The Surprising Reasons Kids Cheat in School

A new book proposes solutions while asking teachers and schools to take more responsibility for cheating students.
(Photo: Andy Sacks/Getty Images)
Jan 8, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Much like an unfaithful partner, a cheating student usually shoulders the entire blame for his misdeed, even when there might be other crucial dynamics at play.

A recent story in The Atlantic highlights a new book by James M. Lang, associate professor of English at Assumption College, called Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty, in which he explores these dynamics and sets out to rid his classes of cheating.

"Nearly three-quarters of college students cheat during their undergraduate careers."Lang’s book asserts that nearly three-quarters of college students cheat during their undergraduate careers. He calls this “a startling number attributed variously to the laziness of today's students, their lack of a moral compass, or the demands of a hypercompetitive society.” But Lang says there are other problems that need to be addressed in the classroom that help explain why students cheat.

In many cases Lang believes that school systemsteachers, districts, college admissions, the expectations of the federal government, and morehave raised the stakes of tests much too high. When certain tests can make or break a student's future, cheating becomes a rational response.

As an alternative, Lang suggests “encouraging mastery rather than performance on assessments.” This aspect of his philosophy can be traced back to Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, who established the concept of mindset. Dweck discovered that a "growth mindset," which understands intelligence and talent can be developed through hard work, helps lead to a love for learning and a tolerance for failure. Whereas kids with a "fixed mindset," who are afraid that a poor test result means they lack intelligence, might be more likely to cheat. Thus, teachers and parents are encouraged to reward effort and persistence over achievement.

Focusit has been said repeatedlyneeds to come back to the process of learning rather than the short-term effects of teaching seen in test results. Cheating makes one more good reason why. Lang believes learning should be a daily adventure to hold students' attention, and Mark Naison, a history professor and education expert at Fordham University, couldn't agree more. He's the founder of the Badass Teacher Association, a group of teachers, parents, and students who are exasperated and exhausted by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top proposals and the testing they require, the Common Core State Standards, and school closings. He says that teaching to the test, which involves repetition, memorization, and stationary activity, will no doubt make students bored and restless.

“Spontaneity, movement, imagination, invention, are what most promote student engagement," Naison says. Those are the kinds of processes kids can get into. “Students who are bored feel less connection to the teacher and therefore less loyalty. So they are more likely to cheat."

Lang's second solution has to do with self-efficacy, meaning students must feel that they have the skills to succeed in each task. To create self-efficacy in students, he encourages teachers to show that they believe in each child, especially the ones who have not given them a reason to.

On his blog Lang recently wrote that to fight cheating, "we need all hands on deck." By that he means that as his ideas make their way to the mainstream, the old wisdom shouldn't be left behind. "[W]e need to help students understand that honesty matters, and that their work in our courses should help prepare them for lives of integrity beyond their college years.”

This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.