The Motivated Buyer

The following post features a letter from one of Mary B.’s students and includes my response here below:

Dear Ed,

I’m a 19 year old student, who has recently read your articles on cheating in school. I have a few ideas as to why cheating has become more common schools today. There are a lot of reasons why students cheat, but I want to focus on some big ones that I have witnessed or experienced over the years. These include: parental influence, extracurricular activities, work overload, and sheer laziness.

Positive parental influence is one of the cornerstones of success in school as a student. From my experience in High School, students that come from low-income families tend to have less academic support. These kids were typically bullies, had drug problems, and were always focused on having fun because their parents didn’t care enough. However, they still try to cheat at the last minute because they usually care right before they have to take the test, or turn in homework. I’ve known kids in the past that simply didn’t care about school because even if they got a bad report card their parents wouldn’t yell at them. I think with good parenting students are less likely to cheat because the scariest thing is coming home with a bad report card and getting an earful from the parents. Also, if you have a positive parental influence then you will know that education is the key to success in life.

Extracurricular activities were another big one at my high school. Practice was everyday after school until either 5 pm or as late as 8 pm, which really took out a lot of energy after going to school from 8-2. Some sports were more intense than others; basketball, football, soccer, and swimming were the toughest. I played basketball, and after practice all I wanted to do was lie down and relax (not study). As the season progresses, the more competitive it gets. Once offseason starts, all of the focus goes to the upcoming game. I’m not letting people off the hook with cheating because they play sports and don’t have time to study, there is time, and you just have to be responsible about it.

Work overload comes into play when you have a job and go to school. Having a job while in school, especially high school, can be a lot to handle. At my job I am able to study and do homework, so this never affected me. However, some of my friends would work from 3-9, and come home at 9:30 to start homework or study for a test. Having a schedule like this is common for high school and college students, which makes it hard to get studying done.

Laziness is probably the biggest reason why students cheat. Not many students actually enjoy studying and doing homework, so they would rather do other things instead. Lazy students typically put work off to the last minute and don’t give themselves enough time to fully absorb the information or complete the homework assignment. I am a pretty lazy student, at least in high school I was. High School was just really boring for me, and nothing really got me interested in school. It’s different in college, although I could be doing better. I’m not as lazy in college as I was in high school because I’m taking classes that I am interested in, such as environmental studies.
Personally, when it comes to homework, I normally try to get my homework done in a timely manner. I have only cheated a few times, and it happened in high school. I cheated because I was lazy, and didn’t feel like studying chemistry equations because I didn’t understand it. The teacher didn’t seem to care that I was struggling, because I was a senior and didn’t need the class to graduate. The teacher also didn’t mind that I cheated, and laughed at me whenever I did.

Students cheat for a variety of reasons, and I don’t see anything changing. To me there will always be cheating students and cheating people even when they are done with school. Cheating is an unfortunate part of our culture, and it will take something very serious, such as a law, to change it.





Thanks so much for your correspondence.

Without a doubt, laziness is a significant determinant for why some students cheat.  But it seems to me that in instances where you decided to cheat, you weren’t just lazy, you were also disengaged.

I sympathize.  I also thought high school was really boring.  The best times I had invariably came from cutting class.

You cited boredom and a lack of academic motivation in these cases, suggesting that without any meaningful connection to the material, your greatest priority was simply to pass a class.

Far too often, this is the single most important priority for a student, whether he or she is lazy or is truly struggling with the materials.  Sadly, I have worked with a great many students at every level of academia who are in way over their heads.  By the time you’ve reached graduate school, the support resources for basic compositional skills are far lesser, primarily because you are expected to have obtained all the tools necessary to address more complex scholarly tasks.  This is often not the case though.

Many students are likely to feel that they’ve invested far too much time and money at this point to allow a failing grade to derail them.  Ironically, parental influence can often be another reason why students cheat.  The pressure to satisfy high parental expectations or even a parental attitude that the ends justify the means where her child’s success is concerned can be reasons why students decide to cheat.  As point of fact, in my line of work, it is not uncommon for the highly involved parent to provide the credit card that will ultimately pay for her child’s ghostwritten work.

But this shouldn’t be too surprising.  With respect to the investment in one’s education, most parents are footing the bill.


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The Intellectual Property Divide

The following post features a letter from one of Mary B.’s students and includes my response here below:

Ed Dante-

In the world of academia plagiarism is cheating. Some define it as stealing. In the outside world stealing is illegal, but students aren’t arrested for copying someone else’s work. So therefore as a student I don’t think cheating and stealing are at the same level in the context of plagiarism in school. Maybe this is one of the places of miscommunication between educators and students where educators view plagiarism as a much greater offense than most students and take it much more seriously. Also in the outside world if you buy something it becomes yours, but in academia land that doesn’t apply to papers, projects and other things that students claim to be “theirs.”

