Back in the day, students trying to cheat on a test found some creative places to record the answers to test questions so they could refer to them during the test. I recall some kids writing on the sides of their fingers so they could simply spread their hands to see the hints they’d written. Writing on wrists where it could be hidden by a watch band and on arms covered by longs sleeves were other techniques. As I moved into high school, some of the early editions of “scientific” calculators from Texas Instruments began to arrive with enough memory capacity to store some text in there. Still, even though it was comparably low-tech there wasn’t a huge amount of cheating going on. There were occasions, sure, but it wasn’t considered by most to be justified.
Time, they say, marches on and the latest in cheating tech turns out to be the ubiquitous iPod. A teacher in a West Covina, CA high school confiscated a student’s iPod during a class and discovered the answers to a test, crib notes, and a glossary hidden in the downloaded music. Since then, other instances have been recorded leading schools to start banning the devices from the classrooms. Such bans lead to observations like this:
Kelsey Nelson, a 17-year-old senior at the school, said she used to listen to music after completing her tests — something she can no longer do since the ban. Still, she said, the ban has not stopped some students from using the devices.
“You can just thread the earbud up your sleeve and then hold it to your ear like you’re resting your head on your hand,” Nelson said. “I think you should still be able to use iPods. People who are going to cheat are still going to cheat, with or without them.”
While I am not a proponent of the idea that because people will act illegally anyway you shouldn’t have laws, there’s something to Ms. Nelson’s argument. The issue isn’t that the kids are using iPods to cheat, it’s that they’re cheating and they don’t appear to see anything wrong with it. I’m no saint but I can honestly say that I did not once use any of the methods of cheating available to me while I was in school. It wasn’t that I couldn’t and it wasn’t that I didn’t need help on some tests. It was that I, personally, wouldn’t cheat. Call it a matter of honor (it is, after all) or call it a matter of pride but I just would not do it. To do so was to admit that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to score well on the test on my own.
This is where we’ve failed our kids, not in any of the abstract, whining ways you hear so often these days. We’ve taught them that cheating is what gets you to the top (can you say Enron, WorldComm, Kmart?), that the rewards of doing so outweigh the consequences, and that you’re not really responsible for bad things that happen to you, anyway. Just as the media – new and old – have made all news local news for we adults, the kids are listening, too. They see how we adults act in the world outside high school and they don’t see us playing by the same rules we tell them are important.
They have a responsibility for this situation, too. And they should be made to shoulder it. Cheating should have real consequences – such as an immediate zero score for the test in question – and the assurance that such actions will most certainly be made public. If they and their parents are so worried about their self-esteem, then they need to be sure they’re acting in a fashion that promotes self-esteem, not touting it in public and cheating on the sly. That will make them better students today and better fellow citizens tomorrow. We need them.