Who Is Really To Blame When Students Cheat?

 Who Is Really To Blame When Students Cheat?The recent cheating scandal at Stuyvesant HS, NYC’s premier math/science high school, is not particularly special these days.  Kids are being caught all over the country trying to beat the system or mostly just trying to keep their heads above water.  Because of their brain development during adolescence, and the effects of the large amounts of dopamine and oxytocin on their brains, teenagers will always take risks and do dumb things.  What I find so disheartening is the adult response.

While the educators involved acknowledge that there are real systemic problems to cause the pressures felt by these students, their reaction is “still, there is no excuse.”  While I understand that, I find this response to be disingenuous and lacking the leadership adults should provide.   It just isn’t that simple.

Here’s what we know:

*We know that our kids are stressed, especially kids at an exam school like Stuyvesant HS where so many of the students have reputations to uphold, family honor to protect and lengthy commutes by public transportation.

*We know that in the pursuit of the all-important USNWR ranking, colleges prefer to admit students with the best grades in school.

*We know that in high schools that grade on a curve, not all good students will earn top grades and so many will miss out on admission to their top colleges.

*We know that parents are frantic about this situation and add even more pressure to their already-exhausted children who develop addictions to caffeine in order to keep up their grueling schedules.

*We know that many high schools care a lot about where their students are admitted to college and this adds another level of adult expectation to many kids already depleted of internal resources.

*We know that no one – not in high schools, not in colleges – teaches ethics and yet we expect that every student will be ethical.

And we know that none of this has anything to do with education.

Do we adults really care what students are learning?  Do we feel any obligation to raise kids with an ethical spine and a strong sense of personal responsibility?  If we do, we will address the whole system, starting from our own roles when students cheat like this.  Teachers hold a responsibility here.  So do principals and administrators.  A cheating scandal the size of Stuyvesant’s involves them all, albeit in different ways, and should be handled in a more adult way.   Everybody needs to get humble and honest now.

We can all agree that it is not OK to cheat.  But perhaps we can also agree that teachers should be aware of the pressures to cheat and should do everything in their power to lower that temptation by coordinating exam schedules and eliminating the need for technology in exams.  High school administrators should get real about the value they place on college placement and should set out to listen carefully to their students’ concerns about pressure and stress.  Every high school – public and private – should have regular conversations about ethical standards, making the punishment for violations appropriate to the situation and offering a route to salvation for every violator.

Mistakes, especially cheating, are important teaching opportunities and everyone involved must be able to save face and move on.

Less Stress, More Success

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