Cheater, Cheater, um, Pumpkin Eater?
Once in a while, Time magazine and other rags run a story or two about "cheating and the Ivory tower." Before I became Teacher Lady, I would read these articles and think, "Yeah, right." Or, on perhaps a more open-minded day, "Well, that's only at hard-core Ivy League schools where the competition is so intense that students are driven to extremes."
One of the reasons I was so skeptical is because I never cheated in college. I do not write this to let you all know how scrupulous I am. Please. I never cheated in college for baser reasons: I have bad luck and I knew I would get caught. I was too lazy to actually figure out a great cheating scam. And I also figured that in the time it would take me to come up with a genius cheating plan, I could actually just study. Or not. I don't remember exactly - I was drunk for most of those four years.
Speaking of great scams, now that I think about it, there were quite a few kids who cheated back in the olden days. A woman in my sorority ran a virtual (no, not virtual like virtual reality - this was back in the day of the typewriter, the abacus and the rickshaw) "term-paper factory." It was her part-time job. Her "clients" were mostly guys from the fraternity house across the street. She even had a "pay scale" - $20 for a "C" paper, $35 for a "B" paper and $50 for an "A" paper. How she knew in advance what she needed to do to earn each grade, I never figured out. But it seemed to work.
In today's technology era, the crazy college kids don't need my sorority sister's factory. They have the Internet and they're set. Although some of their cheating isn't so high tech. I give you Exhibit A:
My first semester teaching, finals week: I'm in my office at the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m., copying the final exam and one of my students comes bursting in, huffing and puffing, "Megan is down there and she's written all the answers on her desk and she's covering it with her water bottle!" So I go downstairs (the final is at 7:45 a.m.) and sure enough, there is Megan - one of my best students (and now I wonder why she was one of my best students) sitting at her desk, with a HUGE clear plastic bottle of water on top of her desk. "Megan," I say sweetly, "I'm going to need you to do me a favor and come sit over here," and her face just drained of all color. She looked like she was going to vomit. "Okay," she stammered. Then, with much fuss and rearranging books and backpacks and papers, she changed desks. On the former desk was the evidence - lots and lots of smeary pencil writing, now illegible. How she managed that little magic trick, I'll never know, but if I hadn't been so pissed off, I would have been mighty impressed.
And here we go again: I have a reactionary paper that is clearly "lifted." It is a reaction to the movie And the Band Played On. I just got around to grading it this Monday. This same student has previously submitted papers that read like they were written by a monkey with a crayon. This particular paper reads like it was written by someone with an MPH from Harvard. He writes about retroviruses and lentiviruses (by the way, from what I can recall, lentiviruses are NOT mentioned in And the Band Played On.) He expounds on AIDS conspiracy theories. He illustrates what happens when viruses "jump species." This information isn't found in our textbook and he cites no sources. Like he invented the AIDS conspiracy theories.
I was mad. Let me rephrase that. I was livid. J. does not understand why I get so incensed when students cheat. He's very The Four Agreements, all "Take nothing personally." That makes good sense. But I am not that sensible. I take it very personally. And it has nothing to do with academic integrity and all that. It pisses me off royally because I interpret it as, "You must think I'm really, really stupid. Just dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks stupid." Or, maybe, they think they're just that clever.
I wrote him some choice words on his paper and planned to speak with him after class on Tuesday, but he didn't show up. Now what? I won't see them again until the final. There are a number of disciplinary actions I may take against him, but they seem rather pointless, considering past evidence (in Part II, to follow.)