Youth Culture Window

Cheaters Never Win and Winners Never Cheat. Yeah Right!

On December 31st, my beloved Florida State Seminoles will face the Wildcats of Kentucky in Nashville at the Music City Bowl…and probably get creamed! You see, we’ll have to start our 3rd and 4th string players (and maybe a couple of towel boys, too) because at least 20 players have been suspended due to academic cheating.

Where did these college kids go astray? Hint: public school honors classes.

Academic cheating is on the rise, and at an incredibly alarming rate! In the 1940’s a mere 20% of students confessed to cheating in academic undertakings. That number tripled in the 90’s, exposing 67% of students as cheaters. Unfortunately, it’s only gotten worse. In an interview with Donald McCabe of Rutgers, he reported that 95% of high school students have admitted to engaging in at least one activity some might consider academic cheating, ranging from copying homework to copying on a test. If you’re like me, you’re hoping the remaining 5% are the Christian kids, right? Well, brace yourself for more disappointment. 78% of students who claim their religious beliefs are very important to them, admitted to cheating on exams.

The worst part of this character-less epidemic is the way teens justify their behavior. The two leading responses they give when asked why they cheat is “Everybody’s doing it” and “It’s no big deal.” That’s weird. I still don’t feel any better about it. Do you? 

Research performed in the slums of “Cheatersville” finds the most common form of cheating to be copying another’s homework; 9 in 10 students admit to this. A solid 66% of teens resort to the old-fashioned means of cheating on tests, but with some clever new tricks. The once popular plagiarizing has been reduced to only 2 in 10 very brave (or am I amiss to say “stupid”) students, mainly due to recent technologies available online to help teachers identify it.

Denise Pope’s study at Stanford University found that, “Eighty percent of honors and AP students cheat on a regular basis.” If you find yourself scratching your head over this, it could be because you’re assuming that the honors class kids are also the “good” kids. Not so anymore, if ever in fact. The guilty party asserts that they cheat primarily due to the (renewed) expectations being placed on grades today. You may recall that some of these students started their academic careers in a system that relegated grades to an unhealthy or irrelevant measure of performance. For years, the gauge used on these students was more “feelings based,” with attempts being made to protect children’s fragile egos at all costs. Secondly, the 50% of high school students that will actually attend college are further inclined to cheat in order to “get into a ‘good’ college.”

One final statistic of significant interest is offered by Who’s Who Among Students. They found that 92% of students who’ve earned membership into their elite, national honors program, report with great relief that they have never been caught cheating. (Does that mean the other 8% didn’t cheat, or does it mean they just got caught?) I guess this blows the whole “cheaters-never-win” myth right out of the water!

The numbers don’t lie. Most youth workers will be disappointed to realize that so many of our teenagers are tainted by the lack of character that accompanies cheating. While this research is coming out a little too late to help our students salvage their academic integrity for this semester, this information could be presented as a challenge to our students who will soon enter the 2008 academic school year.

Before the start of the coming school year, you may want to address these findings with your students. But this is not a moment to condemn; instead it could serve as a tremendous opportunity to challenge your students to model a character-filled life in front of their friends. You might also devise creative ways to offset the temptation your teens face in earning higher grades, such as offering a ministry-based after school tutoring program. Your goal in the end is to help students remove every excuse they have for cheating.

Imagine the witness that could stem from Christian students refusing to cheat. They would stand out…like a city on a hill!

The Center for Academic Integrity
Who’s Who Among Students
San Francisco Chronicle September, 9, 2007
Josephine Institute of Ethics

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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