Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blaming the symptom, not the problem

Dishonesty and cheating are nothing new. Loaded dice were found in the ruins of Pompeii, and I'm sure that the pedagogues of that era had to deal with their share of cheating students.

What is different nowadays is the nonchalant attitude towards cheating. This is not something that is happening in a vacuum. It is part and parcel of our society's ongoing decay and degradation. This is going to get worse, and manifest itself in even more appalling ways.

Requiring that cheating students take a course on ethics will do little good when their parents are not teaching them the difference between right and wrong, and vulgar culture encourages them to take ethical shortcuts and even to take pride in having gotten away with doing so.

Rules and standards of conduct are effective only when most people follow them without coercion, and those who are tempted to do otherwise will be shamed and condemned by their peers if they are found out.

But when people begin to ignore ethical standards and refuse to judge others based upon their adherence to these standards, everything unravels. Formal punishments and legal sanctions alone are ineffective, and their over application is the face of widespread moral decay does more harm than good. Police states may be orderly, but they are not moral.

Technology cannot be blamed for cheating, anymore than a knife or bullet can be blamed for murder. Both are legitimate tools with legitimate uses. The prevalence of cheating is inversely proportional to the moral and ethical integrity of those who might be tempted to cheat. These character traits are derived from the values they have learned at home and from the culture in which they live. Technology, or the lack thereof, makes no difference.

Sending demonstrated cheaters to a remedial class on the difference between right and wrong, while better than doing nothing, will be of little help.

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