Redefining the route to success

No month is complete without an email from Chaplain James Young with the subject, “Recent honor board cases.” I’ll usually take a minute to scan through the cases, often much of the same: a copied lab report or a project two students collaborated on too much. Nothing really surprises me but I always read on.

Usually there are only a few cases, and I can’t help but think about how many more cases go uncaught. Students whose cheating goes uncaught represent the largest threat to honorable learning at our school. They are “supercheaters” – people who deliberately and routinely cheat on assignments and have found ways to cheat in which they don’t risk being caught.

They’ve found the holes in teacher policies, the gaps in plagiarism detectors and the foolproof ways of getting aid on their assignments. Our school can never expect to catch these students. The only true way to reverse cheating like this is not to address its consequences, but rather to look at the motives for this cheating.

Students cheat for one reason: results. If the school community could be less results-oriented and more focused on inquiry and learning, students would have little motivation to cheat on their assignments or even flirt with academic dishonesty.

I should be honest here. I’m a hypocrite. A cheater, no, but I’ve found myself increasingly focused on grades instead of the things I truly loved. Despite an active effort against it, I’d be lying if I said my focus hasn’t shifted immensely toward end results. My time spent studying focused on tests and completed assignments has made me a less happy student and has absolutely taken away from my natural joy for learning. I know I’m not the norm.

An elite university truly is not the right place for everyone and should not be the object of endless chasing in our high school years. Such environments will not be happy places for every student and are not always the answer. If you hate a competitive high school environment, why would you pursue that same environment in a college? If you are an arts student, why would you pick a more prestigious school with a worse arts program?

Truthfully, we as a school should make an effort to be more joyful in our learning. Students at our school are truly passionate about their subjects, and we should make an effort to preserve that passion and prevent it from being overshadowed by a focus on results.

I laud the administration’s attempts to pull us away from our result-oriented culture. A focus on fit over prestige in the college process that, in the long run, is the best choice for each student.
An AP limits rule that at least makes it more difficult for students to load up on rigorous classes they don’t want to take in pursuit of college forces students to reevaluate the classes they’re taking. However, for these largely policy based changes to have real impact, students and teachers need to embrace their meaning as well.

Teachers should focus on legitimately teaching their students material and engaging them, rather than preparing them for their tests or AP exams and subject tests down the road.
Students should be engaged with the material in their classes to be more worldly and learn the material, rather than to get a good grade in the class.

We as a school should try to truly adhere to our mission of “joyful” learning rather than teachers assigning and students studying for strong results on tests. Why would students cheat if they legitimately enjoyed the material and were less focused on a vague and distant result?

Next time we sit down at our desks for another night of studying, let’s do our best to not focus on final grades or a college result. Let’s immerse ourselves in our subjects, finding the joy, love and importance in them that our school hopes we will.

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