Suppose a fat guy named Joe goes to his doctor for a checkup. The doctor tells Joe that he’s fat and unhealthy, and that he needs to start on a regime of diet and exercise before it’s too late. Joe goes to a personal trainer and pays him a plan of diet and exercise, which the trainer proceeds to write as agreed.
Joe embarks on this diet and exercise regime but, being indolent and of little willpower, he quits after a week. He doesn’t tell his doctor or trainer, though. He lies to them and tells them that he follows the regime to the letter.
Question: is Joe cheating his doctor or trainer? Is he cheating anyone?
Most people are reasonable enough to understand that Joe is not cheating anyone, except perhaps himself. The doctor and trainer get paid either way, and it’s not their physical well-being that is at stake. Joe is hurting only himself, and he has every right to do so.
Assuming the reader is agreement with me so far, I’d like to propose another question: why are we getting so upset about so-called “academic dishonesty”, anyway? Students who are cheating on their exams, term papers, and academic assignments—who are they really cheating? Who, if anyone, are they hurting?
The issue of academic dishonesty has been a hot topic for at least a few decades, and it has received further attention lately through several high-profile scandals. Almost every university has a webpage dedicated to academic dishonesty or integrity and a long list of penalties for offending students. The internet is fraught with websites that provide what they call custom writing services and term paper writing services, and universities fight back by employing aids such as Turnitin to catch the offenders.
And still, the question remains: whom are the cheating students cheating?
If we buy (as I do) into the old-fashioned idea that education is an activity aimed at building character and will through knowledge and understanding, then it follows that a cheating student, like our friend Fat Joe, is cheating no one but himself. If he wishes not to build a strong, independent character and mind by doing his homework and studying for exams, then it’s his decision, and it should bother no one else.
One might ask the question, “But what about the non-cheating students who are at a disadvantage as a result of cheating by other students?”
But about them, indeed? Why should their intellectual and spiritual growth be impede by the laziness of others? Non-cheaters are free to pursue their education regardless of the activities of others, in the same way that Fit Jane need not give up her daily regime of jogging and yoga simply because Fat Joe refuses to accompany her on her 10k trot.
Ah, but what about grades? A cheating student will probably get higher grades than non-cheaters, who will thus be punished by the cheater. Isn’t that unfair?
It is, but only because schools make grades and tests the holy grails of the so-called educational system. When the goal shifts from leaning to scoring and from being educated to being graded, cheating becomes advantageous. Once schooling in its modern is eradicated and education becomes once more an activity of intellectual pursuit, academic dishonesty will necessarily vanish.