On cheating and ethics…and cell phones

Last week while we were living pool and lakeside with my family in southern Indiana, my friend Lisa Nielsen posted this comment on her Facebook page:

All my cheating in school leads to my success in life. I talked, discussed, compared, questioned, shared, asked, looked up, and shared my best possible answer.

So sad that students that get caught are punished for the very skills they will need to do well in work.

My lack of compliance was NOT immoral; to follow rules in the least efficient or effective way was not immoral. What was immoral was their request that I do otherwise.

Her comment was in response to a proposal by NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to summarily ban cell phones at schools in the wake of a cheating scandal at prestigious Stuyvesant High School in Lower Manhattan.

I liked what she said and re-posted it on my timeline.

The ensuing discussion was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on Facebook.  People chimed in from all sides of the debate, remained respectful and wound up understanding, not just why there was disagreement, but also learning the areas in which we could agree.  (Mostly we all agreed that standardized testing is useless.)  As I said in the chat, if more people could do this on a larger scale – meaning have a discussion without disagreements turning to condescension and insult – the results could only be positive.

Although the Facebook discussion covered many aspects of teaching and learning as it ran its’ course, the main focus was the topic of cheating.  A few commenters agreed with the Chancellor; cheating on tests is unethical and must be stopped.   The argument is that although things like research and collaboration may be great real world skills,  it is made clear to students that sharing information on a test is not allowed.  Therefore those who do it are unethical.   Chancellor Walcott believes that since cell phones were used in this particular instance of cheating at Stuyvesant, cell phones must be banned.  Take away the tools of cheating, his theory goes, and the cheating will stop.

Of course kids can also cheat on tests using paper, pens, and even their hands.

Cell phones are not the problem.

What is the problem?

Tests are the problem.

Testing is unethical.  Forced schooling is unethical.  Talk all you want about the “rules of testing” in order to assess a person’s individual knowledge; the kid who has the guts to photograph the tests and share them with his peers is getting back at a system that has used fear and coercion on him since the age of 5.     If attending school and taking tests were optional and the kid chose to take the test, it would be a different story.

To be clear, this is not a criticism of the many caring teachers in the system; this is a criticism of the system itself.  This is a criticism of schools like Stuyvesant, which are lauded for their academic excellence but which are so high pressured and competitive as to be unhealthy.   The only thing that surprises me is that cheating isn’t more widespread.

I agree with Lisa when she says:

Our Chancellor blames cell phones for the cheating scandal and bans em. I blame the tests he makes kids take and think banning those is a better solution to the problem that would restore millions to our schools.

Do away with compulsory schooling all together and you pave the way for some real learning.

Cell phones and all.


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