Pervasive Culture of Cheating Must Change

By Erin Hoynes

At some point, everyone has cheated. Let’s be clear on the definition of this discretely ambiguous word. Cheat: to practice fraud or deceit. It is a very broad term, allowing people to throw it around in pretty much any circumstance. For example, “Bob cheated on Sally! What a @#$%.” But also, “I saw Sally cheating on her midterm.” Cheating in academics, especially when students reach high school and college, has become an immense issue. Yes, there can be many loopholes and excuses, but the bottom line is that you can’t cheat in life.

Things like “group work” or copying homework don’t seem like a big deal every once in a while — and true, they probably won’t get you rejected from your favorite college — but it’s the habits students develop that can be damaging. A survey of 24,000 high school students showed that 95 percent had cheated at some point in their whole school career, from letting somebody copy their homework to cheating on a test. A follow–up to this survey showed that 64 percent of students admit to cheating on a major test. In recent years, both schools and parents haven’t been directly informing students about what is allowed and what isn’t when it comes to cheating. A survey of Yale students showed that most of them hadn’t read the school policies on cheating and were therefore misinformed about when they were actually doing something wrong. It seems that in most cases, though, people know when they’re cheating. They may not have technically read the rule book on it, but most people do realize when they’re cheating, even if they don’t admit to it.

More studies have shown that the high–achieving students are just as likely to cheat as those who do worse in school. Why is this? It has something to do with the pressure put on students nowadays to be some sort of “perfect.” This is a major problem because it’s pressuring students to do something that’s unacceptable, even when they probably know that it’s wrong. Even though there are burdensome expectations placed on students, this doesn’t make cheating right. Not only are they being dishonest to those around them, but they’re also cheating themselves, which creates negative habits later in life. Cheating can change people’s expectations of how hard they actually have to work. As an adult, you can’t just cheat your way out of paying your bills.

This in no way means that everyone’s perfect, but at some point, there’s got to be a wake–up call, when young people realize that their habits of cheating will most likely not help them later in life. And as we can see, from incidents like the Bernie Madoff scandal in 2009, when Madoff turned his wealth management into a way to take other people’s money for himself, life just doesn’t work like that.

For many people, the purpose of cheating is to get good grades, go to a good college, get a good job, etc. Still, cheating your way through school doesn’t prepare you for the real world. If the purpose of cheating is to be successful in life, then there’s no point if you get there without doing your own work, and are hence unprepared for what you have to face in the real world.

Some evidence shows that cheating has actually become easier over the last few decades. A recent study by Jeffrey A. Roberts and David M. Wasieleski at Duquesne University shows that the use of the Internet has made cheating much more accessible and easily executed. With texting and Facebook, it’s easier for students to communicate about assignments, and pass information to one another. In addition, it showed that students were more likely to copy someone else’s homework when the homework assigned was to be done on the Internet. These new technologies are the key difference between being a student now and being a student just fifteen or twenty years ago. Being able to carry an iPhone into a test makes it easier to cheat, and harder for teachers to notice.

How do we stop this increasing number of students who are cheating? It all comes down to why people cheat. People cheat to make things easier for themselves, but also because some people believe that to be satisfied with themselves they have to achieve perfect test scores. This can have serious repercussions. It’s important to get the message out to students that cheating is just a short–term solution, and that it’s just not going to keep working out. Some believe that the only way to get good grades is to cheat. As a student interviewed on CNN said, “We students know that the fact is, we are almost completely judged on our grades. They are so important that we will sacrifice our own integrity to make a good impression.”