Published: December 2, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Okay folks, without cheating, how many “hits” do you get when you type the word “cheating,” into a search engine?

I discovered almost six-million sites listed on Google that covers everything from poker to academic to relationship cheating.  (Here’s a bouncy little do-it-yourself I found on YouTube). To be fair, some of these sites discuss the problems and consequences of cheating.  However, a large number offer “tips and techniques.”

But there’s something more disturbing.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that teachers and schools have resorted to cheating on standardized tests to make their schools shine in the test-score horse race.”  (Peter Sacks, “Tests Carry Too Much Weight” USA Today editorial, June 15, 2000)

What’s wrong with that statement?  Everything.

What a statement like this says is this: if I strongly disagree with a policy, I am justified in using whatever means necessary to challenge, defy or subvert it.  It tells kids “Don’t agree with the method or substance of a test?  Okay, just cheat your way around it.”

Mr. Sacks may have a valid argument against standardized tests.  Test scores should never be taken as “absolute and infallible.”  I never liked how much weight was given by college admissions to my SAT scores.  But since when is not liking something a justification to commit fraud – fraud against teachers who work within the system, fraud against the students who learn by actions not just words in a textbook not to mention the biggest fraud of all against society.  We all lose when students are allowed to enter the workplace with the misguided belief that if they disagree with something strongly enough they can lie, mislead or deceive to achieve their ends.

This kind of argument not only casts serious doubt about the importance of honesty and fairness, it shamefully throws suspicion on good teachers and an educational system already under siege from a variety of fronts.

Stephen Potts, former Director of the Office of Government Ethics, submitted this story for my book, What Do You Stand For?

“In 1948, Vanderbilt University’s Dean of Students Madison Sarratt, taught, as was his custom, a freshman algebra course.  On the day our class assembled for our first major exam we found the exam questions face down on our desks.  Dean Sarratt stood at ease in front of his desk.  After we were seated, he said, ‘Today you are going to take two tests – one in algebra and one in integrity.  I hope that you pass both.  But if you must fail one, let it be algebra.  You may now begin.’

“He turned and left the room.  My fellow students and I briefly scanned each other and then went to work.  We all passed the integrity test.  Dean Sarratt’s strength of character permeated that room.  I’m sure everyone shared my feeling that we had to vindicate his faith in us.” 

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, “The wise man does not teach by words but by deeds.”  That’s why we must look at honesty and integrity as moral duties, a solemn obligation to act in a way that demonstrates our highest ethical aspirations rather than lower our standards when the going gets tough.

It’s up to each of us to demand better from those who are entrusted with the commitment, consciousness and competency to teach right from wrong.  As citizens, we should expect nothing less from our school system.


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