May 8, 2005

Cheating in College

I usually address topics such as faith, politics, and Christian extremists. How does cheating fit? I view cheating as another form of intellectual dishonesty, not all that different from the sort of mental gymnastics one must perform to justify belief in superstition. Bear with me, and I'll show you what I mean.

Cheating in college is widespread for many reasons. First, students feel tremendous pressure to earn high grades as a ticket to later opportunities. The college degree is increasingly viewed as little more than a ticket to future success. Thus, learning has become secondary to grades. Second, study after study has demonstrated that students do not define cheating in the same way their professors do. Using a copy of an exam from a prior semester (even if it was not obtained legitimately) may be seen as appropriate. Copying answers from a peer may be defended on the grounds that people help each other in "the real world." Strange as it seems, many students do not see anything wrong with copying someone else's paper and passing it off as their own. Third, students are surrounded with examples of dishonest politicians, celebrities, athletes, etc. Of course, I could go on forever, and this list is not intended to be exhaustive.

What about the relationship between academic cheating and faith? From an early age, children grow up hearing about Christian myths. When they enter school, these beliefs crystallize through peer socialization. Parents worry about peer pressure with regard to drugs (and they should), but there is another very real form of peer pressure - the pressure to blindly accept authority and reject reason. In subtle (and perhaps not so subtle) ways, our children learn that reason and science are valuable only as long as they agree with the Bible. I'd predict that those who fully embrace this sort of intellectual dishonesty would be more likely to accept others. Of course, this is an empirical question that could be put to the test with little difficulty.