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.