Why Children Cheat: Classrooms, Karma, and Consequences

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Within the recesses of her hoody, she embodies the girl described in the opening of Britt Nicole's Headphones song. It's the next best thing to an invisibility cloak. And from these artificial shadows, she glares at the loathed "bubble test" before her. The question doesn't make sense; her pencil moves to fill in option C.

Her hidden eyes catch sight of the sheet filled in by the student next to her. He's a "smart" kid who probably has the right answer. And it's so easy to lift his decisions completely undetected.

She darkens a different bubble.

"As long as I don't get caught, nobody cares how I figured out which letter to fill in. Besides," she reassures herself, "I don't work overly hard to cover up my sheet. I give back too."


Like this middle school student, I also dislike Scantron® tests. They tend to test your ability to guess what the teacher wants, ask you to mindlessly repeat what you've been told, and reinforce data points over understanding. And, because mastery isn't the key, cheating is a logical step forward. I never considered cheating when I had an education based on mastery. But when your success rides on your ability to properly select the correct letter one hundred times in a row... you start to feel like maybe you're playing a different game. And if that's the case, cheating makes sense.

Listening to this girl's story, however, hinted at something I hadn't considered before: Karma. She justified cheating by saying, "At least I let others cheat off me too." In so doing, she pays off her "debt to society" by "giving back" to those around her. The non sequitur would be funny if it didn't betray such a deep misunderstand of education: "I'm here paying my dues. The more we can help each other all get by, the better."

Right now I am not concerned with the consequences of cheating. Of far greater importance is the consequence of an educational model where students have been so far removed from the process of learning that cheating has become an act of kindness to their fellow student.

In the past I would tell kids that "you aren't doing yourself or your friends any favors by cheating." But now I'm not so sure that's true. Such statements only make sense when the goal is for you to learn how to use and apply knowledge. If the purpose of a classroom is to get you to properly fill in a piece of paper, taking a "group test" makes the most sense.

Homeschooling gives you the opportunity to create an environment where applying knowledge is the goal. As you do that, you'll find that filling in the bubbles is just an added bonus on the side.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. Now I'm wondering: Does this view carry on beyond the classroom? Could this be part of the growing misunderstanding of how we actively help our "fellow man"? If the goal is to have a fish, does it matter how I got it?

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