Has cheating gone mainstream in America?

posted at 11:00 am on March 29, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

I tend to think that concerns about declines in moral values relate more to the access we now have to information than a real shift in behavior — but stories like this make me wonder.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that students will try to cheat their way through tests, even college entrance exams, even though that’s rather self-destructive.  What does surprise is that cheaters have apparently turned it into an industry in New York:

[Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen] Rice has charged 20 current or former students from a cluster of well-to-do, high-achieving suburbs on Long Island with participating in a scheme in which teenagers hired other people for as much as $3,500 each to take the exam for them. The five alleged ringers arrested in the case were accused of flashing phony IDs when they showed up for the tests. All 20 have pleaded not guilty.

If you believe that the teenagers had $3500 in cash to pay off ringers without their parents’ knowledge, I have some swampland in Mineola to sell you, too.  In my column for The Fiscal Times, I channel my inner curmudgeon and wonder what the parents were thinking:

On one level, cheating is an understandable impulse. Entrance exam scores can make a big difference in winning coveted slots at prestigious and more exclusive colleges and universities.  Parents – who presumably foot the bill for hiring these ringers – feel tremendous pressure to give their children the best odds they can for gaining admission to Ivy League schools, where success would mean better prospects for future careers.

What does it matter that the cheaters will keep more worthy students from getting the access they have earned? Actually, it means a lot – and not just for altruistic reasons, either, although those should come into play. We want the best and brightest to achieve the most, because at some point, we’ll need to see a doctor about a health issue, or perhaps an attorney to plan an estate or even to keep us out of jail.  Even just for purely selfish reasons, wouldn’t we prefer to get the attorney who didn’t need to cheat to get into Harvard Law and then cheat his way through the bar exam? I feel safe in assuming that the parents of the people charged in this case will insist on getting the best possible legal representation for their offspring.

Even on a selfish plane, though, cheating on entrance exams doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. The principle underlying these exams is to make sure students don’t get into an academic situation that they can’t handle – a sure path to failure. Unless a parent wants to put the ringer through college, at some point their own high-school graduate will have to keep up at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or other storied halls of learning.

Those who cannot take their own SAT or ACT will likely fare very poorly in those environments, wasting everyone’s time, money, and resources. Cheating in this case only cheats the student who pays someone to do their work for them as well as rob a more prepared student of the opportunity to excel.

These incidents always result in higher public costs, whether through lost opportunities for better-prepared students, or more directly by making goods and services more expensive.  That’s certainly going to be the case with the SATs and ACTs:

The millions of students who take the SAT or ACT each year will have to submit photos of themselves when they sign up for the college entrance exams, under a host of new security measures announced Tuesday in the aftermath of a major cheating scandal on Long Island. …

Students have long been required to show identification when they arrive for one of the tests. Under the new rules, they will have to submit head shots of themselves in advance with their test application. A copy of the photo will be printed on the admission ticket mailed to each student, and will also appear on the test site roster.

School administrators are “going to be able to compare the photo and the person who showed up and say that’s either John Doe or that’s not John Doe. They didn’t have the ability to do that before,” the district attorney said.

The photo will also be attached to the student’s scores, which, for the first time, will be sent to his or her high school, so that administrators and guidance counselors can see the pictures. Previously, test results were sent only to the student.

Terrific.  It’s not as if schools are so busy with administrative mandates that they’ve already become top-heavy, taking resources away from children who need to prepare themselves for future success.  Oh, wait …

The real problem in this isn’t a lack of security for the ACTs and SATs.  It’s a lack of respect for what had been considered classic virtues — honor, integrity, or even rational self-interest.  Instead of succeeding on one’s own merits, we have arrived at a place where we reward — heck, even expect — people to game systems for dishonest advantage.  It’s not just college tests, either, but marriages, as the success of the cheating website Ashley Madison attests.  Dishonesty and infidelity have been around as long as human nature, but until recently, they hadn’t become profit industries.

Perhaps I’m just hearkening back to an idyllic time of old-fashioned values (full disclosure: I grew up in the 1970s, so this is unlikely), but we really do seem to have lost our moral bearings.  I don’t need a politician to impose those, nor a prosecutor to force college-boards services to provide security to account for the gap.  We need parents that teach that honor and integrity should be more highly valued than an SAT score, and a culture that lifts those values on its own.  That’s something to consider when we engage the culture in the future.

Update 3/30/12: The media relations director of ACT Inc. writes to tell me that ACT will not be raising its prices as a result of the increased security protocol.  However, it still means more administrative work for the schools and time costs for everyone involved.


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But there is no absolute moral truth that cheating is wrong or right. It works or it doesn’t. It’s true that being free from the illusion that there’s absolute moral truth changes behavior.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 2:18 PM

That’s a laughable statement which you cannot prove.

