Friday, February 02, 2018

To Cheat or Not to Cheat?

I was a little disappointed to read about massive cheating at Stuyvesant.  There's a particularly disturbing quote in the story:

“It’s not academic dishonesty if you don’t get caught,” one said.

That makes it sound like it's a training ground for future Donald Trumps. For me, one is already too many. Another very curious statement is below:

A 15-year-old sophomore told the Post that students memorize the sequence of correct True/False answers on tests and share them with friends in later classes who have yet to take the tests.
I don't teach at Stuyvesant. In fact, my students are beginners, struggling with basic English. This notwithstanding, I never give True-False tests. Why would anyone be giving them at Stuyvesant? Basically you get the ones you know right, guess the best you can on others, and the rest is a crapshoot. In the end, what on earth do binary questions even measure?

Could teachers be making things easy so their kids could get high scores? Are there really true-false tests at Stuyvesant? Are the students just goofing around with the press by saying such ridiculous unattributed things? Who knows? I don't doubt, though, that in any pressure cooker environment cheating takes place. I'd also suspect that, since these are among the city's brightest kids, they'd know or devise the best ways to cheat. I'm generally unsympathetic to students who cheat.

But a tweet in response to the story got me thinking.

I regularly hear tales from my Chinese students of impossible homework demands. Some of my students say, "Homework is a mountain," in China. I believe them. I've had very smart, very nice kids who told me, "I just didn't do it. It was too much." I've met parents who moved their kids to America from Asia so they wouldn't have to experience the demands of ridiculously competitive systems.

I remember hating some of my daughter's teachers. I used to help her with her homework, and I used to read books she read so we could talk about them. Some of them were great. But I distinctly recall hating Catcher in the Rye even more than I did the first time I read it, when I was in high school. And if that weren't enough, one spring break some teacher gave her a very time-consuming project on it.

It wasn't enough to just write about it. She had to have artifacts. I can't remember what nonsense we came up with, but I remember scouring stores and asking friends for things. I mostly remember that teacher ruining both of our weeks off. The only redeeming quality of this inane project was that one suggestion was blogging using Holden's voice. Since the entire project appeared a complete waste of time, I wrote the blogs for her. Making fun of Holden was the only fun experience I ever had with that book.

I know a few math teachers from Stuyvesant. Neither of them would give work for the sake of giving work. I have no idea what else goes on. I'd argue, though, if they, or we, or anyone loaded kids down with work just for the sake of doing so, cheating might be an altogether appropriate response. I don't give a lot of homework. When I do, I don't expect that kids will spend more than ten or fifteen minutes, or maybe 30 maximum on it. It's not my job to make children miserable.

I check some homework for completion, but that only counts for 5% of the average. If my students cheat, they mostly cheat themselves. Students who can't complete my homework can't pass my tests, and if they copied to get the five points it would make little or no difference. When I collect and grade homework it's easy to catch copying. Most of my kids know not to do it.

I hope the students at Stuyvesant really belong there and don't need to cheat to get by. I also hope my colleagues, there and everywhere, don't just weigh students down with "gratuitous meaningless homework."

I know I don't. I'd hate myself for that.
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