How Bad Is Cheating?
Taking Dishonesty in the Classroom As Seriously as We Should
While moral education programs tend to emphasize right living, discipline—its darker underbelly—stresses wrongdoing. By looking at discipline policies, one therefore gets some understanding of the norms that matter to schools and the coherence of their moral messages. To that end, I have been reading codes of conduct from random high schools in Pennsylvania. What I have found is that codes generally classify wrongs by place of occurrence (in class, out of class), by degree of disturbance, sometimes alphabetically, and, most often, by frequency. They rarely, however, distinguish moral from nonmoral infractions, as the following example illustrates.
Susie and Sarah, two high school students, are both disciplinary problems. Susie, preoccupied with her friendships and indifferent to her studies, is chronically late for school and often for class, wears skirts that sometimes fall short of the allowable dress-code limits, and snacks outside the cafeteria. Otherwise, she is well liked, cooperative, and always the first to volunteer for chores or new initiatives. Sarah, academically ambitious but not conscientious, plagiarizes papers from the Internet, and is not above forging an excuse note when she is unprepared for a test. She is cynical about school, seeing it as a way station to college, where her attention is directed.
According to School A’s disciplinary code, the fourth time Susie is late to class she will receive a detention. Should she have an unexcused absence, she will receive a one-day internal suspension. The second time she eats outside the cafeteria she will be given a one-day internal suspension, and a two-day suspension after the third episode. Sarah, for forgery, will receive the same sanctions: one day of internal suspension on the second occasion, two days on the third. For cheating, her first offense will result in a zero on the assignment, the second in a one-day internal suspension. For plagiarism, Sarah will receive a two-day internal suspension on the second offense.
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- The Berkeley Institute, HAMILTON, Bermuda
- Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning
- Roanoke City Public Schools, Roanoke, VA
- Round Rock ISD, Round Rock, TX
- Christ the King Preparatory School, NJ
- Amargosa Valley Elementary School, Amargosa Valley, NV