Bizarro No. 1 on March 29, 2012 at 2:33 PM

Do you believe the % of vote-cheating is anywhere close to 50/50, when comparing Rightists to Leftists?

Probably not. That’s a specific crime that’s an exception to the rule.

How about when it comes to violent crimes – do you believe that % is anywhere close to 50/50?

i.e. Leftism itself doesn’t cause criminality doesn’t address why Leftists are so much more likely to commit certain crimes than Rightists, does it?

Not sure. I’d guess not, because most blacks are Democrats and they commit more crimes on average, for biological reasons — not ideological reasons. Then again, most Ashekenazi Jews are Democrats and they commit less crimes. I know that, on balance, the crime rate is higher in Red States than Blue States, and that Christians are incarcerated at a higher rate than Atheists, despite the latter trending more rightist and the former more leftist.

You don’t see a moral difference, but what’s your explanation for why a lot of illegal downloaders on the Right would never be tempted to steal their neighbors’ personal, physical possessions, even if they believed they could get away with doing so?

Because it isn’t true more so than a lot of illegal downloaders on the Left would never be tempted to steal their neighbors’ personal, physical possessions, even if they believed they could get away with doing so?

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 2:43 PM

That’s a laughable statement which you cannot prove.

No one can prove an absolute morality. It’s the Is—Ought problem.

The best response to it is here:

The Dutch scholar Hendrik Gommer published in 2010 the article ‘From the ‘is’ to the ‘ought’: a biological theory of law’ in which he states that the ‘is–ought’ problem should be solved in order to make a necessary next step towards thinking about the biological foundations of law. Biology can for example explain why people sometimes value killing another human being as ‘good’ (i.e. ‘ought’) and sometimes as ‘bad’ (i.e. ‘ought not’). Killing the enemy is good because it saves our children, killing my neighbour is bad because it destabilises society. Morals and rules have evolved from biological facts and are the result of interaction between genes and their surroundings. They are a product of our brain as all interpretations of facts are. As a result, ‘goodness’ can be regarded as a biological phenomenon.

It’s a utilitarian, morally relativistic response, and the best there is.

When is forcing someone to eat sh-t moral? When is cutting off a piece of a baby’s genitals moral? When is stoning someone for sexual trangsgression immoral — or moral?

Depends what the Christian/Jewish God says, I guess (but never the Islamic God, by contrast). That is laughable.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 2:50 PM

It should be a wonder that the trash sellers at places like Goldman Sschs fit right in at Democrat fundraisers.

But it has been happening a lot lately.

IlikedAUH2O on March 29, 2012 at 3:27 PM

Well, it’s not like we have a plagiarist Vice President or tax cheat Secretary of the Treasury or anything.

malclave on March 29, 2012 at 3:30 PM

I am a nontraditional student currently in my second to last semester in college for concurrent degrees and I see at least one or two “chumps” who cheat on their exams each semester, especially in the large lecture classes. I have not said anything since I look at this way, their cheating hurts no one but themselves and if they choose not to study and learn then that is their problem. Also the “my word vs. their word” issue comes into play since they use their I Phone to cheat, how can I prove where the info is or that they just looked at?

VikingGoneWild on March 29, 2012 at 3:33 PM

Even on a selfish plane, though, cheating on entrance exams doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. The principle underlying these exams is to make sure students don’t get into an academic situation that they can’t handle – a sure path to failure. Unless a parent wants to put the ringer through college, at some point their own high-school graduate will have to keep up at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or other storied halls of learning.

If Tad or Muffy is planning on studying engineering or physics or biochemistry – then yes, the weeding out of lesser quality students generated by the test process avoids failure later.

On the other hand, if the plan is to major in racial or gender or other victimology group studies … the fields are jokes, and how can anyone really fail at them (other than by exercising some independent thought and calling out the field’s article of faith as the baloney that they are)?

krome on March 29, 2012 at 3:34 PM

We’re an unchurched people. People used to go to church and believe what was being taught there.

Now, even if you do go to church, people have been taught not to expect any divine justice. God is forgiving, after all. Therefore, we can just do whatever we want and not worry about the consequences.

People that really believe in God, and really believe that he expects good behavior out of them, don’t cheat. Nor do they allow their children to cheat. Nor do they live in sin, commit adultery, watch porn without at least feeling guilty for it. Sadly, I don’t know how we put this genie back in the bottle.

Galadriel on March 29, 2012 at 3:36 PM

I think it’s tempting to assume cheating has gone mainstream, and for that reason I’m skeptical. Have anything besides a few sensational cases or anecdotal evidence to support this Ed?

Free Constitution on March 29, 2012 at 3:36 PM

I have to add that I have lately realized that I can’t partake of popular culture very often anymore. I think over the years it has gotten worse, but so slowly that we don’t realize what’s happened until one moment you wake up and take notice.

