Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Being the Man

So here is another reason I do not like midterms:

Students who cheat.

Fuck knows I understand that impulse.

Not that I ever did cheat -- oh, not me, not with my intellectual vanity. I was far too good to cheat, me. My giant brains always made me the smartest brat in the classroom and I knew everything and I never needed to cheat, hah, look at this, exams without a net, me, half the time I never even studied, why would I need to cheat, and I wouldn't have anyway, I would have taken an F before I cheated, cheating was for L-OSERS!

On the other hand, as I have noted, lifting small items from drugstores and bookstores? I had no problem with that when I was a kid. So obviously we are not talking moral issues here. It was pride, not ethics, that kept me in check, when I was seventeen and nineteen years old.

And I thieved novels from the chain bookstores because, well, it was easier than working for them, wasn't it? So I understand why my students are thieving their answers off of Wikipedia and Answers.com and Essaysforfree. Beats working for the knowledge, ain't it? So far as they can see, anyway.

I'm also uncertain of what my response should be. On the one hand, I'm the man. I'm the authority here. Obviously I should smack them hard, make them learn that theft of other's work is not the path to wisdom, yap yap yap, and we do not tolerate this in the academy, you know the drill.

On the other hand: I was never caught. I got over it. I grew out of my wicked ways. (I submit to you further that, in my experience, most people do.) If I had been caught -- at nineteen -- I am fairly certain my life would not have been improved by the punishment that would have been inflicted on me. I am almost certain, in fact, that my life would have been made far worse by the punishment the legal system would have inflicted upon me. I would not, I am saying, be where I am today. So isn't it better that I wasn't ever caught? That punishment was never inflicted upon me?

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Smacking students.

I'm not the legal system, heaven knows. I don't send them to prison. But the actions I take sometimes have serious consequences. Students do lose scholarships because I fail them for cheating in my class. They lose health insurance. Their parents kick them out. I can say, as I have said in the past, well, this is not my fault. This is the student's fault. She cheated. He cheated. He should have thought of that before he took his essay off of EssaysAreUs. I said I would do it if they took their answers from Wikipedia -- did she think I was joking? But the fact remains -- am I making the world better or worse by harming the students in this way?

I can also argue that the jury is still out on whether they are harmed or made better by being failed in my class. But Plato said no one is made better by being punished, and I am slowly starting to think he might be right. (Oh, when has Plato ever been wrong?)

So my question is, what should I do about students who cheat on exams? Continue to slam them hard -- fail them for the semester -- or choose a different path?

Maybe a more useful one?


Diane said...

I vote solidly for "let them fail" (even the term "fail them" bothers me--you are not doing anything at all to them). Cheating is now considered perfectly normal, and part of the reason is that there are so few consequences for it. An alarming percentage of students cheat and do not even consider it wrong. They see their parents cheat. They see people in the government cheat.

When students cheat, they are robbing themselves, robbing the school, and they are robbing other students. I am not at all convinced that most of them go on to see the error of their ways. I think most of them go on to cheat on their spouses, bilk their workplaces, litter the streets, practice corruption, and in general--show no respect for the community.

zelda1 said...

I say fail them. When they slide through by cheating, well, what happens to those who go on to graduate school? Or those who graduate and get a job and are asked to write something and are unable. Then, you have professors at the grad school saying, this student got here how? Or you have employees saying the same thing, but worse. I mean, it makes the academic integrity of the university look bad when students or for that matter professors cheat. It's wrong. I say fail them.

delagar said...

I'm not saying do nothing. I'm saying do something other than smack them with a big fat F and kick them out of the classroom. I'm saying some other, maybe more helpful solution.

I might still fail them, mind you. It's what I have been doing. But it doesn't seem to be making anything better.

Anonymous said...

What if you tell the cheaters privately you are on to them, and give them a week to turn in something original for only a dropped grade level? And it better be good, with additional requirements or 2 pages longer. They find out that you aren't easily fooled, they get their well-deserved hand smacking, and they have a shot at redemption. If they don't go for the redemption, then they get the F and all those dire consequences.

Even the students who never cheat will lose all respect for you if you just let it go. Word will get around, and those who turn in honest work will start feeling foolish for it. That would REALLY be bad.

Diane said...

Well, you could steal some of their personal items, and when they complain, ask them why it's okay for them to steal, but not for you to. It might be effective, but you would doubtless get into trouble with coddling parents. Too bad; I like this idea.

Short of that, I really don't know, other than to initiate a discussion about how they would feel if you stole their ipods or jewelry, or how they have felt when they have had things stolen from them.

flametree said...

I had the same dilema when I was lecturing. For me, it boiled down to my responsibility in my role. That was, to ensure that students were graded acording to the requirements of the course. If a student did not meet the requirements, they failed. If I knew that a student had cheated (and some were blatant at it), they failed because they could not prove to me that they could produce their own work to be graded against the requirements.

It may seem clinical, but I figured educational standards are slipping enough as it is without me adding to the decline.