2 questions about cheating, copying, and student ‘integrity’

ScoldingWe’re so quick to bemoan the lack of ethics in our students. They cheat. They copy. They take shortcuts on the work. We complain incessantly about their work ethic, their commitment to their classwork and homework, and their failure to find interest or meaning in the learning tasks we put before them.

Lost in these laments is any recognition that a vast amount of what we ask our students to do in school is indeed actually meaningless. From a life success standpoint. From a future relevance standpoint. From a ‘you can look this up in Google in 3 seconds so why I am spending days on this?’ standpoint. From a ‘why on earth would a [x]-year-old care about this at all?’ standpoint.


1. If we repeatedly put meaningless work in front of students – and, in turn, they repeatedly do whatever it takes to get that work out of the way as quickly as possible so they can get back to something more meaningful in their lives – whose ‘integrity’ is the real concern?

2. If our responses to the first question are along the lines of ‘we know better than they do what they need’ or ‘there are things students have to learn in this class (and that might mean we have to force students to do them),’ is that a sign of…  [select all that apply]

a) our keen judgment and ultimate wisdom as educators?

b) our arrogance?

c) our need for control?

d) our unwillingness to let children actually own their learning?

e) our complicity in the district, state, federal, and corporate curriculum / assessment machinery?

f) our own helplessness as educators?

g) something else?

Those in glass houses should not throw stones. – European proverb

Great marketing [or forced compliance] won’t be enough to boost sales of your junk product. – Seth Godin

Meaning is in the eye of the beholder.

Image credit: Scolding, Louis Ressel

4 Responses to “2 questions about cheating, copying, and student ‘integrity’”

  1. These are good (and hard) questions- My “g) something else” would be…
    *our inflexibility in changing from “the way we were taught” (it worked for us).
    *our lack of vision for what a different way of learning and teaching really looks like on more than a superficial level.

  2. What the research shows, and my experience confirms, is that authentic assessments that hold meaning (or utility) for students don’t lead to cheating. Students cheat when faced with pointless make-work. If you ask for a term paper on Macbeth, they’ll go on-line and find one. The irony is teachers are even more bored marking 35 grade 12 student papers on Macbeth as the students were writing them. So..why is that the assignment that has gone unchanged for 400 years? Because we can measure meters of written text to demonstrate that we are doing our jobs, where is inculcating an actual love of Shakespeare is harder to demonstrate in an era that wants to measure education efficiencies and productivity. If one were, on the contrary, to use Dr. John Poulsen’s “Shakespeare for Readers Theatre approach or assign Aaron Kites” “Shakespeare for Slackers”, onw can get a very different result. (To take just one example in one subject).

    There is no question that some learning requires boring practice (piano chords or etc) but most of our worksheets aren’t about practice and learning but about make-work exercises to give a pretense of learning. If your program is plagued by cheating, then its a structural problem that you have created.

  3. I’m glad you decided to pose your 6 judgements of those of us in the trenches as questions.

    It leaves open the slightest sliver of a possibility that we are professionals who don’t universally hate kids.

    It’s a tiny sliver, but at least it’s there.

    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your comment here. I would invite you to watch Will Richardson’s talk here: https://go.shr.lc/2UQCSbD

      I don’t think educators hate kids and don’t know anyone who does. As someone else who’s ‘in the trenches’ with teachers and administrators (just from a different perspective), I believe that we have to be willing to critically interrogate the systems and structures in which our students and educators are embedded. We have to be willing to name concerns so that we can work on them. And we have to be willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work on creating different learning experiences for our children: http://bit.ly/4shifts

      All my best.

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