Friday, July 20, 2012

On Cheating at Stuyvesant High School

I should have been shocked by that cheating scandal that involved 70 students at Stuyvesant High School, New York City's most prestigious public school. But it didn't surprise me at all. Rather, it was just one more example of what unfortunately has become all too endemic in our schools.

Student cheating in this most recent incident was explained away as due to pressure. The pressure was blamed on competitive parents who expect their children to get into the best schools. And then, there was that prevalent attitude among students that "everybody does it." The students who participated in behavior that was clearly ethically wrong experienced no real consequences, other than retaking the test.

What does this say about our schools' responsibility to instill values of honesty and integrity?

Not much.

It seems to me that ethical standards have eroded over the years. I remember when cheating used to be considered an abominable breach of trust, a social stigma, a reason for expulsion. Besides, if students cheat in school, then what does this say about their integrity in future endeavors? Do these things no longer matter, because we live in a you-can-do-anything-unless-you-get-caught

 Worse still, many of these parents of "high-achievers" do not model honorable and ethical behavior in their own lives. So what can one expect from their kids?

As though it were trying to explain this phenomenon away, an article I came across said that everyone will cheat, given the opportunity.


Well, I object to myself being included in that category. And no, I do not believe that we all are selfish and self-serving and will do anything if our behavior is unchecked. I personally tend to side with Sophocles who once said, "I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating."

Besides, school should be about so much more than test scores. There is the innate satisfaction of learning for the sake of learning that students who are only concerned about grades miss out on. There is the experience of  broadening one's horizons and developing an intellectual curiosity that an education should be all about. There is also that standard of individual responsibility and code of honor that students should hold themselves up to and follow thoughout their lives.

It is indeed sad that our culture is no longer shocked by cheating. I don't even know if  most people today would even call this latest episode a "scandal." I doubt that it will even have a lasting effect on the reputation of the school. Unfortunately, cheating these days is so prevalent that it no longer seems unusual.

Indeed, what is most telling about our culture is that people are no longer surprised or shocked by dishonesty, but by true honesty.

1 comment:

  1. True honesty is inconvenient and unnecessary in a society where "get rich or die trying" & "make it, no matter how!" are the norms. This could be argued endlessly from all possible angles. For instance, testing vs learning: standardized tests plus obsolite curriculums replace the joy of learning with stress students, teachers and schools must face each year due to scores and ratings. To teach about honesty and the satisfactions of expanding one's knowledge bank more than the dollar one, is catch 22 bills have to be paid and poverty runs rampant. Moreover there are those who argue that tests cover useless material which is forgotten soon after the test. 22 again.