A lesson plan based on the stories and interviews about cheating from the May-June 2007 issue of L.A. Youth, in which Fred Scarf writes about why he thinks cheating is wrong, Christina Quarles shares her experience getting caught and students from around Los Angeles County offer their opinions about cheating.

By Mike Fricano, Editor

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language arts, life skills
Suggested time allowance: 45 min.-1 hr.

Overview: In this lesson plan each student will examine his or her ideas and opinions about whether cheating is ever justified and write a persuasive essay supporting their positions.

Students will:
1. Define cheating.
2. Look at reasons why students cheat.
3. Examine what’s gained and lost when a person cheats.

Resources and materials:
— pens, paper
— copies of L.A. Youth articles about cheating (one per student)
— white board or blackboard

1. On the board write: “Cheating,” and ask students to list examples of what they consider to be cheating and write those on the board. Copying from another student during a test or stealing a test in advance are virtually universally accepted as cheating, but what about copying someone’s homework or using someone else’s homework to check your answers?

2. Reading. Ask students to read Fred Scarf’s story “An honest grade” about why he doesn’t cheat on pages 10-11 of the May-June 2007 issue of L.A. Youth and the interview with the Yale admissions counselor.

3. Discussion:
Talk about the article, addressing these questions (possible answers are listed). Students should write down the answers so that they can be used as supporting arguments in their persuasive essays.
• What justifications do students give for why they cheat?
–Pressure. One student, who Fred saw cheat, wants to attend an Ivy League college. Many students are under constant and increasing pressure to earn the highest grades, especially in California where elite universities like ULCA and Berkeley get more applicants each year. To get into the best schools, you need the best grades.
–Some students have said that if everyone else is cheating, they also need to cheat just to keep up. Fred was tempted to cheat on a quiz when he saw many students around him whispering answers to one another.
–They’re unprepared because of an absence. Fred asked a teacher if he could skip a quiz he didn’t know about in advance, but the teacher said no. Since he was unprepared he failed. Fred said that he briefly considered cheating.
–Cheating happens in every class. Fred told a teacher that students were cheating in her class, expecting her to punish someone. Instead, she was resigned to this. In a typical school culture students don’t snitch on each other, so if the teacher won’t enforce the rules, who will?

• What drives students to cheat?
–You don’t have to study as much. Fred studied for hours for his AP Art History exams, while a classmate who didn’t, earned the same grade because he cheated.
–Better grades. Fred failed a history quiz with a 22 percent—because he missed school the day before and was unprepared—while other students in the class cheated and passed.
–A better future? One student Fred observed cheating aspires to attend an Ivy League college. Students admitted to elite universities must have excellent grades. Even the Yale admissions counselor admitted that a Yale student who cheated “might get by.” She added that ultimately those students wouldn’t gain as much from their Yale experience.

• What are the downsides of cheating?
–You don’t learn as much. A ninth grade teacher told Fred not to worry about grades, but about learning and understanding new things. One of Fred’s classmates said that she didn’t regret taking AP English even though she got a D in the class, because “at least she learned something.”
–If colleges find out, it can hurt you. The Yale admissions counselor said that students must report all disciplinary actions that were taken in high school. She said that they view academic dishonesty as a “serious matter.”
–Guilt. Fred ultimately did NOT cheat during the quiz he was unprepared for because he knew it was morally wrong and that he would have lost respect for himself.

4. Writing
After reading this article and the interview, write a persuasive essay explaining your views on cheating including the reasons why you think cheating is OK or why it’s wrong, or something that depends on the circumstances.

Extension activity
In the age of text messaging and camera phones, the temptation to cheat is greater than ever. Ask your students to develop a code of academic integrity with specific punishments for breaking the code.