Cheating on the Rise: Why We Cheat and Who’s to Blame

ImageAt Stuyvesant High School – New York City’s most elite – an astounding 71 students will have to retake their Regents exam after cheating. The scandal centered on 16-year-old Nayeem Ahsan who used a cell phone to send out photos of the exam. Ahsan, along with five other students, has been suspended.

This follows on the heels of other prominent cheating scandals. Twenty students were caught in a cheating scandal at Great Neck North High School in late 2011 when they attempted to pay others to take the SAT for them. Several arrests were made in the scandal since test-takers received between $500 and $3600 to fraudulently bubble in the answers.

The stats on cheating can be discouraging. The Benenson Strategy Group surveyed 7th-12th graders in 2009 and found that 35% admitted to cheating by cell phone during a test and 52% admitted to some form of cheating using the internet. Out of 12,000 high schoolers surveyed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a whopping 74% admitted to cheating on an exam at some point in the past year to get ahead. According to National Public Radio, two-thirds of parents believe cheating is no big deal and that all students do it at some point.

Even educators are joining in. In Atlanta, a state investigation discovered 178 teachers and principals had tampered with tests over the past decade to improve their school’s performance.

New Yorkers were quick to weigh in on the cheating at Stuyvesant. Some argued it was a result of the pressure students feel because of testing. Others blamed an uneven application of a cell phone ban. Many attempted to exonerate the students by comparing their behavior to that found on Wall Street. Still, others felt it was an indictment of the education system which has failed to properly teach the students.

Last year the New York Times printed a discussion on the causes of cheating. Mark Bauerlein, a professor at Emory University, argued cheating “is a survival skill” for students in a high-pressure environment. Andrew Daines, a graduate of Cornell, argued students need ethics classes to provide a “philosophical grounding for goodness, honesty, and integrity.” While author Alfie Kohn claimed the problem is with classroom methods and the definition of cheating, saying, “By definition, cheating is a violation of the rules. Are those rules reasonable? Who devised them and who benefits from them?”

Ironically, no one is blaming the students or teachers who actually cheated.

When it comes to our sins we’re sure someone is ultimately to blame and we’re also pretty sure it isn’t us. The Bible acknowledges that our sins, such as cheating, can result from the actions of others. Jesus says in Mark 9:42, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Others may be partly to blame for the sins we commit.

Yet, the Bible never absolves the sinner simply because others may be involved. James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Yes, the pressure of succeeding makes cheating more appealing. Yes, new technologies make cheating easier. Yes, the failure of others to maintain high standards makes it easier to lower one’s own. Yes, the education system may not be meeting students’ needs. But it all comes down to the moment when a student decides to obtain and use illicit information to violate their integrity, beat the test, and receive ill-gotten rewards. They make the decision. They are ultimately to blame.

Why do it? Because they believe it doesn’t matter. Culture has taught them right and wrong are simply constructed by societies and individuals to suit their own ends. They don’t flow from the character of God. Thus, as long as they believe they’re not hurting anyone, there is nothing to lose. No one is keeping score and the ends justify the means. If they’re planning to be a doctor what will it matter if they cheated on a freshmen English course or a high school Spanish exam? If there is no God to give life a unifying meaning and purpose, they’re free to construct their own meaning and purpose in which right and wrong serve their own selfish desires.

A better question might be: why shouldn’t they cheat? If we are only animated pieces of meat, biological machines programmed by genetics and determined by our environment, spinning on an insignificant rock around a fiery star that will one day explode and wipe our pitiful race from the memory of the universe, there is no good reason not to cheat on a test so we can at least afford a bigger TV to watch sports on.

Students know how not to cheat. Some may unintentionally plagiarize, but no one accidentally downloads a copy of the test on their phone beforehand. They just aren’t sure why they shouldn’t.

If right and wrong are relative concepts, why bother with someone else’s definition of cheating when I’m not hurting anyone?

If I have no greater meaning in my life than what I make of it, why not employ cheating as a means to my personal goals?

Besides, I’m not to blame for my cheating. My brain chemistry made me do it. Or my stressful, high pressure environment full of bad role models.

