Last week in class I heard two students discussing cheating.One of them thought that he might have to cheat to pass the test that we were about to take. They talked about the pros and cons of cheating verses taking the test unprepared.
Just the idea of cheating on a test shocked me, because it would not occur to me to cheat. I was aware that cheating is a growing problem in schools, but these students were discussing it out in the open, before the teacher came in. If someone were about to cheat, it seemed strange that he would share that information in an open classroom.
There was no guilt attached to the discussion, no shame, and no thought that others in the room might judge him.
I looked around at all my fellow students. No one seemed upset, bothered, or shocked. No one even batted an eye, except for me. I was uncomfortable with the knowledge that one of my fellow students might cheat. I had an attack of conscience.
What was my role here in this classroom? In my other life as an adult, a parent, community member or authority figure, I would know what to do. Yet, here I was a student, one of them. Granted, I am 47 years old, and they are somewhere between 18 and 25. But this is not about age — it is about integrity.
If one person in a class cheats, it reflects on the integrity of the whole class. It is the core of dishonesty. The person who cheated was not cheating me, only himself. He used the excuse that he did not have time to study, but that was just a cop out.
So why did I care? As part of the class, did I owe loyalty to these people? Would I be a snitch if I told? What exactly was my obligation here? I wrestled with those questions until the teacher came in. The test was handed out, and I set about taking it.
I kept my eyes down and I had an attack of guilt. Why was I feeling guilty? I was not the one who was thinking about cheating. I had studied for the test. I put it out of my mind to concentrate on the test. After the class I still felt uncomfortable with the knowledge that someone might have been dishonest. I reasoned that it was not my responsibility to police the classroom. My obligation was to be a student, not a teacher.
Yet I still felt uncomfortable.
In reality, I did not know if the student ended up cheating, because I did not see him do it. I had only heard him say he might have to cheat. This is how I justified doing nothing. Yet, I still have this sneaky little feeling that maybe my integrity had gotten a little bruised.
I may have been the one who copped out.
I felt sad. Sad for a student who did not see anything wrong with cheating and sad for a generation that finds cheating so commonplace that it does not shock them. And sad because I had just become one of them.