Notes: Cheating Lessons

For me, James M. Lang’s Cheating Lessons contextualizes the phenomenon of cheating in the classroom. It shows that cheating is not simply something new or accelerated because of our current education system, but it actually has roots in history. It also contextualizes the conditions under which we teach as not being something completely separated from history. This contextualization and generalization has its positives in that it makes the problem of cheating seem less insurmountable. After all, it is not a singular issue for me as a teacher but all teachers are dealing with this issue. It helps to construct a community of teachers that can commiserate over shared experiences and individuals who can work together to try to find strategies to create good learning environments for students.

The generalizations that the chapters make also have not disappeared from our classroom today. For example, the pressure-cooked nature of testing systems or the strong emphasis on performance. High-stakes exams for both the teacher and the students persist through our contemporary period. Students are continuing to learn for the sake of test taking rather than thinking about the process of learning. Much like the imperial exams in dynastic China, state exams and even some course exams focus more on memorization rather than critical thinking.

The generalization, however, also has its pitfalls. This generalization makes cheating seem like a single problem. While the education system and institutionalization do cause a lot of issues, other more nuanced factors that van vary from student to student also effect their cheating. For example, thinking about cultural specificity is important, but it is glazed over in the chapters. With an increasing international student population, cheating is not as easily understood or defined. In the current People’s Republic of China’s education system, it remains one where memorization is key and quotation is central in proving one’s learnedness. The practice of “proper” citation in the PRC, however, is not as prevalent and not taught in secondary school or college. And so, when students move to a college in the United States, cheating or plagiarism can be a problem if the instructor does not define cheating and give examples of citation.

While the chapter points out pitfalls of education that have not yet disappeared and remain the foundation education, especially in elementary and secondary school, the generalizations of cheating and its history lacks an account for different types of students who come from other places or different educational systems. In order to examine teaching and cheating, it is important to consider student and cases of cheating as multi-dimensional individuals with their own culture, socio-economic backgrounds, and experiences.


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