Is Cheating Worse Today? And, If So, Why?

I wonder if it’s just me? Perhaps I have a sensitive conscience. But cheating has  always surprised and deeply bothered me. When I ask people about it today, some agree, but many also shrug and say, it has always gone on. OK, I wasn’t born yesterday. I know and remember that some kids cheated on tests etc. But I don’t remember it being common, and I can certainly say that I did not cheat, and most of the kids I knew did not cheat. Frankly, I am too scared to cheat at things, and I am a terrible liar.

But consider some excerpts from an article by Bill O’Reilly in yesterday’s Washington Examiner wherein he details how, it would seem, that cheating is now quite a widespread phenomenon. He also ponders some reasons that cheating and other forms of lying are on the increase. As usual, the remarks of the author are in black, bold, italics, my remarks are in plain text red.

Ask any attorney or judge, and they will tell you that lying under oath is now the rule, not the exception, in the nation’s courtrooms.

In addition, the national cheating epidemic has exploded. A Georgia investigation alleges systematic cheating occurred at 44 public schools over a 10-year period. But it’s not the kids who were caught. No, the state says at least 178 teachers and principals did the deeds. It seems the remarkable improvements in student scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests were fraudulent. Educators doctored the tests in order to make their schools look good. They have all been fired.

While I do not know all the specifics about this Georgia case, I am convinced that some people justify cheating by cynically viewing the whole system as corrupt or unfair from the get-go. Thus, since things are  “unfair,” it is not wrong to game the system. At least this is how I hear some people talk today, “It’s OK to cheat on my taxes since the Government takes too much anyway and they make the tax code so complicated that I can’t be bothered with it.” Well, perhaps both things are true, but of course there are legitimate ways to influence public policy short of cheating. But some say, why be bothered with a long term project like that?  Just cook the books.

The key point is that the cheater justifies his behavior by cynically regarding the situation he faces as unjust. Now he can not only cheat, but even feel like a righteous dude as he does so. Perhaps some of the teachers resented Federal and State education standards, “No Child Left Behind” benchmarks etc. Perhaps they think that such things are biased against minorities, or that testing is an overrated tool, or that the bureaucrats who call for testing know nothing of education and are just corrupt themselves. Therefore I am have a right to cook the books. After all I’m just trying to protect people’s jobs and keep the funding going, and I’m only lying to a bunch of evil people with questionable political motives anyway….to heck with them! Or so the thinking goes.

I do not say this is case with everyone, in the Georgia scandal but it is not hard to imagine the thinking of our cynical culture seeping into the scenario.

Lying and cheating almost always come down to betrayal and are most often driven by selfishness. America has become a nation obsessed with immediate gratification. …. it’s a free-for-all of getting what you want as quickly as possible. Lying and cheating are considered by many to be useful tools on the road to accomplishment.

Yes, this would certainly seem to be another factor. There’s a kind of entitlement attitude that I shouldn’t have to wait or work hard or earn what I have. I should just be given it. Thus, tests and other hurdles are regarded, not just with impatience, but also with a kind of outrage. The outrage says, “Who or what is this keeping me from what is mine? Why should I have to qualify or jump thought hoops or wait for what I am entitled to?”

Thus, tests and qualifications, earned credentials, the paying of legitimate fees or taxes, and demonstrating one’s bona fides are all considered unreasonable incursions or delays from what is rightfully mine anyway. I want what I want, and I want it now, and thus I have every right to go around the system, and get what is mine.

Public schools have embraced secularism with a vengeance; therefore, Moses and his 10 Commandments have been banished.

Yes, the idea that God is watching or that we will have to answer to God is largely gone from our culture. I remember that, even though I wasn’t a very spiritual child, I was very powerfully motivated by the thought that God saw and knew everything I was doing. God was just on the radar and I had to deal with him.

I am not sure most young people grow up with this today in our secular culture. God has been “kicked to the curb.” Thus, if I get away with something, I really have gotten away with it. Or so the secular thinking goes. That God knows and I will have to answer to him for what I do would hardly seem to enter the mind of most moderns imbued with a secular, rather than a sacramental understanding of reality.

