Cheating Is Cheating, But Why Does It Happen?

image via http://www.salisburyschool.org/ 

There was an interesting back and forth this week in the Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet  surrounding the topic of cheating. The first take on the topic was by Penelope Trunk who kicked things off with an article titled Why Schools Should Relax About Cheating.  Strunk, a successful entrepreneur with two successful startups under her belt, noted the following:

In school, looking at someone else’s paper to get the right answer is forbidden.  But in the work world, the people who rise the fastest are the ones who know the right person to ask to get the answer.

Personally, I find it hard to argue with this logic.  But when I tweeted out the article, I got some pushback from a few folks on Twitter.

//storify.com/patrickmlarkin3/tweets-about-cheating-article.js[View the story “Tweets About Cheating Article” on Storify] As usual, the folks on Twitter got me thinking a bit more deeply on the topic of cheating. The follow-up article that appeared the next day by Elaine Power, a Biology teacher in Maryland also made me reflect on my initial reaction. Power titled her counter to Trunk’s point of view Cheating Isn’t Networking, It’s Cheating.

While putting out the disclaimer here that I do not condone cheating, I think it is important to have a clear definition of cheating while also asking ourselves why cheating occurs.  In regards to the defining cheating, we need to be sure that we are all on the same page. For instance it was not too long ago that some students at Ryerson College were disciplines for starting a Facebook Page to help prepare for their final exam.

Finally while I will not support anyone who copies from someone else’s paper, I do think we need to reflect upon assessments and the fact that if there are too many of them that require rote memorization of inane facts that we are the ones cheating. We are cheating our students of valuable time that could be used for something more significant that would better prepare them to be the true collaborators who Power describes as “the gem of the workplace.”

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Testing, Testing, 1,2,3…

Think outside the bubble
 (Photo credit: MrSchuReads)

As I read through Marion Brady’s great article in The Answer Sheet titled A REAL Paradigm Shift, I can’t help thinking about how difficult it is to create an educational experience for our students that is vastly different than the one we experienced ourselves.  When we talk about redesigning our curriculum, we have to first consider origin of the word curriculum. 

Curriculum came from the Latin word ‘Currere’ which means race course/ to run/ run way, referring to the course of deeds and experiences through which children grow to become mature adults (via Wikipedia).

This is where we hit our biggest obstacle in changing the way we do school in our country.  The folks leading the way, the educators, have a tremendous hurdle to overcome in the fact that for most of us the “deeds and experiences” we have had do not mirror the experiences that we need to lead our current crop of students through.  As I make a disclaimer that I am one of those educators trying to unlearn my own formal education, I am not saying that this is an impossible task.

The rub here is that while I believe in teachers and know that they would be up to the challenge of creating a new reality in our schools, we cannot begin to tackle this work in places where our present and future judges educators, students, schools, and communities on their latest round of standardized test scores.   For educators, this is a never-ending rat race that typically evolves into an environment of “test prep” that is equally unfulfilling for them and their students.  As our state begins a redesigned teacher evaluation process that links teachers to the test scores of their students, I can’t help thinking we are headed towards an infinite loop…    

As Brady points out, as long as education reform efforts in our country continue to define accountability so narrowly, we are perpetuating a myth that there is something significant is happening or will happen.

“Standardized tests are to accountability what a finger in the wind is to a weather station. What they measure — information stored in memory — is useful, but for kids facing an unknown future, that’s not nearly enough. They need to know how to create new knowledge. That knowledge will be original, and standardized tests can’t evaluate original, non-standard thought.”

In this model, we may be able to ensure that certain things are being taught, but even this will not guarantee that significant learning is taking place.

Anyone disagree?

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