Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cheating Part 3 - A Bird's Eye View of Why

Having now spent some time describing two very different instances of cheating, which describe HOW cheating occurs, I want to take some time to mention some the WHYs of cheating. In my next post, I will discuss some solutions to these problems as well.

The most commonly cited one is the pressure to perform. Students (and in fact people of all ages) receive pressure to perform from parents, colleagues, students, the media, and friends. In the case of students, there are two particular types of students I feel are particularly likely to be targets of this sort of pressure. The first group are children of wealthy families, where the parents are in high-powered white collar careers and push their children to achieve similar professional success. The second group are Asians, where the academic pressure to succeed is incredible. Many of my Asian friends at college and high school commented how if they received a 95% on an exam, their parents would be displeased they had not received the other 5%.

A second cause that drives cheating is the innate competitiveness of certain individuals. People such as these feel that they must compare themselves to others via mediums such as grades, and must do all they can to "beat" them. This is not meant to say that there is anything wrong with competitiveness, as I myself fall into this category of type A people, but simply state that the characteristic of being competitive is a cause of cheating.

Related to competitiveness is what I called being "bottom line focused" i.e. the ends are the only thing that matters. I use this term as it is similar to terms used to describe the problem of cheating in business schools (see: article by Rutgers MBA professor). However, the term is more than just applicable to business schools. The "get the grade to get the job" (GGGJ) mentality is similarly present in colleges, where learning has taken a second place to grades. This is especially true in classes where professors grade relatively as opposed to on an absolute scale. For example, in my science classes where grading was absolute (i.e. everyone could get an A), I observed little to no cheating. In other courses (typically humanities), where grading was typically relative to some curve, cheating was rampant, as students knew that what mattered was not what they learned or demonstrated, but rather, how well the other guy or girl sitting next to them did, and that they had to beat that.

The final thing I wish to point out deals with the structure of our academic institutions, and the lack of severe penalties for cheating. In many top colleges and business schools, children of important people, or important people themselves cheat. As professors often face pressures from administration to be lenient or look the other way (reference: How far the Administration Will Go), they are unable to create enough of a threat of repercussion as to dissuade students from cheating. In other cases, the penalty for cheating is simply trivial, such as a temporary suspension with no record of it on your transcript. So, if I cheat, I go work somewhere for a couple months, come back and graduate a bit later, and suffer no long term consequences. Even with the Kids from Hanover High who cheated by breaking and entering, as mentioned in Cheating Part 2, many of the charges were eventually dropped.

While this was not an exhaustive list of causes for cheating, I've shown how there's a great carrot to encourage me to cheat, but no stick to stop me from doing it.

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