The Youth Of America: A Bunch of Goddamn Cheaters

Distressing is one way to term the results of a recent study conducted by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute, which found that a whopping 64 percent of U.S. high school students have cheated at some point during their academic career.

A truer, if considerably more crass, way to term the findings would be “fucking obvious.” I could assemble a laundry list of reasons why it makes perfect sense that a high school student wouldn’t give second thought to cheating on a test, but why bother when the experts are doing it themselves?

“The competition is greater, the pressures on kids have increased dramatically,” said Mel Riddle of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “They have opportunities their predecessors didn’t have (to cheat). The temptation is greater.”

Worse, the American student is almost always one step ahead of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which still has yet to develop an affordable and, above all, reliable urine test that can detect traces of eyeballing.

Thankfully, some school districts have figured out how darn stressful the life of your average 14-year-old is and made adjustments to make their academic lives. Isn’t that the case, Grand Rapids, Michigan?

When high school students in Grand Rapids Public Schools fail a class this fall, they won’t get an “F” or an “E” — they’ll get an “H.”

“An ‘H’ is a failing grade,” district spokesman John Helmholdt told 24 Hour News 8. But that new failing grade comes with second chance — students who get an “H” will be able to re-take the class or the part of it they failed the next semester.

Fuck Hell yes! At long last, a reset button! Finally, a system that discourages cheating and promotes good, old-fashioned failure! (Suck it, smart kids!) How I wish they had this when I was toiling away in accelerated algebra II back in that glorious year of high school I termed “Operation Shutdown.” (Okay, so I stole it off of Derek Bell. I’m as bad as the children.) Instead of breaking down and getting tutored, I could’ve just said, “Nah, screw it, I’ll just sit here and play nibbles on my bitchin’ TI-83 Plus while the rest of you suckers trizy to lizearn.” (Ironically, I received some grades in that class which were so far below the failing mark that receiving an “H” grade, even without the option of a do-over, may have actually been encouraging.)

So anyway, apparently I’m not the only one who’s jealous.

Teachers union president Paul Helder isn’t happy with the plan.

“It’s not a second chance,” Helder told 24 Hour News 8. “It’s like a 22nd chance.”

Actually, it’s more like a second chance.

The union president said teachers already provide “an enormous amount of support to students” who are struggling with coursework. “We’re not out to get anybody,” he said, “but we do think that students need to learn some responsibility.”

Fair enough. While President Helder is clearly a hater, he does raise a pretty good point about students learning responsibility that really ties everything together.

Going to school isn’t solely about learning how to add and subtract, or write, or read, or the difference between the words internment and concentration, or what the fuck primordial soup is. It’s also about learning how to interact with other people your age and, yes, about responsibility.

Now, having finished up like 20 years of such nonsense — fairly recently, in fact — I like to think I have pretty good perspective on the matter. And my feeling is this: you pretty much have the do-over option in college, but the only time I can recall trying to take advantage of it for purely academic reasons was in my freshman year and I’m pretty sure I ended up hanging in there in that class anyway, now that I think about it. Not to sound like President Buzzkill up there, because it’s a good option to have, but after a while if you keep failing something or dropping a class, it loses its impact and nobody’s really benefitting and pretty much everybody’s being irresponsible about it.

Here’s my thing about all this responsibility stuff with regard to cheating: I don’t have, and never have had, the slightest bit of a problem with high school students cheating on tests. And this goes back to the whole “where you learn to interact” thing. Look, I went to high school with some real assholes. Most of them were overachievers then, and then they went on to college and fell flat on their faces. Why? Because, pardon the lame cliche, but cheating will only get you so far. Not saying the only reason they were getting by was because of cheating, but for the means of oversimplifying the absurd politics of fucking high school, it’ll have to do.

Did I personally have a look at someone else’s paper from time to time in high school? Sure. Did I do it all the time? Of course not. My argument is that part of the whole learning responsibility/how to behave model of education is that, given that the assholes you go to high school with will generally go on to become the assholes you’re competing for employment with, you should at least have it in you to know how to cut the same corners that they’re going to cut, even if you don’t necessarily want to do so. At the same time, my opinion is such that teachers are more willing today to turn a blind eye to cheating in their classrooms. Again, this is just from personal experience. But really, if you’re going to fault today’s student for being so ready, willing and able to cheat, then at some point you have to start pointing the finger at the person who’s supposed to be making sure that none of that cheating transpires.

And therein lies the real responsibility angle. If a teacher sees a student cheating — and if this research is to be believed, then it’s more than half the class (and that almost seems like a conservative estimate) — shouldn’t he/she call bullshit on the kid? If it’s such a crisis for educational system that all of these kids don’t really give a shit if they look at their neighbor’s paper, what are the percentages of students who have actually been caught? I’m betting it’s not 60+ percent. I’m betting it’s not even one percent.

So before everyone acts all outraged that young people living in America in 2008 cannot be held to the same, surely pristine, ethical standards as their adult counterparts, maybe — to recycle a phrase I may have used before (Go Hawks!) — it’s the system to blame, and not the players.

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