The students are the ones who decide to cheat and are ultimately to blame for the scandals. Yet the world the culture has constructed for them gives them few reasons not to. As long as there is no God – or at least not one that is any more than a consumer product for our happiness – there is no unifying meaning and purpose to existence. As long as humans are merely products of their chemistry and environment, how can they be expected to behave any differently?  If there is no God to give an account to and no soul of which to give account, he or she who has the most toys in the end truly wins even if they were earned by cheating.

-Brian

(image credit)

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Oh-Oh It’s Magic (Or Not): What to do with Magic Mike

ImageMagic Mike opened at the box office in the number two spot grossing 39.1 million in its first weekend. After Showgirls it seems women are finally getting their day in the sun, basking in the glow of male strippers/dancers and loving every second. As one viewer tweeted, “Does this movie need a plot?! Matthew Mcconaughey and Channing Tatum…are you kidding me?!” The Internet Movie Database articulates it this way: “A male stripper teaches a younger performer how to party, pick up women and make easy money”. In turn, women of all ages are turning out in droves to theaters. Adult entertainment isn’t new; women taking their place in the audience and not the screen is new.

The sexual revolution did not happen overnight and it’s far from over. Slowly and certainly, women in recent years have been encouraged to not only embrace their sexuality but shamelessly chase it. Not only is porn for women more common today than in years past, but it’s also more acceptable. Romantic sagas like the Twilight series have been labeled “women’s porn” because women traditionally crave romance and sensitivity instead of sex. Ladies in the church have been told to guard their hearts from the accidental wink of the guitar player in the worship band and not to lust after his declaration to kiss his bride for the first time at the altar. The days of believing girls struggle only with crushes and emotions are over. Women (Jesus-loving, Christian women) struggle with real sexual sin and it cannot be ignored or dismissed.

It seems obvious Christians would immediately see the problems with Magic Mike. Since all do not, here are some answers to common objections Jesus-followers use to defend their choice to see Magic Mike and why this movie should not be on your must-see list this summer:

It’s Just a Movie

What does that mean? The “it’s just a” phrase is frequently tossed around in reference to television, music, books and video games also. Presently, American culture is created, maintained and reflected through these mediums. It is not just a movie…it is a collection of words and images designed to not only entertain but send a message. Magic Mike’s message: ladies, satisfy your lust any way you choose with no guilt; our way is the most fun and don’t forget to bring your friends.

It Doesn’t Have an Effect on Me

It is ignorant to believe everything we see, read and hear does not significantly impact our hearts, souls and minds.  Once entertainment is consumed, there is no objective way to measure its effect or contribution to your person. There are times you cannot control your intake (a billboard or overhearing a conversation from your cubicle)…this is not one of those times. Inviting this level of depravity into one’s soul will have a great impact and will not point you to the greatness of Jesus’ name.  What will it impact? Your heart, soul and mind: in seeing Magic Mike you are not loving and worshipping God will all of them. Your marriage (present or future): watching a movie designed to whet appetites and perpetuate fantasies with people you’re not married to gives Satan an open door to cause division, dissatisfaction and temptation. What does Magic Mike point to? Sexual satisfaction with no boundaries, an idea the Bible rebukes.

I Have Freedom in Christ/Scripture Isn’t Specific

Christians are never given freedom to trample God’s grace and truth for a few hours of selfish pleasure…that’s called sin. Furthermore, Scripture is specific. Christians are to meditate on things which are praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8), to keep their eyes from viewing worthless things (Psalm 119:37), to fix their eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), to guard their hearts (Proverbs 4:23), avoid sexual immorality (Acts 15:29, Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 6:18, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:3) and to put to death fleshly deeds (Romans 8:13, Col. 3:5). The message of Magic Mike is intrinsically opposed to Scripture.

There are times when liberty wins and Christians can freely disagree and differ in their practices. There are other times when Christians are blinded by their desires and do not align their practices with their faith.  Viewing Magic Mike is not a liberty Christians can take. If you are yet unconvinced, consider this: viewing Magic Mike flies in the face of the sacrifice of Jesus. It is not an act of worship or surrender of the will to the One who gladly surrendered His own will to buy back sinners. When your friends are texting you, asking if you want a ticket to the show, meditate on the words to this famous hymn:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in His wonderful face.

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.”  – Helen Lemmel, 1922

-Emily