Thursday, January 06, 2005


Matt Waters recounts some first-hand experience with cheating in China. I can attest that while there may be certain Chinese (or East Asian?) cultural proclivities toward what we in the West might reagrd as cheating, it is hardly an Asian monopoly (and I don't think that Matt is trying to imply that it is). I have encountered plenty of forms of cheating among students of all cultures, nationalities, and socio-economic status.

Of late, I have taken to assigning sections from David Callahan's The Cheating Culture to my students and asking them to write a short essay on whether they regard cheating to be a problem. Needless to say, the vast majority concludes that cheating is indeed a problem. Many agree with Callahan's somewhat overwrought conclusion that much of cheating in today's culture is due to the intense pressure to succeed that many people feel (a pressure that if Matt's experience is any indication, is also strong in China).

A question I have begun asking my students after this exercise is this:
"If we accept as a given that there is intense competition in our society for a relatively few successful positions (best colleges, grad schools, jobs etc.) and if we accept that many will cheat to attempt to gain an edge on their competitors, why isn't the rational and logical choice for the student who wishes to succeed through honest means to turn their fellow cheating students in? If they did so, wouldn't they effectively eliminate a significant number of competitors while maintaining their own integrity?"
In my experience, this solution has never even occurred to most students and even after discussing it in class, none of them will choose to take this route. Apparently, the pressure to not tattle on owns peers is even greater than the pressure to succeed.

Why don't students turn other students in? It seems to go back to the code of the schoolyard. No matter how bad a situation is, either you handle it yourself or keep it amongst yourselves. If you blabbed to the teacher, a parent, or an outside influence, you were ostracized at the least or targeted for more physical/mental abuse by your peers. Once again, it seems that we learn some of our worst behaviors in school.
Thanks for the mention Professor Larsen. You're right--cheating is something done by people all over the world. But sometimes I can't help thinking it's done more openly here. I'm not sure why that is, but teachers and administrators seem to take the problem of cheating less seriously here. Teachers are maybe more sympathetic to the students' pressure and are likewise less strict about monitoring cheating. In the States, that's definitely not true and students caught cheating face sharp punishment. Maybe that's why it's not done so openly there.

As for "tattling," it's defnitely the ostracism factor. Also, maybe the good people are too good and the bad people are too bad.

No, you never tell. Haven't you ever seen Scent of a Woman? Hoo wah!
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