From an early age, adults inundate kids with the notion that they must graduate with honors and go to a prestigious college to eventually land a high-paying job. This pressure makes it no surprise that students who focus more on test scores than learning are more likely to cheat — and cheat to stay competitive with their dishonest peers. A possible solution? Adults should “tap into the problems, questions, and challenges that will inspire students to learn deeply-and honestly,” James Lang, author of Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty, told the Boston Globe in August 2013. Teachers can do their part toward this goal by stressing to students why each lesson is important, and parents can focus more on their child’s learning process than his or her report card.
- Clarify Expectations. Vague policies on student collaboration contributed to the highly publicized 2012 cheating scandal at Harvard University; likewise, one-third of students surveyed by the Yale Daily News in 2010 didn’t realize that turning in the same essay twice was considered a form of academic dishonesty at their university. These examples illustrate that academic cheating proliferates when expectations are unclear. Educators and administrators can reduce the likelihood of academic cheating by clarifying their expectations of students in classroom rules, syllabi, and assignment instructions. All parties should regularly encourage an open dialogue on classroom ethics; it makes it less likely that the popular saying about “assuming” will come true in the classroom.
- Promote Academic Honesty. University of Mary Washington psychologist David Rettinger told the American Psychological Association in 2011 that a key to curbing academic dishonesty is “to create this community feeling of disgust at the cheating behavior.” The promotion of honor codes, while not foolproof, goes a ways toward accomplishing that goal; student honor council and academic-focused organizations can also help increase student awareness and personal responsibility. The University of California at San Diego has also had success rewarding student ethics in more tangible ways; winners of the campus’s annual Academic Integrity contest score coveted campus parking spots and bookstore gift cards.
The most effective measure, however, might be to follow my mom’s course of action: Punish the cheater. Trisha Betram Gallant, author of Creating the Ethical Academy, told The New York Times in 2012 that today’s parents were less likely to “come in and grab the kid by the ear, yell at him and drag him home.” My “incident” ended with a pretty teary weekend and a meeting with the guidance counselor first thing Monday morning. I still can’t believe I had the chutzpah to think that I would get away with that stunt, but there was a silver lining: My punishment stopped any future cheating behavior cold in its tracks.