Here’s the Thing About Cheating (Part 1)

I think most of my behaviour is defined by the morals I believe in. Sure, there have been times when I’ve gone slightly off course. But anyway, that’s not what this story is about.

I recently had this epiphany of some sort. It isn’t a great one, but I decided to record it anyway. It’s slightly moral, slightly ethical, and somewhat logical. And a bit irrational. And it may sound selfish.

[rant]

One of my moral beliefs has been to not cheat in academic scenarios. I particularly shun cheating during examinations. I haven’t cheated in an examination till date. I don’t think there is a logical reason behind this belief, but it makes me a happy person.

But I do consider myself a hypocrite at times. Not cheating would mean not copying homework tasks too. I have copied homework in times of desperation. So I won’t claim that I’m an entirely ‘clean’ person.

However, the thought that hit me yesterday is that cheaters aren’t just gaining some satisfaction points for themselves, but are also pushing others down. Let me explain how.

I’m currently studying in high school. I’m in the phase of searching for prospective colleges for my undergraduate studies in the United States. Of course, academic performance is given high weightage when it comes to determining whether an applicant is to be accepted or rejected. The same may be true for job-seeking, where our grades are included in our resumés.

Within this criterion, there’s a factor called “class rank”. “Class rank” is the indicator of your performance in comparison with the rest of your class, determined by your grades. In most cases, your performance on a test(s) is given huge weightage in determining your final grade.

Up till now, I didn’t really care about others cheating on tests as long as I was putting in the best of my efforts. As of today, I still (try to) put in my best. But now, I DO care that the people around me are cheating. I feel that my hard work is being undermined by their tendency to cheat. As I learn more about the competitive world outside school, it hurts to know that cheaters could possibly get ahead of me. I’d say the situation can be as bad as nepotism. My grades are above average, but not the “best of the best”. I still wouldn’t be on top of the ranking if people stopped cheating, but I surely wouldn’t be in this position.

At times, I feel that this whole thought process has made me more selfish. I don’t like competing with others, but studying is one aspect of my life that I work pretty hard on. The disappointment seeing others cheat hits me in the face. I’ve never walked out of an examination room not hearing how some person “copied twenty marks”, or “a whole section”.

Do cheaters actually feel guilty after having cheated? I don’t know. I doubt they do. It’s easy to forget to empathise and think when you’re a beneficiary.

I am friends with numerous cheaters. I’m not going to go snitch them out, because I am a ‘friend’. I don’t think there exists an adjective appropriate enough to describe the magnitude of some people’s dishonesty in this regard. This same friend (me) finds it impossible to persuade his other friends to not cheat. What would happen if the world discovered what was under the veil of “merit” of many such people?

It really pains me to know that my future could possibly be affected by the actions of others. But I’m still not going to cheat. I’m going to work hard. Why? Because not cheating makes me happy.

[/rant]

Seeing the Other Perspective

There’s pretty much one reason why people cheat: desperation. For an educational system that rewards the highest points, there’s always going to be a dirty race to the top.

Furthermore, high expectations from members of family (and others too) add to the desperation of students. I’m lucky to have encouraging parents who don’t demand that I cure cancer in eleventh grade. There’s nothing that can really be done unless parents understand. Would parents feel the same way if they were told that their children chose the dishonest route? I don’t know.

Students, I feel, are also tempted to cheat because they don’t fit the mould of the educational system. I feel that such people may not be entirely aware of this fact, but it could explain their bad grades. And this leaves me to hypothesise that perhaps I don’t feel the desperation to cheat because my scores aren’t all that bad. The education system prevalent in most countries is pretty bad, as we are already aware. Perhaps just the fact that I fit into this system — and perform satisfactorily in it — doesn’t require me to cheat. And that’s why, at times, I feel it’s so easy for me to not have the propensity for cheating.

I’m not ‘disadvantaged’ against the “education” system. I understand concepts in a reasonable amount of time, don’t have too many apparently “stupid” questions, and can cram successfully a night before an exam — all of which are traits of a student that today’s system and mentality appreciates and favours. Ideally, this should be the opposite — the system should be flexible.

Looking at cheating from this perspective, I feel bad for those who don’t “fit the system”. It isn’t their fault that they are unable learn as per their comfort. So, in a way, I could say that the magnitude and breadth of cheating taking place is indicative of how badly suited the system is for learning.

Cheating could as well be a mark of protest against the system that we deem “education”.

So, I won’t entirely blame the tendency to cheat on my fellow students. But I do think that if you cheat, you lack some amount of willpower.

Will we ever be able to fix this “system”? I don’t think so. Yes, we have more patient and passionate teachers today. But we’re still humans; we’re the very same humans who always want the easy way out.

Do I have a concrete replacement for the education system that nearly every student complains about? No.
Does anybody have one? I don’t think so.
Will learning (and testing) ever be made entirely fun? I don’t think so.
So, can we cause a change in mindset and stop cheating? I doubt it.

Then, why did I write this? I don’t know. Just my own scattered thoughts. If a cheater is reading this, I don’t think I’ve changed their mind.

But in the larger context of the world, I think I’m just going to “suck it up”. I’m grateful that I’m receiving education in the first place. Let’s use these experiences to create a better world for others.