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Is Cheating a Survival Skill?

One of this week's conversations over at The New York Times' Room for Debate blog concerns the so-called "epidemic" of cheating. A recent survey of high school students done by researchers at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that the majority of students engaged in behaviors that are considered to be cheating—but in other cases took actions that would traditionally be considered dishonest, but which they did not consider wrong.

An English professor at Emory University, Mark Bauerlein, blames the Internet, in part, for the phenomenon, since it encourages a culture of idea-sharing. Blogging, for instance, requires the sharing of other people's thoughts (as I'm doing now, though with attribution). However, with so many different forms of sharing taking place on the web, Bauerlein writes, students can get confused on the true rules. Cheating-via-sharing is thus a "survival skill" in this new world. One problem, however: "On that model, though, knowledge isn't absorbed and interpreted. It is retrieved and passed along," he explains.

Alfie Kohn, an outspoken critic of the way our public schools currently work (high reliance on standardized tests) beats his usual drum, but makes a solid point: "[C]heating is less common in classrooms where the learning is genuinely engaging, where each student sees others as resources rather than rivals, and where exploring ideas hasn’t been eclipsed by a single-minded emphasis on 'rigor.'"

In other words, a more creative curriculum—such as those used at Akron, Ohio's National Inventors Hall of Fame School and discussed in this week's Newsweek cover story—simply don't allow situations where students can cheat, nor create the environments where they would want to.

Standardized testing, however, absolutely encourages that behavior.

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