Throughout my life, teachers, parents and peers have imprinted the childhood saying “Cheaters never prosper” on my mind. For years, I was brainwashed into believing this cliché. In elementary school, I would even chant it when I would catch classmates cheating on tests and playground games. But recently I have started to question whether cheating really is unethical. When I look around me, it seems like cheating is helping a whole lot of people.
For the three years that I’ve been in high school, I have seen cheating styles evolve. Writing answers on your hands or formulas on the desk just before a math test is seen as amateur and primitive. Today, students take pictures of their tests with their cell phones or text-message answers across the room. In my science class, one student wrote the answers on the inside of a pencil box and another girl had a color-coded bracelet for specific answers. If the teacher allows students to use their own blank paper, many write answers beforehand, then erase them, then read the remaining smudges during the test. I’ve seen semester finals get stolen, then copied for distribution at a price. My history teacher told me that at another school during an AP exam, a study guide was placed in a trash can within the building for students to read while in the restroom. Not only do people cheat on academic tests, but in athletic competitions, the judicial system and even in marriages. I began to wonder if people were making conscious decisions to cheat. Maybe cheating was caused by tremendous pressure and was a natural reaction, which would explain why everyone was doing it without even thinking about it.
One day, I sat in my Spanish 2 class eagerly waiting for the bell to ring. “Just 30 minutes,” I thought while glaring at the clock. “Tick, tick, tick,” the second hand on the clock, hanging just above the whiteboard, was driving me insane with its sluggish movement. Then the teacher caught my attention, by screeching “POP QUIZ!” Those dreadful words rang in my head.
I couldn’t fail!
I was completely unprepared. “Out of all the days to have a pop quiz, why this one?” I thought. As my teacher began to pass out the papers I could feel my palms begin to sweat. I quickly answered all the questions I thought I knew. After 10 minutes my paper was only half filled out. Half! That’s 50 percent, which is still a fail. My heart began to race and I started to chew my nails. At that moment I decided that failing was not an option. So not being that technologically equipped, I decided to go with a classic cheating move. I call it the “lean n’ peek.” I leaned slightly to my left and peeked at a girl’s paper. I quickly began to copy her answers. I wasn’t scared of a student seeing me because snitching is taboo in high school.
I felt a sense of relief because now I knew I’d at least pass. At least until I heard my teacher yell “QUARLES!” (my last name). At that moment, time froze. I heard the ticking of the clock, the pounding of my heart and the gritting of my teeth. The word “QUARLES” replayed in my mind like a broken record. He marched over to my desk, snatched my paper, and in bold red ink drew an “F” at the top. I began to plead and protest but he swiftly raised his hand signaling me to be quiet. He handed me a referral to the dean and said, “Get out.”
The journey down to the dean made me feel like I was walking the plank. With each step, I felt my feet get heavier and heavier. My shoes were iron blocks. Once I arrived I nervously sat down and handed him the referral. My mouth suddenly went dry and I asked to get a drink of water, but he said with a stern voice, “No, get it later.” I glanced around the room and saw students sitting down with their noses in the corner. It was a “time-out zone.”
“Cheating has evolved, but punishments sure haven’t,” I thought. After five minutes, which seemed like a lifetime, the dean handed me a detention. As I was on my way out the door he asked, “I never see you in here, why’d you do it?” I simply shrugged and replied, “I don’t know.” “Well, I better not see you back in here,” he said. “OK,” I said as I scurried out the door.
People are cheating on more than just tests
On my way back to class I thought about the consequences. I not only got caught, but also received an F and a lunch detention. Although I received the punishment I deserved, other people in our society are cheating on final exams, SATs, track meets and even their spouses! But none of them are getting busted. Just recently, I took my math final and watched as three students passed notes with answers on them. Of course they did well on the final and “earned” a B, while I, the person who did it the morally correct way, earned a C. Life is so unfair! I wondered why the one time I cheated on a small quiz I didn’t prosper … maybe that saying about cheating has a drop of truth in it after all.
I don’t think cheating is instinctive. In my case, I knew what I was doing. I cheated consciously, and I shouldn’t have. But I’m not horribly ashamed. Some things are worse than others. I don’t think it’s a big deal to copy someone’s homework; however it is terrible if you hack into your teacher’s computer and change your grades. If my views of cheating seem contradictory, maybe they are. But in a world full of cheaters, I’ve had to sort it out on my own. Everyone around me seems to think that cheating is OK. Instead of trying to learn, with the goal of applying that knowledge in the future, many students just care about getting the best grade without putting forth the required effort. Being surrounded by this attitude made it harder for me to do the right thing during that pop quiz, especially since I had seen so many people cheat and get away with it. I don’t admire cheaters, but one thing I know for sure is that cheating is an art … one that I’m not very good at.
Click here to read Fred’s story about why he won’t cheat.
Other stories by this writer …
Enough violence! Christina says a stranger’s death made her look at violence in her community differently. (Jan. – Feb. 2007)