Ethics Corrupters on The Web: Symptoms of a Cheating Culture

I encountered this charming example of high school cheating advice quite by accident. There is a stunning amount of this kind of thing on the web, and perhaps what is most impressive about it is the matter-of-fact way it is received. This example was posted on a Facebook page, and the few posters who registered objections to it as cheating were ridiculed. mocked and insulted by the rest as prudes, fools, judgmental ass-holes, “holier-than thou” bitches, and worse. One commenter couldn’t understand why this would  even be called cheating. “Nobody’s copying any  exam answers!”, he asked, puzzled.

The trick here reminds me of a response I got from a lawyer in an ethics seminar, as I was discussing a hypothetical in which an attorney had promised to review a non-profit client’s by-laws that had to be included in a crucial grant submission. The hypothetical lawyer had botched his schedule, and now he had a serious personal conflict that would have devastating consequences to his marriage if he fulfilled his professional duties to his non-profit, pro bono client. “I’d send in the proposal with the section on the by-laws in the table of contents but missing in the materials. When the foundation called me to say the application was incomplete, I’d swear it had been inadvertently left out, and then rush it over to them. That would buy me enough time to finish the by-laws.” Everybody laughed as if that attorney was kidding. I wonder.

Our families, schools and culture are supposed to be teaching integrity, honor, honesty and responsibility. From the evidence around us,  I don’t think they are doing a very good job. In fact, I wonder if they are doing it at all.

8 thoughts on “Ethics Corrupters on The Web: Symptoms of a Cheating Culture

    • On a site that randomly picks up entries on the web. From the comments, I could tell that this particular edition was from a Facebook page. That’s all I know, unfortunately… the comments had been imported too.

  1. World coming to an end. No wonder China owns us, the best doctors are from India, and few US organizations emphasize honor and integrity. Call me any name you want, but I can honestly say I never once cheated in school — from kindergarten through college. It WAS a matter of honor and integrity. Our nation — not just politicians, businessmen but now our “leaders of tomorrow” think cheating is just a normal MO.

    We’re in our death throes as a nation. Face it.

  2. Academic non-integrity almost seems to be the rule rather than the exception. The same in legal circles. Are we surprised that the kids pick up on it so soon? And on the internet? The internet is their new playground.

  3. Jack, this is (or at least had an iteration as) a Facebook meme from a year or a year and a half ago.

    Of course, what gets left out here is the fact that those of us on the receiving end of such schemes aren’t necessarily idiots, however much pop culture and right-wing talk radio might characterize us otherwise.

    It would be unfair to penalize a student for something like this that can’t be proven to be cheating: and I’ve had situations in which a student would e-mail me a paper in the morning, I’d open it and it would be gibberish, I’d e-mail back, and the student would simply bring me the file on a flashdrive and/or a hard copy before the paper was officially due in the afternoon.

    But good teachers at all levels know which students are more and less likely to be trustworthy. No, I won’t penalize this paper, but I can insist on a hard copy by class time thereafter. Or call the student into my office immediately after that class to have him/her walk me through the salient points made in the essay, to ask what secondary sources proved to be the most useful, etc. Based on that, I can either have my faith in the student restored or my skepticism piqued.

    I once received a production review from a student I was certain hadn’t actually seen the play in question (and there was an explicit statement on the syllabus about the academic integrity implications of such a practice). There will several other papers that were just terrible, to the point that I didn’t know whether this was an attempt at cheating or just an awful essay. I walked to the front of the room and said this:

    “I have received at least one review from someone I am certain did not see the play. You have one hour after the end of class to come to me and admit that you did that. If you do, you will get a zero on the paper and will not get any benefit of the doubt on your final grade–a 79.9 is still a C. If you make me prove it, and I am very confident in my ability to do so, the result will be that you fail the course and official documentation of why you failed the course will be included in your student file. I will also do everything in my power to have you thrown out of this university. If this is your second offense, or if there ever is a second offense, I’ll be successful.”

    Three students, including the only one I was sure of, confessed.

    I know that your point is about the ethical downside of the internet, and I agree. But anyone stupid enough to try to get one’s academic strategies from Facebook memes is going to screw up. Pretty soon, in all probability. And I’ll be waiting. I’ve always said that I can’t stop every case of plagiarism or cheating. But I can make it hard enough to get away with that it’s easier to just do the damned work.

  4. To be fair, this is a rather mild example of what goes on. Other examples of this sort of cheating are the “I overslept and made it to the exam 10 minutes after my buddy finished it and told me the answers” and “my computer broke and wouldn’t let me upload the assignment”.

    Students widely approve of cheating. The ridicule you saw for anyone who complained is expected, the same as anyone who expresses disapproval of marijuana use.(sarcasm tag) You see, students today are so much smarter and cooler than we are. They have figured out that they don’t need any of this ‘learning’ that we pretend is important. This is all just a game we force them to go through so we can pretend we are better than them. By cheating like this, they can show how cool they are and how stupid we are. (end sarcasm)

    The sad thing is, this sort of thing succeeds almost all of the time in high school. Then, the students can get in some real trouble when they try this in college. The penalty for this at U. Va. was expulsion last time I checked.

    • I don’t know if any of this behavior is new, just more known. When I was in school 10 and 15 years ago, there weren’t the same mass dispersal outlets, but some people still openly talked about cheating. Then, it was 2 or 10 or 50 people that heard. Now, it’s hundreds or thousands. We see it more, so we think think students are different nowadays. They aren’t.

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