Yesterday was a little bit of a tipping point when I was watching the Ellen show with my 12 year old daughter. It featured little 6-7 year old girls in princess costumes rapping. How adorable! // It also featured a guest actor bumping and grinding with an audience member, numerous sexual jokes and references, and middle aged ladies rapping. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore.

On a brighter note, I was really touched by a couple of religious songs that were sung on American Idol last night. The singers were both very emotional, made the judges emotional and were well received by the audience. We need to encourage as much of that as we can in the public sphere, along with a return a willingness to say no to vulgar and low class behavior.

Galadriel on March 29, 2012 at 3:42 PM

Free Constitution on March 29, 2012 at 3:36 PM

Cheating has been at the college level for at least the better part of 40 years. I was approached by a teat taking ring in 1977 to take Organic Chemistry exams for 1st semester students. The rate then was $75 per test. This was at a major State University in California. Before you ask, I didn’t accept the offer.

chemman on March 29, 2012 at 3:52 PM

I have not said anything since I look at this way, their cheating hurts no one but themselves and if they choose not to study and learn then that is their problem.

Now this is a rationalization. It’s also abject nonsense. Clearly the cheating, to get better grades even if they were to ultimately not benefit from it, hurts those whose legitimate grades are discounted because they come just below the cheaters causing them to miss out on opportunities as a result.

That’s an unavoidable mathematical fact, however much you try to rationalize it.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 4:00 PM

t, because most blacks are Democrats and they commit more crimes on average, for biological reasons — not ideological reasons….
Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 2:43 PM

…wow….just….wow

If I ever said this I would be blasted as SUPER RACIST…but you are liberal so you can believe that blacks are genetically disposed towards criminality–>because you voted for the guy who gives them free stuff….

wow

airmonkey on March 29, 2012 at 4:03 PM

If I ever said this I would be blasted as SUPER RACIST…but you are liberal

No, I vehemently opposed Barack Obama, devoting many hours to campaigning against him and neglecting my personal affairs during the campaign, and am center-right politically. However, I value evidence-based science over political correctness. Did you by any chance look at the MRI study — or any of the others showing the same thing?

Biology is what it is.

You should read a good book co-written by Charles Murray — the conservative intellectual force largely behind 1994 welfare reform and also behind much of current thinking on education reform, including as expressed by candidate Rick Santorum (whom I don’t support actually) during this campaign — called The Bell Curve [audio link on YouTube to get you started].

Bell curves, lower case, apply to all races and populations, but it is not distributed equally for all.

Let me ask you a question and I want you to try and think about this scientifically and without pre-judging the answer.

We know that different human populations were geographically separated from each other by thousands, even tens of thousands of years. We know that the lines of hominids have adapted rapidly, including and especially their brains/skull capacities. We know that the different population groups we refer to as “races” adapted to be physically different than each other, if only cosmetically (although medical science reveals hormonal differences too, which leads to different prevalences of diseases such as prostrate cancer, and we darn sure know hormones influence behavior). We know that the main thing separating humans from other animals are our brains. We even know that some populations (people from Africa below the Saharan desert) did not interbreed with a different hominid species — Neanderthals — and that the rest did, to a greater or lesser degree.

How then would nature have kept all populations identical in every mental respect, but evolved to fit local niches physically? By what physical mechanism can you explain this?

Why would our ancestors who moved into vastly different northern niches with very different survival pressures stay identical cognitively in every single way — but adapt physically?

I’m open to the idea that there are no mental differences whatsoever between different racial groups but there is a mountain of evidence to show otherwise.

Can you explain how it might have happened, at least?

Incidentally, I don’t consider my genetics particularly great. And my ancestors wouldn’t be the most intelligent populations known (Ashekenazi Jews and Mongoloids: Chinese, Japanese, etc.] They would be about 3rd and 4th in intelligence based on IQ test data and correlated brain sizes—not that my genetic background has anything to do with what the data is in aggregate.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Simply put — where is your evidence that nature does equal?

The Declaration of Independence does — I’ll grant you that — but your evidence that nature does is where?

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 4:23 PM

As an aside, it’s ironic, airmonkey, that immediately above the comment where you assumed I’m uberliberal, I wrote this:

Now this is a rationalization. It’s also abject nonsense. Clearly the cheating, to get better grades even if they were to ultimately not benefit from it, hurts those whose legitimate grades are discounted because they come just below the cheaters causing them to miss out on opportunities as a result.

That’s an unavoidable mathematical fact, however much you try to rationalize it.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 4:00 PM

I’d be curious how you interpreted that as a particularly leftist sentiment.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 4:31 PM

Now am I racist? That’s an interesting question. I don’t think so, but it depends on how you define it.