There are, of course, good people who understand that honesty is indeed the best policy if you want to live a worthwhile life. But their numbers are dwindling. In fact, a recent study out of the University of Connecticut says that an astounding 95 percent of high school students have admitted to cheating in the past year. Wow! I just know it wasn’t anything near this high when I was in school.

For a variety of reasons, our society now embraces and empowers scoundrels… In the 1960s, it was: “If it feels good, do it.” Today, it is: “If it looks good, steal it.” Or: “If it sounds good, say it.” Many of the moral boundaries that once elevated this country have collapsed.

Yes, our entertainment glorifies rouges, scoundrels, gangers, and a lot of bad behaviors. It’s the anti-authority thing and the “don’t tell me what to do” syndrome set to music and cinematic glory.

The “heros” live on the periphery and gain hero status by flaunting the norms and engaging in often lawless practices. The premise of most of this glorification is a deeply cynical view that the whole “system” is corrupt.

It will be granted that there are problematic aspects and hypocrisies in any society that need attention. But deep cynicism that there are any rules and norms to be observed has gripped increasing numbers who thereby rationalize their dishonesty and lawlessness as a kind of righteousness.

Too easily and uncritically we lionize those who flaunt or tweak the system, as we vicariously vent our own frustrations through their antics. “Yeah! Take that!” we tell “the man” as our hero flaunts and games the system and makes “the man” look foolish. But all the while we feed our cynicism that anyone has a right to the honest truth, to legitimate obedience, to legitimate taxes, fees and so forth. Then in arrogant self righteousness many can even congratulate themselves for cheating, stealing and lying. And not only can we personally adopt this attitude, but society as a whole can and does, increasingly, adopt it.

If society does not hold us responsible for deceit, why should we hold ourselves responsible? That’s a tough question to answer when students see their teachers cooking the books….

Examiner Columnist Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox News show. The Full article is at the Washington Examiner: Lying and Cheating in the Home of the Brave

Photo from Urban Titan

Here is a “classic” film from 1984 in the cynical genre I mentioned. It is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Throughout the movie he lies, he cheats, he steals, he’s dishonest, and he’s “our hero.” The school secretary calls him “a righteous dude.” And of course all the authorities are cynically represented as unreasonable buffoons who deserve to be cheated against, and lied to. Please excuse the vulgarities, especially at the end, but I could not find a trailer without them.

18 Replies to “Is Cheating Worse Today? And, If So, Why?”

  1. As an educator, I wonder if it’s really just a result of the system we’ve put in place? We no longer educate for the sake of knowledge, but for the sake of profit. For first getting into college, and that only to secure a job. Education is not an end in itself anymore, knowledge has no value on it’s own, so by cheapening knowledge, we’ve cheapened the process by which we acquire it. The students are simply doing exactly as we, as a society in general, have told them. Get x,y,z credentials knocked out as fast and easily, and cheaply (if you can) as possible so you can get the money making job.

    This isn’t an excuse for the individual actions of students, but maybe it’s a call for a return to an education system where knowledge is the end in itself. Where to be “college material” didn’t apply to the whole bell curve. And finally, where to have a job that really requires little beyond 8th grade standards mathematically and grammatically (the majority of jobs in the world), you didn’t have to go 120,000 in student loan debt. College should be for those who require highly technical and skilled knowledge (engineering, sciences (not social) medicine, accounting, law) or those who seek academia as their end. For everyone else, trade schools should be at most what is required and/or needed.

    All I ever hear from undergrads is, “why do I have to take liberal arts/gen Ed? I just want my management degree and classes”. That’s what trade schools used to do. We’d be better off returning to the university as Newman and Aquinas knew them.

    1. On one hand, I’m glad students don’t consider knowledge for itself as its own value. Knowledge for itself literally implies idle curiosity. The days of St. Thomas Aquinas (I’m not sure about St. John Newman), saw knowledge as an activity to glorify God. That is the only way to properly guide, moderate and sanctify the pursuit of knowledge. Otherwise, there is no argument against things like the human-animal chimeras they have been concocting in England recently. Or embyronic stem cell research, etc. If Americans are going to intelligently and wisely govern themselves through Democracy, I don’t see how we can have a nation of people passing opinions on everything who were educated in ‘traditional’ high schools and the trade-school colleges.

