High school is a stressful experience for everyone. It always has been, and I’m sure it always will be. Managing sports, family, homework, tests and clubs is a lot to ask of any teenager. Sometimes, it seems like too much to handle. Unfortunately, people don’t always handle the pressure in productive or honest ways. That’s where cheating comes in.
I am not a fan of cheating, to say the least. And I don’t mean making cheat sheets or getting advance copies of tests (although those are both clearly terrible things). A much more common example is sharing answers. Particularly in classes with a lot of problem sets, people often find it easier to procure answers from friends or classmates than to actually complete the assignments. And while it’s an easy and convenient way to satisfy requirements, copying someone else’s work should never be considered the right choice. Moving beyond the pretty obvious wrongness of these habits, there’s something more fundamentally wrong with the motivation. Most of the people who adopt this form of plagiarism are perfectly capable of doing the work themselves. They just choose not to take the extra time to deepen their knowledge of the material beyond the bare minimum.
For some people, “busy work” genuinely is a little arbitrary. Those students have enough natural ability to do well on tests without working too hard outside of the classroom. And to those people, I say congratulations. You have been gifted with an ability that few people are lucky enough to possess. There are many people in this school (myself included) who would like to be able to intuitively understand concepts in difficult classes.
Unfortunately, educational standards still exist. Grades are designed to reflect a student’s performance in the class, and part of that performance is based on the student’s ability to complete their homework. If you are plagiarizing little assignments whenever you can, and those assignments affect your grade, you are earning a completely illegitimate grade. That sounds a lot worse than just copying a flow chart, but that’s the whole problem: people are willing to sacrifice their integrity in a bunch of little ways, but they are not willing to actually confront the implications of those actions. If you’re willing to live with fraudulent grades, then by all means, go ahead.
I have genuinely heard people say that because they are smart, they shouldn’t have to do the work that is required of everyone else in the class. Declaring yourself intellectually above classwork has implications beyond just the work. Teachers spend their time and effort putting together a curriculum, and their assignments are part of that curriculum. Other students work hard to complete the assignments and sometimes still struggle with the tests.
If you truly think that the required work is unnecessary, just don’t turn it in. You might suffer consequences to your grade, but at least your grade will reflect your level of engagement in the class. If you aren’t willing to work for a grade, you probably don’t actually care about the subject.
This isn’t to say that all collaboration is bad. If someone needs help with an assignment or with a problem, people should be more than willing to provide that help. That’s one of the best parts of having friends in your class. But there’s a difference between explaining an answer to help someone understand the concept and sending someone a whole sheet of completed problems with no questions asked.
I’m sorry if this column comes off as a little aggressive, and I understand that this isn’t the most important issue on earth. I’m also not completely innocent. I’ve certainly copied a worksheet from Google before, but I felt extremely guilty doing so. I also understand that this is a largely systematic issue. People are incentivized to take classes that will boost their GPA because it increases their chances of getting into “desirable” colleges. But if you truly have to plagiarize others’ work because you don’t have enough time to have fun, you might consider dropping a few of the AP classes that you clearly aren’t passionate about.
School isn’t supposed to be centered around stress. It’s a great opportunity to learn, grow, make friends and enjoy our last few years before entering the adult world. But if you need to cheat to make time to have fun, you might consider the academic and habitual choices you’re making, and reassess the values you consider important.