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Educator Articles


Let Them Cheat

By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller


We're cheating students by not letting them cheat!

Absurd? Ridiculous? Maybe not. It could just be that the best way to deal with cheating is to let it occur. Let's take a closer look.

It is my view that cheating (copying answers, using someone else's paper,etc.) is destructive and self-defeating both to the individual and to the atmosphere of the classroom. It is therefore highly undesirable. It is also my view, however, that attempts to prevent cheating are undesirable.Here's why.

Teachers often use a variety of cheat-control techniques designed to head off cheating before it occurs. Cheat-control strategies include:

1. Arranging desks so students cannot see one another's papers.

2. Using blockers to prevent students from seeing what their classmates are writing.

3. Walking around the room during test periods, saying such things as,"Keep your eyes on your own paper."

4. Having students exchange papers before correcting them.

Without question, teachers can reduce the amount of cheating that occurs in their classrooms by imposing such cheat-control techniques. Basically, more cheat control equals less cheating - an understandable equation that is used in classrooms throughout the world.

Superb cheat-control measures can go a long way toward preventing the covert act from happening. Such measures may not eliminate cheating altogether, but they can certainly bring it under control. It will remain under controlas long as the control remains.

But these measures are extrinsic; they come from a source outside the student. For that reason, they require rigorous and constant enforcement.The real measure of their effectiveness is only a "back turn"or a "leave the room" away.

By employing cheat-control strategies in our classrooms, we program students to look to us for control. We teach them that we, the authorities, are responsible for their behavior. In doing so, we pass up precious opportunities to teach self-control and personal responsibility. We rob our students of opportunities to develop their inner authorities. In effect, we cheat our students by setting up situations in which they can't cheat.

Students are cheated because they miss a chance to grow in self-responsibility.They learn that others control their lives and are responsible for their actions. They become secure in the protective shell of not having to take responsibility for themselves.

Our students would be better served if we eliminated cheat control as a preventive practice. It is precisely this type of prevention that prolongs the existence of cheating by forcing it underground and keeping it unresolved.

As an alternative to cheat control, give students opportunities to cheat. Let them correct their own papers. Use no blockers during spelling tests. Post answer keys on the wall. Design self-checking materials. Leave the teacher's edition on the resource table.

Begin by assuming no one will cheat. At the same time, know that some students probably will, since students have learned all too well the importance of right answers. Indeed, many have attached their feelings of self-wortht o the number of correct answers they get on their papers.

When the barriers to cheating are dropped, remember that those who chooset o cheat are not doing so because they are bad, or even dishonest. They are cheating because they have not yet developed an inner authority that guides them to practice integrity. They have yet to discover the difference between the beauty of learning concepts and the insignificance of rightanswers. In short, they have more important lessons to learn than the spelling words or math problems that appear on their papers.

Once cheat control is ended, these students will demonstrate their need for personal growth. Identifying them will not be difficult. You will see them glancing at other students' papers or notice that they have the same exact answers as the person seated next to them. You will see a pattern of correct daily work and stumbling on retention checks. In essence, you will catch them cheating.

Once the "cheaters" are identified, you can begin to assist in their growth. Start by emotionally accepting them as they are, without judgment. Confer with these students privately. Refrain from showcasing your values by making "examples" of them. Share your concerns honestly, concentrating on your direct observations. Speak to the situation rather than to the character and personality of the student.

Work to fix the problem rather than to fix blame. Invite these students into joint solution seeking with you. Keep the emphasis on the search for solutions rather than on blame and punishment. Help them set goals and develop an action plan.

In addition to helping students choose honesty and integrity, you can work to control your own perceptions of cheating. When cheating occurs,it is possible to look at it from a variety of perspectives. You can view it as disgusting, dishonest, and immoral. If you do, you are likely to react by implementing regulations that prevent its recurrence. Or you can see cheating as a call for help and react as if it were an opportunity for learning to take place. How you see cheating is up to you. What you do about it is also your choice.

Why not let students cheat? It just might be their best path to increased personal power and inner strength