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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Bullying and Cheating: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Rabbi Chaim B. posts about the rampant cheating in his son's school and he is none too thrilled. Fortunately his son is disgusted by the cheating which is an indication of good chinuch. The is an area where a person must be guided by a strong moral compass, since those who lie, steal, and cheat often get ahead in this world.

R. Brown asks: " So who is to blame here - the students doing the cheating, or the administration and staff that seems either oblivious to what is going on or powerless to stop it?"

I don't have the answer, but I would say that it is a little of each. I've seen cheating in my own public schools, in a frum school I taught in, and in the working world. Each experience was different, but the commonality was that of bullying.

At one time (4th grade to be exact), I was the cheater. A notoriously bad speller and a nervous test taker, I decided that I would place a list of the vocabulary words for the Friday spelling and vocabulary test inside my desk where I would be able to see it if I leaned back just slightly. About 2 or 3 weeks into discovering this technique, I was caught red handed by the teacher. She took away my cheat sheet, pulled me aside, and told me that if she ever saw me doing this again she would speak with my parents. It was purely a kindness on her part not to go directly to my parents and she pretty much solved my cheating problem, although I can't claim to be a tzadekes.

Unfortunately, many years later I became a victim of cheating. There was one girl in my high school who would take your homework right out of your binder if someone went to the bathroom or left their desk. That was frustrating and someone who squealed about copying day to day homework was sure to be burnt by the whole class since this type of cheating was all too common. So I never talked.

Another time, this same classmate turned around in her desk and copied my final exam and I was livid. I kept looking towards the teacher's desk hoping he would notice, but this teacher was not like the others and he did not closely watch the class, even during the final exam. Every other teacher in high school was vigilant and would walk up and down the isles during class trying to ensure that the honor code was upheld (actually, I don't believe we had an actual honor code, but it was understood that cheating was wrong and if caught you would score a zero and talking was presumed to be cheating and I do remember a few exams hitting the trash can cerimoniously).

Come graduation when this classmate was honored as one of the Valedictorians and I was just shut out of being Salutatorian, I was kicking myself. She was not the type of person who was a strong armed bully, but she made you feel powerless even in a school environment where such behavior was not tolerated.

My experience with exams, teachers, and students in a frum school was completely different. The cheating (or potential for such) was not hidden. The entire exam process was very casual and talking was tolerated. In one instance, I pointed out a group of girls chatting away with each other during the exam to their teacher. He defended them and told me not to worry, the girl that was being "helped" had fallen behind in class and those she was talking to were not going to be able to provide her with the correct answers anyways! (I guess one could say that everyone at that table was a victim of cheating, even the cheater). Well, I guess if you are going to be so non-chalaunt about behavior during an exam, you are asking for the students to cheat.

In public school, I would say that when it comes to cheating the students primarly bully each other. In private schools, I'm not sure who is bullying who: Could the various scenarios be sung to the melody of Chag Gadya?

Do the students feel intimidated by the other students?
Or, conversely, do the students intimidate the teachers? Who are intimidated by the administrators? Who are intimidated by the parents (especially the parents who give generously to the school)? Who are intimidated by the neighbors?

Well, I don't have any good solutions to offer regarding cheating in public schools or in private schools. But I would theorize that the problem is harder to fight in private school because loosing certain students often times means loosing lots and lots of money and that is. . . . .well, scary.

Your thoughts?


Ari Kinsberg said...

hmm. some of what i would write would be hypocritical. the rest would probaby just be inflammatory.

i think i'll be safe and take a pass on this post.

Mike S. said...

Igros Moshe has a tshuvah about cheating on Regents exams (these are state wide exams in New York) The Tshuvah is Hoshen Mishpat, part 2 either 29 or 30. His questioner has heard that some Yeshivahs permit the students to steal the answers before the test. Rav Moshe begins by pointing out that cheating on the exams is assur (forbidden) for several reasons, including dishonesty (mi d'var sheker), deception (g'neivat da'at) and theft of money (which can occur when the student uses an undeserved credential to get a job). Rav Moshe then goes on to point out that the prohibition is so clear he cannot imagine a Yeshivah acting in the manner the questioner poses, and assures his querent that what he has heard must have been a lie spread to discredit the yeshivas.

The other of the 2 tshuvot I mentions addresses the question of yeshivot cheating on government programs. Again Rav Moshe is quite forceful in condemning the practice; his language is well wort reading. Among other things he points out that stealing from the government is entirely contradictory to the purpose of a yeshivah.

Anonymous said...

My children attend an independent school, and the school has certainly asked children to leave, some of them with very wealthy parents. I'm always amazed that Jewish schools are more reluctant to do so than non-Jewish schools.

Tova said...

Cheating should not be tolerated-- are there schools out there with no tolerance policy with regard to cheating?

How many parents discuss cheating with their children?

triLcat said...

I also got caught cheating on a test at age 12 or so. I had just moved from public school to a Jewish school, and had good Hebrew (courtesy of my parents) but not much of a clue what to do with all these new subjects. I had failed test after test. The teacher gave me a zero on that test, but before the next one, she got another girl to volunteer to study with me and show me how to study for these tests. After the girl helped me, I didn't have to cheat anymore, because I was able to pass without cheating.

