Monday, July 25, 2011

Tirade I

Warning – Sometimes I get mad.  If a post is labeled as this one is either suck it up and read bravely what I have to say, or duck and cover.  I’ll get over it and write something more cheerful next week.     Unless I get mad again. 

Where is Truth?

During the civil trials of Jesus Christ, Pontius Pilate asked him –while he stood there battered and bloody, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).   Jesus didn’t answer Pilate – perhaps his tone made it clear that he didn’t really want an answer.  Regardless, the question is The Question, but day after day I am reminded that whatever Truth is, our modern society values no more than it values virginity.

Case in point – the Atlanta public schools.  Earlier this month the Atlanta Constitution reported that for the last decade 178 educators, working in 44 schools and in the central administration, falsified the results for the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.  They actually donned rubber gloves, erased the little penciled  “bubbles,” and replaced erroneous answers.  They got startlingly improved scores using this method.  (Vogell)

At the other end of the school continuum, students, the vast majority of them, are turning cheating into a fine, electronic art.  According to a study done by the Center for Youth Ethics at the Josephson Institute in Los Angeles 64% admitted to cheating on tests within the last year.  In the same study 82% said they copied homework.  (USNews – Education) 

In a small study done in a Midwestern town the stats were even worse – between 74 and 87% percent admitted to some form of cheating on tests (Ramirez).  These industrious young people have at their disposal dozens of new techniques – phone-photos  of the test sent to your buddy in the next class,  a quick, surreptitious blackberry Google search,  a little thumb-dancing under the desk.  The truly innovative will even hack into the computerized grade book and just assign himself a grade, adjust his attendance records – the possibilities are endless.

I did my own checking with a Google search for “essays for sale.” (As an English teacher I was always on the lookout for plagiarized papers.) The search garnered over 28,000.000 results.  Twenty-eight million!  That means that millions of people are making money by helping students cheat, and that they evidently have plenty of customers. 

I have been aware that over the expanse of my career Truth as an absolute value has been going out of style.  The student who most didactically pounded on her desk and declared, “There’s no such thing as absolute truth!” wasn’t my first clue, but it’s one that’s stuck with me.  She may have been a very bright girl, but she didn’t come up with that one on her own. 

In an effort to find that non-existent middle ground, where no one is offended and no thinking has to take place, school curricula have grabbed the relativist philosophy with a white-knuckled grip.  My darling student had learned her lessons well. 

And you can’t help realizing how close the relativist mantra is to plagiarizing a paper.  Why look up facts if none of them is true?  Why bother writing a paper if you can just buy one? Who cares whether or not you implicitly lie by sneaking a peek at the test questions beforehand?  Why memorize stuff if nothing’s true? 

Of course the next question is -- Why bother cheating on a test if your teacher will do that for you? 

We spend upwards of $10,000 per student per year on public education, and for that we get a whole generation of con artists?  Oops – 2 generations, counting the Atlanta teachers,  and I doubt they’re the only ones pressured to use deception to “prove” they’ve left no student behind. 

I’m beginning to see this tirade as more of a book than a post, so I’ll close, but let me say this:

I have spent most of my life in a classroom, either sitting in a desk or standing before rows of them.  I have heartily believed in what I was doing there, whether learning or teaching, and I had the naïve idea that it was all connected to this concept of Truth.  Just stop and think; if we’re not teaching Truth, we have to be teaching lies.   The middle ground just doesn’t exist.

What is truth?  I doubt if many of our nation’s students have a clue.

Works Cited

“Most High School Students Cheat.”  Live Science.  May 2010.

Ramirez, Eddy. “Cheating on the Rise Among High School Students.” USNews – Education.  December 2. 2008.

Vogell,, Heather. “Investigation into APS cheating finds unethical behavior across every level.” The Atlanda Constitution. July 6, 2011.


  1. North Medford (and maybe South now too) use as a way to help combat plagiarism in essays. But even with that, there's the concept of why the cheating's happening in the first place. I think the more intelligent, thoughtful students in our schools may cheat because of a belief in this post-modernist "your truth is yours, mine is mine" belief. However, I don't think the more average students put quite so much thought into it. They do it because it's easy to do, they're lazy, and their parents haven't given them the morals for them to believe it's wrong!

  2. Couldn't agree with you more. Like I said, this topic has a whole book lurking behind it. The parents sure can't be left out of the puzzle. I once had a father explain to me that his daughter had to plagiarize her paper in order to get into a good school! Yikes.

  3. I am going to weigh in here, but allow me some time to list some key points relative to, what I hope, is a good post. I always enjoy your blog entries and this one is no exception.

    First, thank you for citing throughout this blog entry. Without citation, I would not continue reading and easily dismissed the entry as a rant.

    This is due to being in the online education system for over 5 years. I earned my four year degree in an online environment. My degree is in Information Systems, not English. For that reason I ask for leniency for grammar. Because of my type of education, I evaluate all blog posts; just a rant or backed up by citation? Is the post trying to explain both points or simply trying to tell me that the world sucks.

    This leads me to my response onto your blog. First, any teacher or administrator above the Junior High level should be trained, coached and/or exposed to the electronic means available to high school students. Most teachers (yes, stereotyping is intended here) don't have a clue about the electronic tools available to the average 15 year old.

    Rather than embrace the technology that is available, most teachers treat Blackberry's, iPhones, Androids, and other devices like the paper note. Using these devices instantly means that you are cheating. Later, when the student is caught cheating, they are flabbergasted the child was able to do this under their nose. In fact, these devices can be used to take notes, discover other ideas, and allow a student a reference section that spans the globe instead of the school library.

    Your claim of 28 million hits, while on the surface is true, is actually hyperbole. 90% of those results are going to be repeating or completely ambiguous to what the person is searching for. I would agree the results are staggering, but real results are closer to around 50. Over 100 papers are already written. But that is not what is scary.

    What is really scary is that I can pay another person as little as $75. For this amount, not only will I receive a 3000 word paper written in 72 hours, but it will also be in my writing style. You want fries with that?

    School curricula haven’t grabbed the relativist philosophy with a white-knuckled grip. Rather, the school curricula is driven by how much money the school receives because of programs such as no child shall be left behind. It is driven by teachers who will not embrace new technology and learn of its pitfalls. Change the curricula so those tests are not repeated. Develop new ways of spotting plagiarism. It is driven by teachers and administrators who have not evolved in their thinking or common sense skill set in 20 or even 30 years. Yet, these are the same people that instantly become an expert when discussing the practicality of using electronic media devices to enhance and further a person’s education. Really?

    I would agree that both student and schools are at fault for cheating. Yes, there are easier ways for students to cheat. However, the onus is on the teachers to embrace the technology that is available, evaluate what ALL their students are capable of achieving and gain a layman’s knowledge of what is available in the electronic device environment.

  4. “There’s no such thing as absolute truth!” Did she follow that statement with: "And that's the truth!"? If she did, how could that be true if there is no absolute truth? Interesting concept. It's too bad that type of thinking has taken over in the world of journalism. Great piece, Sis.

  5. You're right, Eric. I didn't mean to imply that technology caused this trend -- it has just facilitated it, and teacher ignorance doesn't help. I'm more concerned, however, with the philosophical backdrop to the whole mess, and I have a career's worth of examples of curricula designed to push or to lean on the relativist approach. It's no wonder things are a mess. Thanks for reading.