Academic Ethics: Is It Okay to Cheat if Everyone’s Doing It?
I’m a sophomore at a huge magnet state college in a particularly competitive field: mathematics. I was taking the accelerated one-year intro sequence, but decided that even though I was doing okay at it, the speed at which the courses were progressing was making it hard for me to really learn and internalize the material. So I switched “down” a level to the calculus series. Since I switched, everything has gotten a lot better — I’m learning a lot more, if more slowly, and I find that having taken Accelerated for a while gave me a temporary advantage over the other students, which is nice.
I’m not a very grade-driven person, but I work hard and I like to think that my efforts are reflected in my grades. However, although I’m performing much better now that I switched to the easier sequence, I find that I’m doing worse than the other students in the class. Everyone’s getting A’s on all the homework! The weird thing is, when I study with them, I understand the material a lot better, and I end up doing better on the tests. After a while, a senior who took this class two years ago clued me in: there’s a website that you can access if you pay five dollars a month, and it has all the answers to the homework questions in the book. It even has step-by-step explanations, so you can “show your work” and study from them if you need to. Homework scores are half of our final grade, and I find myself frustrated now because I’m losing points for adding incorrectly even when I know how to do the problems, and kids who don’t have any idea how to do the problems are getting better scores than me because they always have the answers.
I guess I never thought that much about cheating or how I feel about it because test scores don’t matter that much to me (I’m a very unusual math major, I know!), and I’m conflicted about how to handle this. If no one were cheating, I’d never consider it, but since everyone is, I feel that I’m suffering for my principles — and I’m not even sure if I really believe it’s morally wrong to cheat when everyone else is dong it. On the other hand, the professors definitely don’t want us to do it. On the other-other hand, I actually find the problems themselves kind of fun, and would probably just use the website to check my work anyway. What should I do?
- keep me anonymous please
I guess the time has come to consider your views on cheating, huh? My eighth-grade biology teacher once asked us a set of questions not unrelated to yours: if you had the money to genetically alter your kids to make them smarter and more attractive, but it was so expensive that only a handful of people in the world could do it, would you go for it? What about if half of the kids in their school had been modified — would that change your views? What about if the number were as high as ninety percent? Would you disadvantage your kids by refusing them the treatment?
What he was getting at is that the argument most people make against genetic modification — and also against cheating — is that it gives one person an unfair, and unearned, advantage over others. But that criticism doesn’t apply here, because in your case, not cheating gives you a disadvantage.
You also allude to your professor’s point: you’ll learn less if you cheat; you’re really just cheating your self by allowing yourself to be lazy. That point, too, has merit. However, if you end up with one of the class’s lowest grades as a result, you’ll also be cheating yourself of the recognition you deserve. I think your plan to check your answers with the website, but do the work yourself, is a happy medium. Just make sure to be disciplined about it.
You might want to consider alerting the professor to the site, however — maybe anonymously, maybe once you’ve finished the course. Because ultimately, even if you have the discipline and stamina to make sure you’re learning while using the site, other future students may not, and you’ll be doing them a favor in the long term if you take away the crutch that allows them to cheat themselves. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll also be helping future students like yourself — students who learn about the site late in the semester, or students who may find it hard to choose between cheating and being handicapped academically.
Good luck! I admire you for pursuing math — you’re braver than I am.
For free advice from Veronica, submit your questions anonymously to VeronicaMittnacht@thefastertimes.com.
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