Friday, November 19, 2010

My son the moral philosopher

In the aftermath of the Florida cheating scandal, my son Ben offers his thoughts in response to a suggestion that the way to deter cheating is to make it more difficult and thus impractical:

[W]ithout the threat of punishment or the charge that cheating is unethical, isn’t it far more practical for a student to give cheating a try, perhaps in combination with a bit of studying? After all, if students are caught — and many students are never caught — they would have the comfort of knowing that they’ll simply be required, like the students at UCF, to retake their test. And why not cheat on this second test as well?

If cheating is to be avoided only because it is impractical, it also seems we have no reason to say that an extremely adept cheater is doing anything wrong, since it is most practical for them to cheat. And when students graduate out the controlled classroom environment, there will be nothing to keep them from cheating their way through life when they know they will not be caught. . . .

[D]o students who only make an effort to learn when learning is less difficult than cheating really deserve to be at a university? If this is the best we can expect of students, what is that final diploma really worth?
Read more:

Students who cheat don’t deserve to be here (Daily Illini)

[You can see, I hope, that the post title is no joke.]

comments: 4

normann said...

Right on, Ben!

For the life of me I just don't understand the point of cheating in school, unless one believes that university is merely an elaborate and expensive credentialing exercise. I do not see any possible benefit to my various careers of cheating. It would not have made be a better scholar or teacher, a better bibliographer or researcher and it certainly would not have made me a better translator. For example, in my current position, there is no possible way that I can cheat. My work is my own and must stand and fall on its own merits. Paul Fussell wrote in Class that graduates of third- and fourth-rate ex-normal schools illegitimately rebranded universities would be "taxed with ignorance" upon entering a job for which a real college or university education was a prerequisite. But what would Fussell make of students seemingly smart enough to get into a real university who purposely deny themselves the first-class education they were accepted for by cutting corners?

Would the same people be satisfied by lifting barbells with weights labeled 45 lb, but that were in fact only 10 lb, so that what looked like an impressive bench press or squat, was something it was not. Do they think that would fool anyone?

Eustace Bright said...

First, well put, Ben.

I had a great high school teacher who left the room during examinations to help students internalize their values regarding cheating. No threat of being caught -- so cheat or not based on who are you and what you think is fair and what you think the class is for.

There was almost zero cheating.

Lastly, re: "unless one believes university is merely an elaborate and expensive credentialing exercise"

Unfortunately, I think many students do just feel that getting through the program with "enough" knowledge is the main point -- college isn't about maximizing one's opportunity to learn; it's just a rite of passage to a job, and the responsibility of learning is the teachers' (i.e., needs to be fun, relevant, interesting, appropriate, made easily digestable, not too demanding/hard/time-consuming, etc....)

Eustace Bright said...

I would like to add a practical note to my previous comment:

The experiment in intrinsic motivation that worked so well in my high school class mentioned in my last comment probably worked in large part because of the teacher's unusually great skill at inspiring students and helping them see what their choices really mean -- and it didn't hurt that he gave generally fair tests, that the class material was pretty interesting, that he was great at helping most or all students engage in the class meaningfully during discussions, etc.

I don't think I would prescribe his method universally, though. He was a master teacher, and that helped students make the right choice when the time came. In other words, I would love to see efforts at increasing students' intrinsic motivation to be honest, but relying on inspirational teachers to instill intrinsic motivation to be honest and take ownership of one's own education may be a disaster in most classes. I agree with Ben and Vandehey that "measures like hat-bans during tests must be one aspect of curbing cheating", especially since I think that cheating harms non-cheaters, even if only marginally.

Michael Leddy said...

Eustace, I think you’re right about inspiration: it should be for everyone in a community of teaching and learning to practice doing the right thing, regardless of individual personalities.

I’m beginning to think that the idea of college as an exercise in acquiring credentials is inseparable from the idea that learning is a matter of mastering information (rather than attaining knowledge).