Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cheater, Cheater, um, Pumpkin Eater?

Just in case reading papers about Opera and captive speakers isn't aggravating enough, I have something else to torment me: Cheaters.

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.)


Blogger ColoradoCastaway said...

not to discount your feelings, but i have to agree with J. on the not taking it personally thing. after all the cheaters are reallly only hurting themselves in the long run. The fact that you caught them and can grade them accordingly proves that you are not as stupid as they would like to believe.

May 05, 2006 12:51 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Just one more thing to add to the rules of your class:
If you plagiarize or cheat in this class, you will automatically fail.

I wanna hear about you getting all hard-ass on your students!

UH - kids these days... :)

May 05, 2006 3:00 PM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

I hate cheaters as well. Last fall I had a student who was barely skating by with a D, didn't do his homework, was inattentive in class, failed most of his quzzes and tests, get a 98% on his final. He just happened to sit next to one of my best students, who also got a 98%. Not only did they both get a 98 and miss the same items on the test, they also both had the same incorrect answers on their tests. When I confronted him with the situation, he got very defensive- "Are you trying to say I cheated?" I was careful not to use that word at all. Since they are both freshmen (9th graders), I allowed them to retake the final separately. One of them got an A, one of them got a 42%. Mmmmmm. And it was THE SAME DAMN TEST they took before.
I'm right with you on the who the hell do they think they are dealing with? thing.

May 05, 2006 4:19 PM  
Blogger Art Nerd Lauren said...

My fine institution was just written up in one of the local papers re: cheating. I am like you, though- unlucky and I get caught at whatever I'm doing. Didn'thave sex until age 20 because I was certain I'd be the girl who got pregnant her first time. Sad.

Anyway, I'd have to agree with J, but I completely understand the frustration. Most kids didn't take my class seriously enough to cheat. But my gawd, my syllabus gets longer and longer every semester, exponentially so while reading your tales!

May 05, 2006 5:07 PM  
Blogger Veronica Mitchell said...

I am with you. Sleaziness plus the assumption of my stupidity infuriates me. You might enjoy this post from another teacher in Mauritania.

May 05, 2006 10:38 PM  
Blogger happychyck said...

I think of cheating as the little game between teacher and students. I hate to lose. So, don't even tell me of the times I didn't spot someone cheating. I'll take it personally.

I'm the queen of spotting plagarism, but for middle school my colleagues and I given the student a rough talking to and send them to redo it. When I taught high school, they received and F. One spring about 5 years ago, the baseball coach benched half his team because I discovered that they lifted their book reviews directly off the Internet. The coach, also an English teacher, wanted to know how I found out these things. Uh, google? Duh!

That curtailed plagarism for quite a while and those players helped advocate: "Dudes, trust me. Just write your own paper!"

Hey, wait I minute! I tell my students that kind of crap will get them kicked out of college. Doesn't it?

May 06, 2006 8:26 AM  
Anonymous edj said...

Oh Teacher Lady I feel your pain! I get mad too. Tell J it's just part of being a teacher.
Once I had my students write a description of their home towns. One turned in a guide book description! I naturally commented on that. Two years later, another student told me how that amazed them all, how I knew it was from a guide book. I'm thinking "Because I'm not stupid?" But apparently, they either thought I was a total idiot, or they didn't think I would actually read their work. Hmmm...

May 08, 2006 2:24 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

"Or, maybe, they think they're just that clever."

They do! I was just discussing this with a friend of mine who has a 13 yr-old daughter. The daughter wore eyeliner for her school pictures this year and tried to tell mom she wasn't. Mom called her out on it and her daughter was SHOCKED to hear that she was not the first teenage girl with the incredibly brilliant idea of sneaking makeup to school and putting it on in the bathroom and washing it off before she went home.

My 15 yr-old son is the same way. Not that he's wearing eyeliner (thank goodness, you never know nowadays), but he comes up with these "brilliant" plans and then is shocked to find out that mom is one step ahead of him.

May 09, 2006 2:02 PM  

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