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You Cannot Fake a Real Education

Recently a few of my children went to church to take tests that are part of their sacramental preparation programs. They have to memorize quite a bit of material–prayers, teachings of the Church, etc. When they came from from their testing, the topic of discussion was the surprise to see many of the kids cheating on their tests. Yes, cheating on their faith formation tests.

Cheating is rampant throughout modern schools–and homeschools. To pretend this is a public school problem and not a Catholic homeschool program as well is to simply refuse to face reality. Many students are left unsupervised to complete work, take quizzes, etc., and when left unsupervised, most students will cheat.

Cheating needs to be carefully defined and understood by parents, teachers and students because cheating robs children of the quality education available to them.

To cheat is to attempt to mislead others about one’s studies. This can be done in many different ways:

  • looking at notes or lessons to answer quiz/exam questions
  • claiming to have memorized assigned material when one hasn’t
  • marking a task complete that has not, in fact, been completed according to the directions given
  • misusing online quizzes to find the answers by submitting many attempts
  • copying work done by others and presenting it as one’s own
  • listing courses and grades on transcripts that have not actually been completed honestly

This list can go on, but these are the most common forms of cheating in education.

One of my old farm neighbors used to say that farming and gardening are challenging because “Critters have 24 hours a day to cause trouble.” and this is true of students as well. As parents and teachers, we don’t have 24 hours a day to monitor them. We cannot prevent cheating. Some teachers go to great lengths to prevent cheating, but as with most attempts to enforce good behavior, this ends up hindering the honest students rather than stopping the dishonest students. We can’t allow concerns about cheating to ruin the study program.

There are many motivations for cheating, which include:

  • laziness among teachers who use convenient forms of assessment that allow students to cheat
  • injustice among parents and teachers who reward students for apparent rather than real achievements
  • ignorance among students regarding the value of diplomas and degrees
  • artificial systems created in society that provide undeserved opportunities for dishonest students/workers

Thus, cheating is not simply a student problem, it is a societal problem that students take advantage of. Students must learn that these advantages are deceiving because they offer short-term benefits at the expense of long-term benefits. Students must be taught to understand the goals of study and their long term objectives and be given the support needed to focus on these and not be motivated to settle for the easy, short-sighted path through cheating.

As a teacher, one must be careful to arrange grading so that activities which allow for cheating are not allowed to have great influence on student grades. For example, to award grades based on simple assignments student can copy from other students, or short answer quizzes and tests that can be answered with the help of “cheat sheets”, will encourage cheating–because it is rewarded. Requiring students to actually demonstrate the real knowledge and skills in real activities is the best means of assessment, but let’s face it: this is not always possible while schooling.

I don’t believe parents should wear themselves out with these attempts because doing so makes a mockery of parental authority and often gives children a sense of invulnerability when their parents fail to catch them. Rather, I believe parents should give their children stern warnings of the consequences of cheating and that while they may get away with cheating during their school years, they will be caught when it is time to work.

In the end, students will go into adult life with or without the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in real, working environments. When they do so, those who have cut corners and cheated through school will be exposed, while those who have studied carefully and made the best use of their early years will enjoy the benefits they have earned.

This message needs to be constantly repeated to our children/students. We must constantly warn them that “cheaters never prosper”, but that the truth will be revealed in the end. We cannot constantly supervise them. We cannot constantly check to see that they followed instructions. We cannot catch them every time they cheat. If they want to cheat and cut corners, they will be able to. However, in the end, the competition of the adult world will find them out.

What’s most concerning is that during childhood, children have nothing to do but study. A student has one opportunity to study well during those free years and if that opportunity is wasted, it is very unlikely that he will have a second chance at it. Young adults quickly learn that the adult world is unforgiving and competitive. The state-funded world of K-12 schooling is over after graduation. Students are cut off from all the resources they had access to as children and they have thereafter what they can earn. This is where the school kids get sorted out and the appearances of the school years vanish.

As disobedience to parents, neglect of religion and ignorance of the wise teaching increase, depression among children and young adults will continue to increase. They are not prepared for real life and they can quickly drown in the difficulties that arise. The hole they find themselves in can be so deep that they feel escaping it is impossible. This is the experience of many young adults today, and it will continue to increase in the future.

The temptations and trials of life will overcome the disobedient. Sacred Scripture warns us that in the dangers of the last days, “they that are learned shall shine as the brightness of the firmament” (Daniel 12:3). Our Lord warned us that the trials of the last days will be so terrible that “unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh should be saved”. (Mark 13:20).

Shall we, in these times, despise true, classical, Catholic education? We can cheat on tests. We can copy others’ work. We can collect dishonest transcripts and diplomas. We may even find ways to earn money dishonestly. What we cannot do is fake a real education, which is the most valuable of all possessions:

“Get wisdom, because it is better than gold: and purchase prudence, for it is more precious than silver.” (Proverbs 22:16)

God bless your studies,
Mr. William C. Michael, Headmaster
Classical Liberal Arts Academy

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