If a child is failing test after test, there needs to be some sort of help given before the child gets to the point of desperation and will do anything (including dishonesty) to get the grade.

If a child is capable and isn't performing because it's easier to cheat, the school needs to have a policy on how to handle cheaters - for example, the first time can be a warning, but the student has to take the exam in a separate room at a different time. The second time is an automatic zero. The third is an automatic zero plus call to the parents, etc...

Bob Miller said...

Two tales out of public high school (a top school, too):

1. One student fattened up his grade average by cheating. One day, the teacher caught him trying to sneak a "revised" test sheet into her cabinet to replace his actual sheet. The administration let him off because he had a good average!

2. During a foreign language exam, I felt something against my back. It was the stiletto or switchblade of the student behind me, who whispered that he wanted to look at my answers. I filled in the wrong answers, which he copied. But after he turned his test in and left, I fixed my answers and turned mine in. I could have had major trouble from him later, but he loaned his knife to a pal, who was caught with it in the hall by the principal or main enforcer and expelled!

Both of the cheaters above were really very smart, as admission to this school came only after a tough competitive exam. They didn't "need" to cheat at all.

Chaim B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chaim B. said...

Thanks for the link! I asked my son whether his Rebbe ever discussed the issue and he said his Rebbe has no clue what the kids are doing. That sums up the problem. If you send your kid to yeshiva, you expect ethics to be integrated into the curriculum. Yet, schools seem to miss the forest for the trees - the emphasis is on knowledge, grades, rote, rather than teaching real world values and attitudes. Everyone knows cheating is a problem - so maybe before finals the staff should spend time discussing the issue with kids? Nope, not done. Too busy learning.

Ariella said...

Yeshiva students tend to be very grade obsessed, and while that could be harnessed for the good, it could also open the way to "the end justifies the means" type of thinking, especially in a climate where people pride themselves on getting away with things.

When I taught in a local yeshiva girls' high school, a mother told me that she and her sister handed in the same papers. She thought she was proving how inconsistent grading is to me, but she actually proved that she lacks honesty and integrity. So if her child would be strong enough to resist such a path, it would in spite of her mother's example.
Why does my son see there is something wrong not just in copying himself but in allowing others to copy from him when his classmates think otherwise? Obviously, they have the same formal education. But values such as strict honesty and integrity cannot be absorbed from a school setting if it is not constantly stressed and modelled in the child's home life.

mother in israel said...

I once heard an intelligent, "religious" grandmother, who sees nothing wrong with cheating and she herself cheated in school. What is her profession? A teacher, of course.

Mike S. said...

Ariella, by the same token, a school can undercut values taught in the home if it consistently rewards cheating.

Scraps said...

I might have cheated once or twice in school, but I was not a habitual cheater. I was too afraid of getting into trouble, and the schools I went to were too small for cheaters to get away without being caught.

I was horrified when I found out how rampant cheating is in many frum schools, and how people have no shame over it.

Anonymous said...

In college, I once turned in a classmate for cheating. I still feel kinda sad about it. S/he was a really nice person and I couldn't face him/her afterwards.

Thing was, it was a creative writing class. All you had to do to get an A was turn in new stories on time.

The person turned in a "story" which included a few pages from a novel I'd read. I remember feeling like I was going to throw up. It felt like a huge betrayal - I felt like we all wrote stories for each other, and here this person had just grabbed something old...

When I told the prof, I was just as sick, though. It was painful to "rat out" a classmate.

mother in israel said...

1) I didn't mean to disparage
the teaching profession with my comment; I just found it sad that a person who chose teaching would feel that way.
2) Successful secular private schools might have more of an applicant base and can more easily fill spots left by cheaters. Also, the admin might not have to face the parents of the expelled kid on Shabbat morning in shul.

Mike S. said...

Nonetheless, considering the number of issurim involved in cheating, I would be wary of the hashkafa of any school that deliberately turned a blind eye.

Anonymous said...

I was very turned off of the whole Yeshiva system due to this very isssue. The child of the wealthiest family in our community was also not the brightest in the bunch. The cheating came on the part of the teachers and administration. How do I know? I would be the one helping them study the night before and I could tell the concepts were just not being grasped. Any yet the next day the same person would score an A on a difficult test. Hmmm? And while I realized that donations from that family are what paid my tuition, the double standard rankles me to no end.

DAG said...

I was at a frum teachers in session in LA about the importance of teachers being honest in the classroom...great lecture..until, at the end of the lecture, I witnessed numerous teachers falsifying the session attendance sheet to include their peers who did NOT attend.

triLcat said...

Wow. I think I might barf! That's so sad.

SephardiLady said...

DAG-That is just disgusting. Yuck.

DAG said...

What made it MORE disgusting is that teacher's had the choice between 7-10 workshops per session. To CHOOSE the workshop on honesty and to commit fraud while doing so, is terrible. That was one of those things I would NOT believe had I not seen it myself...and I wish that was the worst I have seen in Day Schools...not even close