By Jake Edwards
Cheating is not exactly an uncommon occurrence in the average high school, or at least according to conventional wisdom, but at Sonoma Academy, dozens of students were interviewed to actually answer the question “Why do students cheat?”
This same “conventional wisdom” (common knowledge that, though accepted near-universally, is often incorrect or misdirected) gives us hundreds of possible answers, from family pressure to a desire for better grades, but my thought on the matter is that the opportunity to cheat forms a sort of underground economy, or black market, the answers to homework or a test the product being sold in exchange for social standing or because of pressure from friends.
From an economic standpoint, this makes perfect sense: teenagers are inundated in both a highly social environment and an academically competitive environment, meaning both social standing and grades carry a high value. If one party has the answers the other party needs and that party can boost the social standing of the “dealer,” the transaction seems like a completely rational occurrence.
Over the course of several days, the Introduction to Economics class, including myself, gathered the data needed to examine the question in an empirical light.
Some of the answers I received from students simply reinforced conventional wisdom, while others I didn’t expect nearly as much. Most admitted to cheating to some degree or another on simple, low-risk algorithmic tasks like language or math homework, which didn’t surprise me, but everyone I interviewed was visibly more taken aback by the idea of cheating on a test or project.
My idea seems to hold true when it comes to simple, algorithmic homework, that people just don’t mind helping others out, but the idea of cheating or manipulating for whatever ends on something of greater importance than algorithmic homework seemed almost taboo, putting the idea of an underground economy mostly out of the question. As desirable as the social standing might be, even if there were people willing to make such a trade, the intellectual property of the correct answer or the well-written paragraph is just too controversial at Sonoma Academy to be on the market for sale.
So it seemed my initial speculation was wrong, but we have yet to answer the question. Luckily, we have a multitude of interviews performed by the entire class and one important fact that I think might hold the key to finding the solution: one must consider the unique nature of Sonoma Academy as a non-traditional private school. This is the type of school that students choose to attend, knowing it will be a challenge, but they continue to return day after day. Perhaps, like so many times before, conventional wisdom has proved us wrong: maybe Sonoma Academy students don’t cheat nearly as much as we would like to think, simply because of its status as a private school.
Many students, from both my interviews and others, expressed not only a distaste for cheating but desire to do well and be academically honest and actually learn the material. One even said that, even though it is his hardest class, he always does his Spanish homework so he can make sure to actually learn the material well. Perhaps the many who don’t do their Spanish homework actually recognize it as useless, repetitive work and cheat on it so they can pursue homework that interests them more.
I believe that conventional wisdom has given us a false stereotype of high school students as compulsive delinquents and general ne’er-do-wells who will leap at any opportunity to cheat, and that given a chance, a group of motivated high school students can prove our accusations wrong.