23 October 2014

Cheating, part two

Posted on a lamppost near our local McDonalds restaurant:
ad for "a team of experienced teachers" who are ready to write
theses, term papers and homework assignments to order.
"Rush orders! All subjects!"
"Cheating" is not always a bad thing. When students resort to "cheating," they are looking for ways to solve a given problem, which in turn gives them an invaluable problem-solving experience that can be useful in the future in any sphere of life. It depends on the degree of "cheating."

If a student copies brazenly without thinking, this should be stopped. "Light" deception may benefit the student. Moreover, it is impossible to keep all the details in one's head. To some extent, teachers also have their own shortcuts: they have immediate access to the textbooks, a dictionary, other books, and other teachers. If they're blanking out on something, they can always use one or another kind of prompt.
These words were written by one of the Russian respondents to my survey on homework, tests, and cheating. The survey question invited respondents to comment on this statement: "Some skills that are considered 'cheating' in an academic environment, such as sharing answers, are useful skills in research and business."

As I've researched the subject of academic cheating and looked at the responses to my survey, I've noticed several themes emerging: in order to reduce cheating, we should
  • avoid evaluations based on just a few high-stakes devices such as final exams; 
  • distinguish between "raising achievement" and "promoting learning"--and favor the latter (thanks, Alfie Kohn); 
  • teach with enthusiasm.
(from Soviet humor magazine Krokodil) "Judging by your son's
copybooks, you need to catch up on your math and physics,
but most importantly, you need to straighten up your conduct:
don't do your son's homework!"
Some comments in the literature I've read, and in the comments from teachers, are more systemic. These comments come in two broad and related groups.

First, does the educational system itself cheat? This includes and goes beyond the comment I quoted, about teachers having an advantage over students since they already have the expected answers and don't have to cope with the stress of remembering information and composing responses. What about the school that depends on good ratings for its funding? What are the forces that promote bare-minimum instruction, large classes, and mechanized procedures? In general, what interests are served by overemphasizing testing and homework transactions?

The second area relates to the Russian teacher's comment in the quote at the top: "When students resort to 'cheating,' they are looking for ways to solve a given problem, which in turn gives them an invaluable problem-solving experience that can be useful in the future in any sphere of life." I very much appreciated the honesty behind this expression of raw pragmatism, and it points to the social dimension of all our cheating. In his Chronicle of Higher Education series on cheating (starting here), James M. Lang refers to Dan Ariely's book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves. Our search for acceptable balance between self-respect (or in group terms, sufficient adherence to stated ideals) and pragmatic self-advancement runs through all our lives, not just our educational choices. What roles do schools have in helping us set our own boundaries and balance, even before we are presented with our first temptations to cheat?

Just today I was reading about the gas trade between Russia and Poland. Some are arguing that Poland is inflating its orders for natural gas from Russia, in order to cause shortfalls in Russia's fulfillment of those orders. If Russia can't keep up with those orders, presumably Poland gains an advantage in future contract negotiations. "You're not a reliable supplier; give us a lower rate."

That's not the school I went to....

Cheating, part one
My article on cheating for our Institute's journal for 2014.

"... Friends have denied that Jesus’ baptism by John set a precedent that all Christians should submit to water baptism." Here is a link to Howard Macy's very helpful article on Friends and baptism.

"When a pastor resigns abruptly..." Thanks to Becky Ankeny for the link.

Pope Francis calls for abolishing the death penalty and life sentences.

Interview: "Indian Peace Prize Laureate [Kailash Satyarthi] Looks to Join Forces with Malala."

In Israel, "The saddest--and most optimistic--peace organization turns 20."

Two wonderful solos....

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