Cheats Pay a Heavy Price in the Long Term

cheating boxes

Many of us will have seen these recent images from a college exam room, as students were made to wear cardboard boxes on their heads to prevent cheating and copying (did anyone consider the scope for writing notes on the inside of one’s box?)

Whilst many were shocked at such inhumane and demeaning treatment of students, there were also no shortage of weary shrugs as people reflected that it’s really little surprise if this is what the system has been reduced to.

For my fourth article written for Gulf News 6 years ago, I turned to the issue of cheating and an aspect that doesn’t get enough attention – the long term effect and impact on the cheat themselves. In the article i highlighted three examples that had happened in some of the finest seats of learning in the world. Six years later we have new examples, including the collusion between well-heeled parents and agents to secure seats in top Ivy League universities in the US which have already seen one TV actress sent to prison with more to follow.

gulf-news-article 4-15092013

However, I’m still an optimist on the nature of humans. I do believe that as educators we need to be prepared to have the hard conversations with young people – to help them understand that it’s not consistent to believe in a right to high and lofty goals to be achieved by short cuts and acts of low integrity. High goals are great, if we’re prepared to put in the hard work, accept the tough journey for its own intrinsic value as well as the outcome. Young people need to be reminded that the people they put on pedestals have often been hurt, even scarred in the processes that took them to the top.

For proof that the journey is as important as the destination we need only look at all the lottery winners who declare bankruptcy later, failing to make the critical life changes of their new gains because they didn’t travel the road to their wealth. Their acts weren’t dishonest, but they lacked the learning of the journey that would enable them to enjoy the fruits of their labours.

Please Vote For Me – Or Else

This documentary, made 12 years ago, but still packed with relevance today is fascinating on so many levels, but also quite scary in terms of the underlying messages. The starting premise is a simple one – a class of 8 year olds who would in the past have had a class monitor imposed upon them by their teacher are to engage in an exercise in democracy to elect their own class monitor.

If you wish to watch the whole film (and it is well worth watching) I recommend you do so before reading any further – major spoiler alerts to follow!

Firstly, this has to be seen in the context of a country where perceptions of democracy and power, and how power is gained, used and retained, are very different to those portrayed in a western context (and therefore part of my upbringing and education). This is an environment where leadership equals power and the question becomes whether that power to control and direct is wielded benevolently or with with bad intent.

These are just children, but influenced and often guided by the adults in their lives their actions mimic the very worst, exploitative, crooked and dishonest machinations of politicians in the adult world. Whether it’s buying the votes, focusing on demeaning and belittling your opponent or plain dishonesty they will take any actions necessary to gain power.

One of the things that stands out for me is the passivity of the teacher. She seems frequently to be fully aware of how brutish, cruel, dishonest and wrong some of the actions are, but seems more than happy to stand passively by and observe. It’s almost as though she wants that these children will finish the process concluding that this democracy thing is hurtful, brutish and bad and be turned against it.

Early in the film the children are heard singing a lyric – “we are the successors of communism,” and we have to remember that this was seen as a time of new beginning, freedoms and liberty for the Chinese people, but many were surely unsure how long it would last, or what they were to do with these new-found freedoms. The power of being class monitor is equated clearly and simply with the right to be a legitimized bully, lauding it over others and making them act in accordance with your wishes. physical force to control others in the classroom or the home is legitimised.

At times it’s not easy to see the emotional pains that these children inflict on each other.  The reality is they are very young and some of this is hard to deal with. The presence of the cameras seems to do little to abate what seems to amount to bullying by anyone’s standards. There are clear signs of the pressures to perform and the levels of stress experienced by these children at such a young age. The weight of parental expectations in all their actions lays heavily upon their tiny shoulders.

There are some things that don’t change from one culture to another. the girl is encouraged to be pretty, demure and her emotional vulnerability is accepted. The boys are expected to take much more physical, aggressive and forceful steps and not to show their emotions (though at this age they’re not so good at hiding) – “Dry your tears, you’re big boys.”.

And the end result? Status quo and a level of comfort with the known. The boy Luo Lei who has been class monitor for the last two years is re-elected. These children may be young, but already they come across as bowed down by the responsibilities that self-determination place upon them. This boy may be a bully, a tyrant who rules roughly and with force, but the idea of choice and responsibility sits uncomfortably. with most of them. His winning margin is considerable and even as the votes are still being counted, his classmates begin to curry favour with him in the hope that he will remember they were ‘always on his side.’

The pain and trauma is clear – enough to put any self-respecting child off ideas of independence, self-determination and responsibility. Much easier to let others control life and take the big decisions.

Gulf News – Article 4

This week’s article was published in the newspaper this morning. For this article i chose to tackle the sensitive issue of cheating, dishonesty and integrity, concluding that a commitment to be ‘honest later’ doesn’t work and that low integrity carries too high a price:

gulf news article 15092013

Please share your thoughts. I’d love to have feedback and ideas from the regular blog readers. Also, whilst Article 5 is virtually finished, I’m open to any ideas for what should be the themes of articles 6 and 7.

Academic Honesty Under Threat

I found this article both worrying and interesting as it deals with an apparent decline in academic integrity with greater and greater numbers of students resorting to cheating. What’s more, it’s clear that this isn’t particularly cheating by students at the bottom of the performance ladder, but often those near the top.

Mindshift Article on Academic Dishonesty

It would be all too easy to explain away what’s happening on the basis of general societal slide in ethical behaviour, but I think instead it is more important to consider seriously the extent to which the education system itself may be leading to systemically driven failure.

We have education systems that claim to acknowledge that if you want to have motivated students you should focus on effort, not on outcomes – yet maintains the big and ultimate rewards to be dished out on the basis of outcomes. We have a system in which, in most countries of the world, too many children are being encouraged to believe that their success in the future will be determined by the right ‘labels’ on their CV. As a result, admission in to all but a handful of colleges is deemed almost to be a badge of failure.

We need a system that doesn’t put every product of Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, IIMs and IITs on pedestals as demi-gods, whilst looking disdainfully down on those who have come out of so-called lesser colleges. The fact is that in a healthy education system I (ME) would be responsible for my achievements – not the institute in which i studied. So, I can be acknowledged to be a weak product out of Harvard because I didn’t put in the effort and make the best of my time there, or a great output of xyz university who squeezed out every ounce of opportunity to learn (and continues to do so long after leaving college).

Employing people, even in a country like India, is getting increasingly expensive. Employers have to be sophisticated and smart enough to gear their systems to find people with the right attributes and not take easy, short cuts that involve blindly taking those who are the products of a handful of colleges. Then, students would not place all their focus on such narrow definitions of success, but would be aware that there are infinite ways to succeed. Then, they might be more willing to treat examinations as a means to test themselves and show themselves in a true light, rather than being tempted to resort to unethical means.

Trust is Still Valid in This World

This is a nice little story. I first heard about it verbally and then someone forwarded this piece on the subject.

North Point Integrity Article

After reading it I was reminded that, especially when we’re dealing with children, if we really want to get trustworthy behaviour, somewhere we have to be willing to give trust. Ultimately, no amount of ‘policing’ to prevent breaches of trust brings trustworthy behaviour.

However, regrettably, we live in a world where this is often forgotten. So, for example, if people are jumping red traffic lights people consider that the only way to prevent it is to have a policeman physically stationed by the lights and/ or video cameras to catch the wrong doers.

And then, all the way down the line, we see the overall levels of trust in the society dwindling. Somewhere, we have to be willing to go the longer, harder route, working with children to build an understanding that the price/ cost of lack of trust is too high a price to pay. However, I acknowledge – there’s a very long road ahead.

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