At the gym on Wednesday I overheard a conversation among three people in their twenties. They were comparing ways that they cheated at college. One was particularly pleased with finding the answers for an exam on-line. Her justification was that she needed a high grade point average to get into nursing school and she was doing poorly in two classes. I shuddered thinking of her as a nurse tending to me. What other shortcuts would she be willing to make?
As a college professor I used only essay questions on the exams I gave. I also allowed students to use the literature texts while they responded. There was no need to cheat, nor was there any way to do so. Critical responses to the readings could only come from absorbing the works and reflecting on them. I did discover that essays written for admission to the college were remarkably better than ones written in class. I assumed that in many cases someone else had done the work for admissions.
Only once did I encounter blatant copying. The essay written at home was so polished I knew the young man couldn’t have written it. Entering a few words into Google identified the actual author. I stapled the plagiarized essay to his paper and handed it back with a failing grade. I don’t think he had any idea that after years of correcting essays I had a pretty good sense of the abilities of most first year students.
When I heard the people at the gym justifying their behavior with the time honored “Everyone does it, ” I couldn’t help thinking of a common parental statement from my youth. “If everyone jumped off a tall building would you?”