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Tag Archives: Harvard

Cheating Cheaters Who Cheat

Have you heard? It’s all over the news: people cheat! That’s right; human beings actually cheat. Next thing you know they’ll be lying as well. (Cheating and lying being close relations of the “I want what I want” family.) All (or most) flippancy aside, we probably can all agree that cheating is hardly news, or new. There’s a good chance that the guy who invented fire was really just the guy standing behind the guy who invented fire and felt the urge to push him into the flame, create a “do you smell something burning” diversion and declare; “My word! What is this I have made? Let us call it fire.” Maybe he didn’t get enough attention as a child, maybe his father dragged his mother around by the hair one too many times, or maybe his cave was in the wrong part of town. But more likely than not, he was just some guy who wanted to be the one who invented fire.

So why in the world do we (feign) surprise when hearing of business, government or humans involved in cheating? Why is it simply cataclysmic when students (from good schools!) cheat? The recent ‘outbreaks’ at Stuyvesant High School and Harvard have sounded alarm bells in the education and parenting community. How could this happen to academically gifted individuals? The assumption is that cheating is not for people who need only work hard to get what they want. Than who exactly is it for? Cheating by any other name is simply a short cut. The notion that people with resources (intellectual or financial) would not engage in short cuts is absurd.

Of course it would appear that these pumpkin eaters are not to blame. Oh no, apparently they can not resist how very easy cheating has become. Evidently (or so the argument goes) the internet causes cheating (and pornography, adultery, obesity, gambling and shopping addiction.) When Harvard students were given a take-home exam they could not resist the sweet siren song of the internet. We must assume then that their parents and grandparents were able to resist the charms of the extensive Harvard library system because, well because Boston is cold damn it. There’s getting an A and there’s staying warm for heaven’s sake. In class cheating has been made all the more tempting with smart-phones. No longer must students burden themselves with the arduous mechanics of passing notes! Just type your question on the phone that has no business being in the classroom. And what of wikipedia?! Certainly there is no way a person could be expected to see that the operative word in “copy and paste” is ‘copy!’

Blaming the internet is fun but it’s also cheating. It is avoiding doing the real work to find the answer. Could it be that there is an increase in cheating because there is an increase in testing? Could it be that once we made every kid an honor student or worthy of a “best snack provider” trophy, we robbed them of an interest in working hard for something they want? Could it be that growing up in a world of leaders who cheat and lie with impunity has an effect on children? Maybe it’s a little of everything or a bit of nothing. But what it isn’t, is a side effect of the internet.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Education

 

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Unnatural Acts – Review

I have been meaning to see The Classic Stage Company’s production of Unnatural Acts, (based on the true story of Harvard University’s persecution of homosexual students) since the play opened.  That I chose to see it on the eve of New York State issuing the first marriage licenses to gay couples, is somewhat poetic.

Unnatural Acts takes place at Harvard University in 1920.  It is based on actual records which were uncovered at the end of 2002 by a Harvard student.  The records, of a tribunal and subsequent persecution of 38 students, is compelling for its layers of inhumanity.  The university’s rather flaccid response and comment to the discovery of the records, only compound the impact of the story.

The play was conceived by its director, Tony Speciale and written by the members of the Plastic Theatre (who comprise most of the cast.)  This is a true ensemble piece as demonstrated by the absolute fluidity of story, staging and character.  The actors are so perfectly cast as their characters, it is difficult to imagine anyone else embodying the roles.  The thrust stage transforms into various Harvard locales, and once, through a genius use of lights above the fly, a train station.  The story is told in a riveting dramatic manner, never resorting to sentiment.  From the moment the stage lights come up, we know it is 1920 and can feel all that that implies.   We watch the young men perform their toilette while discussing their friend’s recent death (he was found dressed in a suit, in his childhood bedroom, gassed to death.)  Their varying reactions and relationship to one another tells us so very much about the pressure to conform.  The subtlety in the layers of social class in the ivy league setting are timeless and lend a very modern feel to this very period piece (the actors even have 1920’s haircuts.)

So much could be said about the story itself, about the implications of institutionalized bigotry and the absence of reparation.  However, space and attention span, sway me to discuss the production itself.  Unnatural Acts is the closest thing to a musical, without music, you will ever see.  Exquisitely choreographed, the actors are positively fluid.  The second scene actually has 8 men on stage moving in slow motion at a party.  Couples transition into real time as we hear their conversation.  It is a real party, but slowed down.  Every detail and facial nuance is entirely authentic.  Every piece of this production is up to the scrutiny of slow motion.  Even set changes are beautiful to watch. 

The final scene is the most musical of them all.  I was reminded of the power of Bill T. Jones’ Spring Awakening classroom scene.  The sounds and movement were so incredibly powerful.  I regretted sitting in the first row of a thrust theatre, as there really is no way to hide the hiccuping sobs.

I simply cannot remember having seen something this flawless and powerful.  This play has been extended (for the third time) only through July 31st.  I urge you to have this experience.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Theatre

 

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