During the semi-annual meetings with parents, my son’s teacher stressed the importance of having the students do their own homework, with little outside help from their parents. Having the students do their work by themselves lets the teacher see what areas they are having difficulty in and gives them the chance to cover those areas in class -- or provide additional help if needed.
At my son’s school, there are projects that students are required to turn in every semester in addition to their regular work. These projects involve their regular studies, but provide them with a chance to be more creative than they can be during class time. A few of the projects have required a limited amount of assistance from parents, but on the whole, the students plan and execute the projects themselves.
My son had one project in the spring that required research on the Internet. He found the information he needed and smugly proceeded to copy it word for word from the website he found, thinking he had discovered a shortcut to get his work finished quicker. Much to his disappointment, I told him that copying what he had found was the same as cheating. I showed him how to read the information he found and then rewrite it in his own words instead of simply taking what someone else had written and passing it off as his own. “But mom,” he protested, “this is how everyone else in my class is doing the project.” I explained that, by my definition, what he was doing was akin to cheating.
To him, cheating had only meant copying an answer from someone else’s paper during a test. He did not realize that there were other ways to cheat, including using verbatim the information he found on the Internet. We had a long discussion about what cheating was and why it was not good to cheat. Reluctantly, he reread what he had copied down in his own words.
Cheating comes in many forms, from glancing at a neighbor’s answers on a test to buying the answers to a major exam. A friend once complained to me because she had been pulled out of the classes she was teaching so that she could spend the day writing a paper at the school where she worked for the school director’s son. The son had a research project due and since his English was not sufficient to write his paper by himself, the director assigned my friend to write it. My friend pointed out that the son needed to have the skills necessary to do his own work and that if he could not do the work required, then perhaps he needed to take additional courses in order to reach the necessary level. The director shrugged off the suggestion that it would be better in the long run if her son did his own work.
On a realistic note, how many of us would want to be treated by a doctor who cheated their way through medical school? I know that I would not want to live in an apartment building designed by an architect who took the easy way out and did not do his or her own work while in university.
I think it is a part of human nature to think about cheating from time to time. Whether it involves playing with the cold hard facts when figuring out our income taxes or paying to get the answers on a university exam, it is still cheating, even if we do not want to admit it to ourselves or to others. Cheating to get what we want, or to advancer our career, in my opinion, is wrong -- no matter how well we may try to justify it.
As a parent, I think it is my responsibility to teach my son what constitutes cheating and make sure that he understands why it is wrong to cheat. Although he was not happy about having to redo his project, the result was that he had a better understanding of the problem and was not just parroting the answers he found. It is an important lesson that I hope will come in useful for him later in life. What he learns from hard work will benefit him much more in the long term, than if he had simply copied down answers and not analyzed and thought about the project on his own.
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