Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Legalized CHEATING?!?!?!

With a title like that, you have no choice but to read on...

Let me set the stage:
Students using their cell phones to text each other answers during their history test.
Other students looking up scholars' opinions on the book about which they're writing their English essay tests.
Students googling the meaning of words for their vocab tests on their PDAs.

A teacher's worst nightmare? Hardly. Actually, the teacher approves, and *gasp* even encourages this behavior!!! says an article in the Wall Street Journal last month. Schools today are having increasing problems with the issue of cheating. We live in a world where students have cell phones that connect to the internet and have text capabilities with QWERTY keyboards on them. They have PDAs that Google as fast as the laptop from which I write this. The technological age puts a huge amount of information right our fingertips, and today's youth have become exceptionally adept at accessing and using this information in ways that schools are having a hard time keeping up with.

The obvious reaction (at least, the way I see it): don't let them bring these technological devices to class. The problem, if not totally solved, is significantly reduced. There will always be those students who try to pull stuff, and then there are consequences. But, for the most part, this would cease to be an issue.

This Wall Street Journal article, Legalized 'Cheating', dated January 21, 2006, speaks to a very different approach that some schools are taking on this issue. Instead of cracking down on the cheating, they are changing the definition of cheating in their classrooms. Teachers allow students to collaborate via text messaging while taking a test, or Google information during an exam. According to this article, the most important thing today is to teach students how to access information and use it properly, not merely memorize and regurgitate the subject matter being tested. The article goes on to claim that this issue mirrors the "upheaval caused when calculators became available in the early 1970s." Teachers and schools had to change with the times, rethink how they defined education, and eventually calculators were allowed in classrooms, on tests, and became an accepted part of our society.

But see, here's the thing...using a calculator on the math test is NOT the same thing as using a cell phone to text messages answers on a test to your friend. Calculators aren't giving you the answer. You have to understand the math concept at least a little bit in order to use the calculator to produce the correct answer. Texting your friends for answers on a test involves no thinking whatsoever. Looking up scholarly articles on the Internet to aid you in writing your essay exam is merely allowing you to parade around opinions without really doing any thinking on your own.

My opinion? [As if you had a choice other than to hear what I think about this...] This is only going to make our country stupider. These schools, these teachers, these classrooms are teaching their students that they don't need their own store of knowledge, so long as they know how to use the resources around them to find the information they need. Hey, great! No more thinking! Kids'll love coming to school now! No challenge for their brains. No work to do because it's already been done for them by someone else! All they have to do is find it.

Geez! No wonder education in the United States is getting worse. This is yet another agregious case of lowered expectations. If we can't expect kids to think on their own, to take a little responsibility for their education and, I don't know, study a little for that test, then we shouldn't expect to keep our role as a superpower in the global community. I know that's a huge jump to take, but think about can we expect to continue to be a role model for other countries if we breed children that we then bring up to be idiots? Freedom of thought--one of the fundamental rights I enjoy, as do all my fellow citizens, as an American--is a powerful thing, perhaps even one of the most powerful options available to us in America. It sets us up to be individuals, to act and react on our own merits, to see the world around us and interpret it openly. It takes away the cage of ignorance. But, I couldn't even have the option of enjoying this freedom if I was brought up learning to use others' ideas as my own.

And I think that's where my utter disgust with this article and the idea it holds truly lies. It's not the principle of the issue of cheating. It's not a sense of traditionalism over what we consitute as "cheating." It's the fact that this concept (of letting kids collaborate or look up info on the web during a test) is killing their right to freedom of individual thought. It's killing their option to even know what freedom of thought is. They may grow up never even knowing what it's like to have their own opinion. They'll be dependent on what others say in order to know what they think about something. And what kind of place would America be with a bunch of blind sheep walking around thinking things that others have thought up for them? Not my America. Not yours either.

I know I took this to the extreme. I know I'm over-exaggerating the ramifications of this 'redefining cheating' thing. But, I did it for a reason. The people quoted in the article that are defending their new system have no idea what they are doing to these children. It's not enough to just get the kids through school and have them know the very minimum of an American education. If we want to raise the quality of our educational system, we have to push kids much harder and much further than they think they can go. Isolated actions like allowing kids to 'cheat' and redefining it as 'not cheating,' when taken separately, are not that big of a deal, sure. But when put together with all of the other crap happening in our country's educational system, all of those isolated actions suddenly meld to become a huge tidal wave of lowered standards and lowered expectations. It's bringing down our country, it's unfair to these kids, and really, it's just plain wrong.

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