In light of the dynamic discussion going on over at Dwija Borobia’s blog regarding the subject of college education, I thought Catholic Exchange readers might enjoy this article about cheating in college by Allie Grasgreen. It says quite a bit not only about academic standards in modern America, but about our approach to education and our culture in general.
Before you click on the link, however, consider the following excerpts.
Eighty-four percent of students at a public research university believe students who cheat should be punished, yet two of every three admit to having cheated themselves. Most of the cheating students admit to involves homework, not tests, and they see academic misconduct applying differently to those two kinds of work.
The study takes place in Arizona, but evidence suggests the numbers would be roughly similar anywhere in America. And what are those numbers again? Two out of every three students admit to cheating!
The article goes on to concern itself with trying to locate blame for this among students, faculty and administration (resulting in an entertainingly bloody firefight in the combox).
The solution to cheating, as presented in the article, is frustratingly nebulous:
“It’s about communicating clearly in the classroom and spending time on the topic,” said Angela Baldasare, divisional manager of assessment and data analysis at the University of Arizona, about clarifying expectations and increasing the intrinsic values of assignments, “so that there’s something more to it than just a grade.”
The consensus among the experts is a similar haze of references to “better communication” and “setting clear goals,” as opposed to what ordinary, decent parents would say to their children: “Cheating is bad. It’s morally wrong. We’re supposed to be truthful and honest; do the best work you can and be happy in that.” I think the experts involved with the study would echo those sentiments if push came to shove, but more concern seems to lay with preserving students’ fragile egos then with instilling in them a love of virtue.
And that is what is really lurking behind all of this: an absence of virtue. Honesty, integrity, courage—these are not being raised to the status they deserve in our culture. Instead, merely succeeding is what we are driven and trained to do. As a result, the Arizona study…
…found the highest rates of cheating among fraternity and sorority members and international students, the latter of whom were most likely to use technology to cheat. Fewer than 10 percent of Arizona students said they’ve used technology to get answers during an exam, but more international than American students admitted to obtaining test answers online (21 versus 11 percent), having copied material from the Internet for a writing assignment without citing the source (23 versus 13 percent), and sending or receiving text messages during an exam (12 versus 3 percent). Cheating was reported least among students receiving need-based aid, and non-degree seeking and first-generation students. (The more education a student’s parents had, the more likely he or she was to have cheated.)
This is nauseating, of course. Can it really be remedied by an increase in stated expectations about plagiarism and not cheating?
Sure, a little. I actually like the idea, stated in the article, of a college planning light-hearted orientation workshops for students on what constitutes cheating and what the repercussions are. But, at the same time, doesn’t a college instructor have a right to expect that the roughly 18-25 year old adults who walk into their classroom already possess moral and ethical training and a sense of integrity?
One thing the study confirms: the modern college environment is such that the personal moral and ethical behavior of the student going into it will often decline. Measures can be taken to combat this, but the success of those measures depends on what kind of behavioral standards the students are used to, doesn’t it? Nobody’s perfect, of course: all college students need regular instruction and reminders about how to behave virtuously, and that is something in which a professor, ideally, should participate. Before any real change can happen, however, our entire culture needs a nearly one hundred eighty degree re-orientation towards what the purpose of a college education really is all about…and what makes for a truly successful human life.