      In America at least, I think ‘education’ has been about simply getting credentials for a job for quite a while, even in ‘professional’ schools. You sound like you would be interested to read the PhD Octopus by William James, which was written in 1903. In that essay, James is writing to complain that a university did not give a highly qualified and intelligent individual a job as a teacher, simply because he does not have PhD after his name. James ends up commenting on the degree system in general and its danger to our society.

      Just my thoughts.

      1. Not so sure Eric, I think having technical knowledge is important, but we ought not lose foundations either. I think college is over-rated as a technical school and we want to send more people there than necessary since we have made a degree necessary to advancement everywhere, even when a degree doesn’t really matter that much. For example, I am not sure that I understand why an employment ad for a secretarial position requires at least an associates degree or four year degree. However, what colleges did well in the past was to provide a strong foundation in thinking and Western civilization. It was upon this foundation that the sciences, government, social disciplines and so forth emerged. The Scientific method came from a discipline of thinking and empiricism that developed in the schools of Philosophy, Logic and even Theology. The technical knowledge we have today actually came from somewhere. If we exhaust the soil, the taller growths cannot be sustained.

    2. Sean, I think you are on track here in assessing another problem which you describe well. College is more of a tech school, or another hoop to jump through on the way to bigger bucks. Once colleges were more of a liberal arts degree that exposed one to the great thinkers of the day and a college degree indicated that one had been fully exposed to all the pillars of higher thinking to include philosophy, literature, history and so forth. As the sciences have moved to the fore now we see how learning Greek and Latin, and knowing the works of antiquity, often in the Latin and Greek original is considered a waste of time by students et al. who just want to learn a high paying trade and punch their ticket.

      Thus, this attitude of just needing the ticket punched makes them undervalue the whole thing. When we undervalue something we are likely prone to consider cheating at it with less importance.

      1. It is interesting that the market (in this case employers seeking skilled and competent employees rather than credentialed ones) seems to recognize the problem of schools focusing too much on technical subjects. I once read an article that said there was a trend in many businesses to hire people with liberal arts degrees over those with MBAs. They were discovering that such graduates had been trained to think, and be creative about problem solving. And so they are more valuable, once they have learned business terminology (most of which they could pick up on the job in a few weeks) than those who spent five years training in business school. The irony was that I read the article reasearching a paper while I was studying at a business school, for an accounting degree.

  2. Epistle 210
    My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope excerpted an article of Bill O’Reilly, and Father commented it.
    Gist of Bill O’Reilly’s article is problems of cooking the books, lying and cheating in college history.
    Generally speaking, Msgr. Charles Pope had a lot of sympathy for views of Bill O’Reilly.
    Secondly, now permit me to add some problems hereafter:
    Problems such as cooking the books, lying, cheating, etc. in examinations in Vietnamese Universities are very common.
    However, these problems for doctoral postgraduates are very rare to happen.
    Hereafter is a case study:
    Suppose that I am a doctoral postgraduate of administration branch in University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City – UEH.
    I want to defend a doctoral thesis of building a tallest church.
    I ought to carry out my works as procedures here below:
    I ought to write a platform of thesis about 4 pages. Name of thesis is that “Some problems of Catholic churches in Vietnam: Realities and Alternative”.
    If my platform is accepted by UEH and Ministry of Education and Training, then I will write it.
    My doctoral thesis includes four parts: preface, first part, second part, and conclusion, all are 200 pages.
    In preface, I must say clearly some problems such as it is a theoretical administrative thesis, methodology is desk study, new suggestion of thesis is that the building a tallest church in Vietnam, etc.
    In first part (including some chapters), it is some realities of Catholic churches in the world including in Vietnam. Here, I can refer hundreds of books and articles of churches, but it is necessary that I must list sources and authors of books as “books of references”. Here, I also must give some strengthens and weaknesses on them.
    In second part, I must prove that old churches are less effective, and I will suggest a tallest church because it is more effective. Here, I can use some models of econometrics or/and statistics to prove.
    In conclusion, I can choose one of two suggestions: Close suggestion or open suggestion. Close suggestion is to build an only 150 story church in Vietnam. Open suggestion is to build several-story churches in future.
    My doctoral thesis will be helped by two professors, two secret critical professors, and 100 remarks of old doctors. And before official defending, it must be released on a daily newspaper.
    If someone says that my doctoral thesis as a cooking the books, then all doctors and professors have responsibilities to explain.
    A good thesis will be deployed to become a project. Project belongs to field of constructors./.

