The Cheating Crisis in our Schools

Most American students cheat.

In nationwide surveys on college campuses, about seven in ten students admitted to some cheating. Three in five high school students admitted that they had cheated on an exam, and more than four in five admitted copying another student’s homework in the past 12 months.

There is a cheating crisis in our schools, and the problem is not confined to low-achieving or unmotivated students. Cheating is common among most types of students—boys, girls, athletes, smart kids, student leaders, even those with “strong religious beliefs.” Why are so many students cheating?

Our culture has become preoccupied with achievement. Pressure for grades—to win parents’ approval and gain admission to colleges—leads many students to cheat. While many students are pushed to succeed by parents and a grade-based system that starts naming winners at an early age, students also feel pulled by a desire to get on a path to top colleges and high-paying jobs.

But there are serious ramifications to ‘winning at any cost,’ including lack of character in students, and also the lack of self-esteem.

Never kid a kid. They will never misread our true expectations of them. They know we have created an educational system that values their aptitude more than their attitude, their ability more than their effort, and their talent more than their character. They are surrounded by signs that tell them that what they can do is more important than who they are.

Unfortunately, an environment that values only achievement can make it extremely easy for test scores and awards to lure good kids into a false sense of fulfillment. This is not the genuine self-esteem that is earned from the learning process—which includes mistakes and some hardship—and it can leave kids feeling empty.

In a character culture, achievement is valued, but principles are valued more. That is, what you stand for is more important than merely how you stack up against others.

In addition to this pressure for external achievements, there is another debilitating grip on today’s kids, which is the result of a prevalent mindset in our homes, schools, and culture, that asserts that kids need to feel good about themselves all of the time.

Applied to education, this mindset seems to say, ‘If we make kids feel good about themselves, they will do great things.’ But, in fact, it’s the other way around. When kids do well, and do it honestly, they will feel good about themselves.

Character is inspired, not imparted. We cannot pour it into our kids or our families. Self-esteem—real, authentic self-esteem—is essential, and once earned, it can never be taken away. Our children should graduate from schools with a healthy amount of it.

Published on: March 25, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Laura Gauld

Laura Gauld is the award-winning co-author of the book The Biggest Job We'll Ever Have and the Executive Director of Hyde Schools, whose unique character and leadership development program has been featured on 60 Minutes, the New York Times, PBS, and NPR.

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