Academic dishonesty in the ivory towers? In other news: The sky is still blue
Published: Sunday, September 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 00:09
According to recent reports in The Harvard Crimson, over 100 students were found to be cheating on a take-home exam.
The more surprising part of the story is that, apparently, there were students who weren’t cheating on their take-home exam. Really, we’ve known since high school that if a teacher gave a take-home quiz or test assignment, they were saying, in an underhanded way, “I may not have taught this material effectively, but I still want you guys to do well on this test because I understand it’s your grades that matter more than your educations. So here ya go! I won’t possibly be able to catch you cheating on this, as long as you aren’t terribly obvious about it.” Apparently, either these Harvard students were obvious (not likely), or this was a professor who had some sort of desire to create this scandal.
These students are not deserving of whatever academic penalties they face. They just had a professor who wanted to catch someone, and then surprised his/herself with how widespread this phenomenon is. They aren’t deserving of the punishment, because the only people who read about this and have legitimate cause to wag their finger at these students are either above the age of 35 or are one of the students who are absurdly dedicated to making sure their grade is perfect in every class. Either way, they’re part of the problem as well.
The culture around academia, in the modern era, encourages cheating. We’re not in college to get an education. Yeah, that’s accurate. I’ll repeat it. We’re not in college to get an education. We’re here because we feel that we don’t have a chance at success without a degree. Not only that, but huge numbers of our generation feel they don’t have a chance at any sort of success unless they are in the top percentile of their graduating class. Those students are here because they’re afraid that they won’t ever achieve happiness unless they keep pace with the rest of our peers. Keeping pace is becoming more and more difficult, because with each passing year, the statistics of high school graduates are getting better and better. Anxiety levels are getting higher and higher as well. You can’t quantify that statement, but you can see it. Walk into a freshman-level course on the day that their first tests are handed back. Watch the feet tap, the pencils drum, everyone leaning forward, all just to find out whether happiness, in the form of an acceptable test grade, will be theirs. It’s nauseating, both to watch and to experience firsthand.
The article on the Harvard issue in Time Magazine asks, “Is Academic Dishonesty on the Rise?” The answer is yes, but if your focus continues to be on that symptom rather than the issue, both the symptom and the problem will persist. The atmosphere needs to change in its entirety. Grades need to be taken out of the equation. At Evergreen State College in Washington, grades aren’t given. Instead, students receive 10-15 page long evaluations of their work through a semester. A students prefer this system because it allows them to hear both pros and cons of their mastery of the subject, while students on the other end of the scale don’t mind it because all they need is to get a pass instead of a fail.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Persig describes his experience trying the no-grade system in a freshman composition course. He kept track of each student’s performance, but didn’t ever grade anything. At the end of the semester he asked each student to evaluate the no-grading system used in the course. “None of them knew at the time of writing what their grade would be. Fifty-four percent opposed it, thirty-seven percent favored it, and nine percent were neutral. On the basis of one man, one vote, the system was very unpopular. But when [the professor] broke down the returns according to the grades in his book...another story was told. A students were 2 to 1 in favor of the system. The B and C students were evenly divided. The D and F students were unanimously against the system.”
Without grades, there is no motivation to cheat. The only motivation is actually wanting to learn the material at hand, which is what we should be here for anyway. I’m thankful that academic dishonesty is, and will continue to be, on the rise, because eventually those in charge of the ivory towers will have to come to the conclusion that the system isn’t working. In the meantime, don’t wag your fingers at these Harvard students who got caught; roll your eyes at the fact that someone considered this issue to be worthy of national attention.