A middle-school young ‘un wrote into The New York Times“The Ethicist” column (Sunday, February 11, 2018), which appears courtesy of Kwame Anthony Appaiah. This poor little soul had witnessed friends cheating on a test when the teacher left the room.
Barometer note: What teacher in his/her right mind leaves a room during an exam? The urchins have absolutely no compunction about cheating. Opportunity and need — the motivations for both fraud and cheating. Their need is academic success. The teacher afforded the opportunity. Never leave the little cherubs unattended during exams, quizzes, PE class, and anything else in middle school.
The young student asked her friends to stop cheating, and they told her to “lay off.”
Barometer note: One suspects that “lay off” was soft language for another phrase.
The friends did not stop cheating, and this young student wanted to know whether to report the cheaters to the teacher.
The advice from the Ethicist: No, because it might cost them their admission into prestigious high schools. And, “losing a place at a prestigious high school can be a big deal in our society, where educational opportunity is unfairly distributed.”
Barometer note: Oh, let me get this straight. Admitting those who cheat the best is a way of fixing said injustices?
The advice from the Ethicist: No, because whistleblowers often suffer. And because the school had no honor code, there was no requirement to blow the whistle. Besides, considering the impact of reporting the students on young your life is as important as considering the impact of reporting the cheaters.
Barometer note: The sooner cheaters are found, given due process, and forced to face consequences, the less likely they are to end up with the types of sanctions that will come as their chutzpah (born of getting away with it) increases. Why must we assume that reporting them is a bad thing with only negative consequences? Save a life; report a cheater.
The advice from the Ethicist: Write a letter to alert the school to cheating generally. Suggest that teachers stay in the room.
Barometer note: Report fellow students who cheat and we might reach a point where the presence or absence of the teacher will be irrelevant in levels of academic integrity. Nothing that is meaningful or important ever comes easy.
Last Barometer note: It never occurred to the Ethicist to think of alternatives. Tell the students that either they can self-report or be reported. Sometimes backing cheaters into a corner is the only way.