  3. I’m forever being accused of being a simpleton but i think that the essay really outlines the fruits of the great, ever present, number one commandment: ‘thou shalt not judge’!!

  4. Sean Mac,

    That is a pretty insightful comment. As a public high school teacher, I agree that the system has pushed us to downgrade the idea of learning for learning’s sake. Of course, the purpose of learning is to help us improve in other areas of life, but there is an intrinsic value to learning that’s been forgotten.

    About the topic at hand, I can say that I don’t worry about cheating in my classroom. Honestly, if my students are cheating, they’re doing it so poorly that it’s not helping their grades.

    Msgr. Pope, I don’t comment often, but I read often. Keep up the good work.

  5. Sean Mac – Agreed with you on the cheapening of our overall understanding and therefore our education system. In this secular humanistic system, however, it gets worse. The big word of the day is: utilitarianism. So, we become only what we can produce, and when old or infirm, soylent green, I guess.
    In a twisted way in a strictly utilitarian system, cheating becomes a good, it shows innovation on the part of the individual to get a job done or more from a system etc.

    I’m going to shake myself to see if I can wake up now! Maybe I’ll read a bit of dear Thomas now.

  6. I am skeptical of the study that says 95% of students cheated in the last year.

    Any study which is assessing how much people lie about things they can ‘get in trouble for’, and comes back saying 95% of people freely admitted to being liars, is probably not a very careful study. The pure implausibility that 100% or 95% of liars would give an honest answer on a survey makes the survey suspect. If they lie for profit, why do they tell the truth now? And even if they did answer that they ‘cheated’, why would we believe them? And what did the survey define cheating as?

    And if the study is not using a survey to assess the liars, how could they possibly know “95%”? It would be pure guesswork.

    1. I don’t know Eric, you seem pretty cynical 🙂 That said, I agree that I don’t think the number can be as high as 95% though I do, for the reasons stated in the article, experience a much more casual attitude about cheating than when I was a younger man and thus I suspect that the number are higher; even substantially higher.

  7. This article can be linked with the skyscraper article where the largest buildings are indicative of what’s important in society. In the city I live in the skyscrapers are filled with legal firms no doubt kept busy by an epidemic of cheating.

  8. Msgr, is there not some understanding within Catholic doctrine that cheating – or other forms of deviance from laws and standards – is acceptable under certain circumstances? Could you outline those a bit more? I do not condone for a minute a student cheating on a test because she’s lazy and self-entitled – but I would be less strict in cases where someone was faced with clear injustice.

  9. I think part of the ‘cheating epidemic’ lies in the definition of cheating. Many of my colleagues (public university) decry the lack of integrity in their students. I don’t see it! Perhaps because my courses are designed to change the learning paradigm. Ex: many professors emphasize individual accomplishment/learning/assessments; thus group work, or not doing ‘your own work’, tends to be labelled ‘cheating.’ This is unreasonable in our US society: much of what is valuable and expected in the commercial world is the ability to work as a team/collaborate. I tend to emphasize the group nature/ethic of collaboration in learning — assignments are designed so that it is very difficult for a learner working alone to produce an outstanding, or even acceptable, product on schedule. However, the group which properly organizes and works cooperatively is enabled to produce excellent work on time. MHO.

  10. I confess I cheated throughout college it seemed. Was on a sports team & we had past tests that were passed down season after season & being an ignorant cino (catholic in name only) I fell for that as well & got away with it in many forms. Didn’t have the tools kids have today or probably would have been magna cum laude. Its cool in secular world to be ‘that guy’. Its almost like the prophecy of the movie ‘Idiocracy’ has come true yrs too early. Today I couldn’t dream of cheating but have shaped up & see that learning is not only good but its cool to carry a conversation & not look stupid in it and enlighten others. If I tried as hard back then as I did cheating I probably would have done better.

  11. It’s such a pervasive societal issue. I’m an insurance adjuster (though I have a degree in Visual Arts/Design), and the cheating that goes on between legislature, lawyer and claimant is absolutely unbelievable. And the root of it all is greed, and it’s first cause is pride.

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