Harvard Investigates 125 Possible Cheaters
“Harvard Investigates `Unprecedented’ Academic Dishonesty Case,” an article by Rebecca D. Robbins in The Harvard Crimson campus paper, tells a remarkable story about possible cheating at the school.
The university is currently investigating 125 students who may have shared answers last spring while completing a take-home exam for their class, Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress.” According to the Crimson article, 279 students were enrolled in the class. So you can do the math. If those 125 students really were cheating, that means that about half the class was involved.
This scandal resonates with recent cheating cases. In one of them, high school students on Long Island paid other students to take the SAT and ACT exams for them. More recently students in a New York City public high school apparently snapped images of SAT tests using their smart phones and sent them to other students.
But my question is, why did Harvard students cheat? I mean, these students had already been admitted to Harvard, right? If you cheat on the SAT or ACT to get a higher grade, maybe you can get into Harvard. But once you are a Harvard student, what reason is there to cheat?
Maybe those students would like to earn higher grades that can help them get into law school or graduate school. Okay, that seems like a motivation, albeit a twisted one.
But I suspect that the roots of their cheating behavior (if they are found to be guilty, that is) run deeper than a desire to get into a better postgraduate program. I think that the underlying reason has to do with the absurd and excessive pressure that our educational system exerts on students.
This pressure starts building on our students when they are very young. First, there is the pressure to get into the best possible preschool. Granted, that drive is felt more strongly by parents than it is felt by pre-kindergarteners. But in some demographic groups, the pressure then mounts on students to get into the best possible private schools for primary school. Then the stakes rise again for getting into private high schools. And then the pressure mounts even higher for college. And of course many students will feel that they have failed unless they get into the tiny upper strata of the “best” colleges, as anointed by US News. Mom and Dad want that Ivy League window sticker on the back of the family car, and Kiddo, you better produce.
The pressure builds and builds as high school students try to earn high grades, excel in AP tests, perform community service, prepare to achieve perfect scores on standardized tests, and write college admissions essays that astonish admissions officers.
For some kids, the pressure just never stops. By the time they get to college, their overstressed brains are literally firing on nine cylinders, and they simply cannot drop back and earn anything less than an A.
I’m not forgiving cheaters, because cheaters undermine essential standards and norms that colleges try to maintain. If there were no standards, a college degree would mean nothing.
But regarding those Harvard cheaters, if cheaters they be? If they are guilty, it could be that what they have done is not completely their fault.