by Andrew McCulloch
Eagle Editorial Board
It is quite literally everywhere in the world. It is at high stakes poker tables in elegant Las Vegas casinos. It is in the hypodermic needles nestled away in minor league baseball locker rooms. It is in the bedrooms of distressed married couples.
But, perhaps most predominantly, cheating is on the run of the mill Thursday afternoon test.
Academic dishonesty runs through school hallways and classrooms. It has always been there and always will be. It is a sad reality but that is just simply what it is: reality.
Some might like to think differently, whether they are school administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, concerned parents and maybe even the occasional good, innocent student.
If I cannot see it it is not a problem – out of sight, out of mind.
However, no single belief can match up to the raw, omnipotence of statistical data, and the sample says that a whopping 67 percent of students at have admitted to academic dishonesty in some form.
But no matter your immediate reaction, take it with a grain of salt.
The question presented to a mixed group of 185 students was simply “Have you ever cheated on any assignment in your time at St. Thomas?”
Upon first glance, it really does not seem too terribly complicated: circle yes if you have or no if you have not.
Done. Easy as that. Piece of cake.
But the truth is that it is not, in actuality, such an easy question to answer.
This question was intentionally formulated in a very particular way.
In fact, none of the 185 survey takers knew the complete reasoning behind this very question: or at least did not come forward with it.
Its purpose was twofold: first and foremost, to gauge how many students have actually cheated and are willing to admit to it.
But secondly, and maybe more importantly, the question was designed to evaluate opinion rather than fact.
The question seems fairly cut and dry, but in order to be answered, a student has to decide for himself what is considered cheating.
There are the obvious examples like smuggling an answer key into a test, stealing a peek at a neighbor’s scantron or plagiarizing a paper for English class.
But then there are the grey areas, the things that some consider cheating and others consider work made easier and not dishonest.
There are plenty of examples and students see it happen on a daily basis.
You forgot to do that geometry assignment last night so you borrow your friend’s to jot down some work to make it seem like you at least tried.
Maybe after a long day at practice you get home late and are too exhausted to even consider studying for that geology test tomorrow so you use somebody else’s study guide.
Or maybe when you pass by a classmate in the hallway, you inquire about the answers to that history quiz you are about to take.
I am not preaching to you from atop a soapbox today because I am not some gleaming, model student. I have been in countless situations like these and I acted the same as in the aforementioned scenarios. And no one is a bad student for doing any of it.
This is not a problem of students failing to cooperate, but failing to understand.
Many students do not understand what exactly is and is not considered cheating at St. Thomas and they are not to blame. We have all seen the signs in the classrooms and in the halls.
“Cheating! You will be: Reported! to your parents. Reported! to the dean’s office. Reported! to your counselor. Is it worth it?”
Senior Marty Dang is a student who understands the repercussions of cheating but admits it does have the delusion of immediate benefits.
“Cheating is like eating a bar of chocolate: the enjoyment only lasts until you finish it,” Dang said.
Dang brings up a novel point and shows exactly why the system is ineffective. In the same survey, 47 percent of students said that the current policy does not prevent cheating.
That is why a group of teachers and faculty members have formed a committee in order to formulate a new honor code for the school.
The committee is headed by Theology Department Dean, Jenny McConnell, and History Department Dean, Brett Mills, and is composed of an assortment of other faculty and staff members from different departments.
Now, the committee is currently still in its early stages and nothing final has been produced. A final polished and revamped Honor Code is likely to be unveiled and implemented at the start of next school year.
Principal Rev. Patrick Fulton, C.S.B., explains that the inception of the new honor policy was brought about through teacher input, not administrative request.
“The idea came about through teacher observations that we seem to be dealing with more cases of plagiarism, in one way shape or form, across the board” Fulton said. “Right now we don’t really know whether it’s an actual problem or a perceived problem, but it has been noted.”
This is not a reinforced effort to crack down on cheating. Teachers are not going to be lurking over their classes in an effort to catch and discipline cheaters.
Rather, the administration is adopting a new stance on the issue of academic dishonesty and is seeking to weed it out at its source.
“I think, quite rightly, a number of teachers had an observation that the current policy is very negatively stated: it’s all about catching,” Fulton said.
“Ideally, the goal of Catholic education is to help you to learn to use your freedom wisely and maturely. The teachers commented that they wanted evoke what a ‘Man of St. Thomas’ is.”
The new code will more thoroughly address the disadvantages of cheating and why it is wrong instead of seeking punishment against the guilty. It is a new take on the prevention of cheating that truly embodies the school motto of “teach me goodness, discipline and knowledge,” and Fulton sums it up best.
“We’re not a jail. We’re not about punishment; we’re about education.”
Although it is still early on in the process, students seem to think that the code will be a change for the better.
“I would like to believe a new Honor Code will be a big improvement compared to what we have now,” Dang said. “I think it will help better inform people about cheating and hopefully prevent them from doing it in the first place.”
It is early to know how this new system will pan out, but regardless if you cheat, you are only cheating yourself.