One of the ongoing trends in the news has been the rise of cheating in America’s prestigious schools. My old high school, Stuyvesant, and even universities, like Harvard, have been plagued by this new phenomenon that has left many people perplexed. A lot of explanations were offered as to why a Stuyvesant student decided to send a mass text to seventy-one other students on a state issued Regents exam. “This self-admitted cheater lacks both honesty and any moral compass. And no, it’s not the fault of the schools or the teachers, but clearly his family has failed to teach him the basics of right and wrong,” responded Mugsy66 on a New Yorker article. Meanwhile, the newly appointed principal, post-scandal, of Stuyvesant High School told reporters “I have not been made aware … or have a reason to believe that there is ongoing cheating there.” Well, newsflash – everybody cheats at Stuyvesant High School, and we’re not the only school with cheaters. If you’re my age, you won’t be surprised to learn that 75-98% of college students surveyed each year have admitted to cheating in high school.
If you are of the older generation and are perplexed by such high percentages, it is because times are changing – only 20% of college students admitted to cheating in high school during the 1940s. The reason being is not poor parenting or a shrinkage of the temporo-parietal junction in today’s students. The main reason students cheat is because public schools are outdated and have not adapted to a changing society.
There is a great disparity between what society needs and what classes teach. To understand this gap, we have to look at the purpose of a public school. The Education Act of 1918 was put into place after the sudden rise of incoming immigrants and unskilled labor to help train kids to become competent factory workers. The newly compulsory public school system functioned as an assembly line to transform imaginative children into robots by whittling down their creativity, dreams, and individuality. Literacy and fundamental knowledge were taught in a way that mirrored the management environment of an industrial factory. This may have been acceptable for a student in the 1920s, but it is no longer so.
The system does not properly address the increase in value for ingenuity, creativity, and leadership in today’s society. Robots are currently set to replace millions of jobs in the next few years; we don’t need new ones from public schools. We need problem solvers – people who can use the information they learn to create solutions that they have the foundation to act upon. This is especially important in an age where everything can be found online or outsourced internationally for cheaper. Soft skills, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), and attitudes are the trending attributes that cause forward change and lead to ascending the socioeconomic ladder.
The Department of Education has a hard time adapting because the same people who make decisions are the same people who are products of these institutions. Even when research has shown that soft skills are possible to train, most people believe that attitudes like willpower are innate. The disparity between what science shows and the practices we use is ever widening. How much has public schooling changed since its inception?
Why don’t we teach new subjects to keep up with the post-industrial times? Why not teach conversation, independent thinking, and risk assessment? How about setting goals, managing time, spreading ideas, or saving money?
Rarely was I encouraged to synthesize ideas and create value from the hordes of information I was forced to memorize (which was easily accessible online from anywhere in the world except for the classroom). Rarely did the teacher focus on why – the key factor to motivation. I completed pages of math problems every day; learned equations I haven’t looked back at since class ended; and spent years learning how to prove that two angles were congruent, but I didn’t learn why I ought to know this. I didn’t learn how this knowledge could translate to solving real life problems, nor did I learn the greater purpose of these repetitive tasks. I grew from loving math to hating it. Who wouldn’t if they were coerced to churn out meaningless numbers day after day?
From my experience, after repeated measure of these tedious tasks, the average public school student begins to learn that in most cases school isn’t about learning. Students have little to no choice in the classes they take, and the workload is overwhelming, dull, and “pointless.” It becomes a simple game to get the highest grade where the teachers are the obstacles.
For students, school can be one big transparent Milgram Experiment that proposes eschewing morality, ethics, and values for conditioned obedience to authority. The Stuyvesant student realizes that school is just a game very quickly, but he succumbs to the cycle and the pressure of the prestigious institution. It is the pressure of getting a good grade that makes the students here especially prone to cheating. Campbell’s Law states that “when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.” In the New York Times Bestseller, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink shows how extrinsic rewards, like grades and test scores, redirects the motivation from the subject matter to the reward instead. The more grades are emphasized the more demotivated a student becomes intrinsically, which causes bad habits to arise, from studying only to-be-tested material to cramming to cheating.
Stuyvesant should not be prideful in boasting itself as such as competitive school, as it is the same competitive atmosphere that is causing school wide cheating. Every student knows the common saying that out of Sleep, Academics, and Social Life he or she can only pick two out of three. One’s own personal projects and aspirations are not even a choice in this equation. I forsook an all-expenses-paid-for audition in Florida because my math teacher would not let me make up a test. A false move would leave a mark on my transcript – my “permanent” record.”
We look at grades and SAT scores, but we don’t look at the forsaken creativity, individuality, morals, and personality. Sometimes it is important to assess the situation, look at what we are striving for, and ask ourselves in this day and age, what does it mean to be a teacher or a student?