Do I dislike people of different races? Not at all. I find differences fascinating and am not threatened by them. And even where I am threatened by them in some sense (other people may be younger, smarter, faster, stronger, more resilient, etc.) it doesn’t make any difference because that’s how things are.

At the moment I happen to be into not one but two black girls (OK, one is mostly African-descended, but part native), one from St. Louis and the other from Addis Ababa. I’ve been into women of every race you could possibly imagine and fell most deeply in love with and enjoyed a relationship with for longer than any other with a girl whose ancestry including African, among a hodge-podge of other things. I’m mixed race myself, albeit a different mixture.

So I certainly don’t hate people because of their race. But I don’t see any point in deluding myself that there are no average differences when the evidence is that there, are and even a basic knowledge of the principles behind genetics (including simple genetic drift) and natural selection in response to niches would lead an unbiased person to predict there probably would be.

I’m sure there are many many people who are in many important ways genetically superior to me. I might wish it otherwise and so? Reality doesn’t mold itself based on my preferences.

By the way — people from Africa are, as a group, adaptively superior to others in several important ways if you look at it objectively.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 4:44 PM

Even if airmonkey did return to this thread and read follow-up comments left 17 minutes after h/er/is last, it’s a pretty safe bet s/he isn’t going to reply. S/he can’t possibly have a strong answer to the question I asked—only appeals to authority, appeals to majority, emotionalism in how dare did I question the taboo, etc.

Even if every shred of data I have presented and could present on difference between populations is entirely wrong, no one can give me a sound theoretical basis, in light of modern understanding of genetics and evolution, why there would be body, but no brain, differences between populations separated by thousands or tens of thousands of years, some of whom did, and others didn’t, interbreed with a related species, to a greater or lesser degree.

There’s no credibly explanation on how absolute brain-sameness between groups would have been maintained.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 5:11 PM

Or why. Why would have it been maintained? What would have been the adaptive advantage of having a species moving into vastly different new environments with much greater differences between seasons and different lighting conditions maintaining the exact same cognitive organ without any significant adaptations?

Heck, even eye size changed along with brain size. They got larger.

Do you think the increased neurons in these larger brains just went unused based on nature’s favorite moral principle that — having evolved rapidly over 100s of thousands of years — hominids were now perfected and evolution should be frozen in time, so no on can get offended?

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 5:49 PM

Recent findings have confirmed the ‘Out of Africa’ model of human origins, but only in part. The model diverges from actual prehistory on two main points. One is that modern humans picked up archaic admixture as they spread out of Africa and into Eurasia. Thus, modern Eurasians have 1-4% Neanderthal admixture, and Melanesians an additional 4-6% from the mysterious Denisovans (Reich et al, 2011). As for modern sub-Saharan Africans, they seem to be the most admixed of all. About 2% of their gene pool comes from a population close to Homo erectus and a further 13% from a population probably related to the Skhul-Qafzeh hominins (Hammer et al., 2011; Watson et al., 1997).

But our brains are absolutely identical. Just because.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 6:26 PM

While talking to a defender of a cheater I said, I hope a cheater never does the lab reports for your blood and you should have seen the look I got.

mixplix on March 29, 2012 at 7:28 PM

People hate it when you make an unassaible point, mixplix.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 8:10 PM

It’s true that being free from the illusion that there’s absolute moral truth having no conscience and no moral code changes behavior for the worse.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 2:18 PM

FIFY.

most blacks are Democrats and they commit more crimes on average, for biological reasons — not ideological reasons

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 2:43 PM

We’ll just ignore the fact that blacks committed far LESS crime per capita compared to whites back when they were more properly conservative, before being radicalized and/or corralled by the Leftists who – no coincidence – hated traditional family values and argued that there’s no absolute moral truth.

CanofSand on March 29, 2012 at 8:10 PM

We’ll just ignore the fact that blacks committed far LESS crime per capita compared to whites back when they were more properly conservative,

Show your data. I believe what you’re saying isn’t true and I think you’re lying.

Mitchell Heisman on March 29, 2012 at 8:39 PM

Honor, integrity, and rational self-interest now passé?

Why wouldn’t it be?! Look at the people in government and the media that the students have to look at as role models.

Sterling Holobyte on March 29, 2012 at 9:10 PM

Actually, let’s ask why it wasn’t a problem before. I graduated high school in 1965 and that was the toughest year for college: where was the cheating.

1. The boards were just a sanity check on other performance measures, which count. Now, except in special circumstances grades are so inflated as to have little probative value

2. There was a belief that the process was real. If you cheat to get in, you are just setting yourself up for spectacular failure later.

Tying both together, we see college as becoming merely providing ascriptive status, often from legislative privilege. All that counts is getting in and getting on the path.

That is the why now and not before: college is now just symbolic display.

Denver Bob on March 30, 2012 at 11:50 AM

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