Growing up in a world of media and file sharing it has made it hard to recognize what is and isn’t plagiarism. When I discover something is plagiarism it is sometimes hard to understand why it is morally wrong. I know that you aren’t supposed to have someone else write your paper, but it’s hard to have an ethical problem with it in a society where politicians don’t write their own speeches, pop stars don’t write their own songs and anyone with a secretary and a fat paycheck probably doesn’t write anything they sign their name too. As a student I view having someone write a paper for me as cheating myself much more than I view it as the grandest sin committable in the eyes of academic institutions. I think bringing the answers to a test is more of an academic sin then turning in a paper someone else wrote for me. Does that make me a morally corrupt student? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because at early levels of education students are taught that cheating is bad, but in primary school cheating means looking over someone’s shoulder or writing the answers on your hand. Teachers usually don’t talk about plagiarism in elementary school because kids aren’t writing essays. Do students not take plagiarism as seriously as other forms of cheating because when we learned right from wrong no one mentioned plagiarism? Then later in middle school or junior high plagiarism is taught as just quoting directly without citing. Until I was in college I didn’t know that you couldn’t paraphrase something you read without citing it’s source. (I still think this idea is a little absurd because to me it says that no two people can have the same idea or draw the same conclusions. It also says that whoever wrote it down first owns it. In the context of inventions and discoveries this is understandable, but to claim ownership of an intellectual idea… In my opinion those should be shared and free flowing. Is that naive of me? Are there super serious scholars that would gasp at reading that?) Possibly this lack of communication about what exactly plagiarism is and why it is so severely punishable is a factor as to why it is so rampant throughout colleges.

I feel as though today’s youth, myself included have trouble grasping the strict rules of plagiarism. Educators need to understand and make room in their teaching for this generation of students that shares, collaborates and quotes freely without a concrete concept of information ownership. Why is that so terrible to some academics? The guidelines of plagiarism and those that follow them religiously need to adjust to the world as it has become and the population that is growing up immersed in technology.




Thanks so much for your correspondence.

A number of the issues that you raise here—specifically the idea of a generational divide regarding intellectual property use—are issues that I have struggled with as I have worked toward the completion of my book.

This idea that definitions of intellectual property may be shifting as a result of changing technologies is accurate but may only scratch the surface of this issue.  With the dismantling of trade barriers and the globalization of our economy, different cultural ideas about what is meant by ‘intellectual property’ have come into direct conflict with one another.

America has highly restrictive laws regarding intellectual property because this is considered an important engine of capitalism.  By assigning a value to otherwise intangible things like ideas, phrases, inventions and works of art, it is possible to compensate the creator and generate a larger economic value.  In communist China, for instance, ideas about what is meant by intellectual property differ considerably.

Rather than elaborate on this difference in any more extensive detail here, I would advise you to look into the TRIPS (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) accord and related debates.  This is an international treaty defining intellectual property on a global scale.  However, because many of the countries signed to the agreement have never before had stringent legal protections of intellectual property, implementation has been difficult.  Not only that, but many of the terms of the agreement tend most to benefit corporations with deep legal resources and extensive patents.  Pharmaceutical companies and Media Conglomerates in particular have lobbied for the continued strengthening of international laws relating to intellectual property.  This amounts to a displacement of wealth in which people living in poorer countries are ultimately forced to surrender greater monetary resources to patent and copyright holders living in wealthy nations.

Perhaps one of the greatest points of philosophical inconsistency for American schools is the portrayal of intellectual property as an issue of tremendous ethical weight.  In reality, schools and the professors whom they publish are part of this same system which is decidedly amoral and governed by natural market science.

Whether we support or reject the ethicality of purchasing a ghostwritten paper, I can tell you confidently that it is a vestige of the very economic practices that schools help to prop up.  Grades, class rankings, standardized testing percentiles and job pools teach us to compete according to the rules of a free market economy.  It is conceivable that the honor code is counterintuitive to these rules.


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Standardized Cheating

No doubt you’ve heard the popular refrain uttered at some point by an educator, “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.”  I’m sure that’s true.

Unfortunately, this generation of students sets a terrible example for the young impressionable teacher.  So implies an article published yesterday in the Detroit Free Press that says teachers are, like their students, increasingly inclined to cheat.  According to a Free Press survey of Michigan educators, 30% of respondents say the pressure to change grades or fudge scores on standardized testing is a significant problem.  This number is roughly 50% in schools that have already failed to meet federal standards.

According to the survey, 8% of respondents admitted to some form of cheating to boost standardized testing scores.  Indeed, “the survey results show the pressures on educators as the state moves toward making student progress and test scores a major factor in teacher evaluations starting in 2013. The comments left by survey-takers reveal frustration with reliance on standardized tests to judge both students and teachers.”

The responses by educators also suggest that cheating in school is not a product of the student body.  Nor is it a product of the faculty.  It is instead a more universal consequence of the environment.  Cheating is inclined by the irresistible force of standardized evaluation.  Where perhaps our top educational output was, at some point in our past, the literate professional or the resourceful businessman, it is now the #2-Pencil-shaded dot.

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