Monday, March 23, 2015

Teaching Right from Wrong in a Grey World

Last week, a scandal broke out within the tenth-grade biology classes that confirmed for me all the cynical beliefs I've ever held about humankind. And the students' and administrator's reaction to it made the entire situation all the more demoralizing and disheartening.

Early last week, the tenth-grade biology classes (a required course for all tenth-graders) took a unit test. While there are many biology sections taught by three teachers (my husband being the "team leader" for the subject), they all take the same test to ensure uniformity of content and standards so those who enter IB or AP Biology next year have the same knowledge base. On Wednesday, one of the biology teachers informed my husband and the third teacher that a student in his class had taken photos of every page of the exam and sent it around to the majority (at least 65 percent) of the tenth graders prior to most of them having taken the test. The teacher only found out about the cheating incident because a parent whose child had seen the illicitly obtained photos had reported the incident; none of the students said anything and took the test as if nothing had happened.

After learning of the situation, the teacher went to speak with our assistant principal. Her reaction? Instead of supporting the teachers in implementing a suitable punishment and making it a lesson about ethics and academic integrity for the rest of the students, she essentially blamed the teachers for not creating three uniquely different tests, which is exceedingly difficult to do when one is assessing process and analytical skills rather than knowledge. This reaction just shows how ignorant she is about the process and science of teaching, which we all knew anyway.

Even more demoralizing is the school policy itself: if a student is caught cheating, the "punishment" is to give the student 80 percent of what s/he would have received. EIGHTY!!! This means that if the student had received 100 percent on a test, s/he would still receive a "B" on the test despite having cheated! How is that a punishment? Like many rules and policies at the school, this one is useless and stupid.

The assistant principal insisted that the school policy has to be this way because the parents would never stand for a student caught cheating receiving a failing grade. Are the teachers there to teach the students and mold them into productive and upstanding citizens and leaders (a near-impossible task as it is, considering the students are used to a society and role models with loose moral values) or to cater to the parents and be their puppets? This is another example of the school's administrators allowing parents with power and connections to run the school, which leads to a lot of mismanagement and confusion, to say the least! Fortunately, the teacher disagreed and decided to give the student a failing grade. He was willing to take on the parents if they complained because he knew he was in the right. Moreover, the student himself knew it -- he readily agreed to the punishment without a single argument.

As for the rest of the tenth graders and their tainted tests, the teachers decided not to count the test and instead just check it off as an assignment they had completed, which did not affect their grades. The reason the biology teachers did this was there is an unknown percentage of students who didn't see the test and wasn't even aware that cheating was going on, and they didn't want to punish these students. My husband gave his students a lecture, but in my opinion, the students got off easy.

Only one student out of the entire tenth grade -- a Japanese girl in my husband's class -- came forward before she knew that the incident had already been reported. After the teachers made the announcement not to count the test, the students did not react, but many came forward privately and admitted to having seen the test before taking it. None of my students came forward, though it is entirely possible they weren't aware of what was going on (but I can see two or three of them being part of the scandal and being dishonest enough to go along with it).

When asked why they didn't report it, the students who admitted to seeing the test responded with "I didn't want to get anyone in trouble," "I didn't want to get in trouble with my friends," or "I didn't really look at the attachment [photos of the test]." Many of them were disconcertingly nonchalant about the whole affair, stating matter-of-factly that they thought what they saw were review worksheets. When asked what they thought when they realized that the test was exactly the same as the "review worksheets," they just shrugged and said they just did the test. My husband and I told them they had committed a serious act of academic dishonesty, which could mean expulsion in some schools and in university. We told them they had essentially broken the teachers' trust in them, and that it would take a long time to earn back that trust again. They seemed shocked; they actually hadn't thought about the implications of their complicity and the consequences of their actions! Especially disappointing is that some of these students are the top students of the grade, the ones that the rest of the student body looks to for guidance and leadership.

At least the student who disseminated the test made it easy to identify him -- he took pictures of the exam with his name on it! All I could do was shake my head: not only is this kid dishonest, but he's also an idiot. As I used to tell my students in the U.S., if you are going to lie, at least do it well!

I know that cheating and unethical acts go on daily in every corner of the world, some more so than others, but for some reason, this scandal really, really depressed me and crushed my spirits. I've dealt with cheating students before, and I'm generally very cynical when it comes to people, so it's not like I was surprised by what happened. Maybe it's because it's distressing to see these kids fail to rise above the prevailing mindset of their peers when they truly have every advantage in the world to be the best they can be in every way possible. Maybe it's hard to see that these students are already so used to questionable moral beliefs as part of their lives that they didn't see how wrong this entire situation was. Maybe it's because it's troubling to recognize that these future leaders of this country -- which many of these students will most certainly become -- have such weak moral character. Or perhaps it's just sad to see that the leadership at our school has, once again, behaved as we have come to expect and failed in their duties as educators.

No comments:

Post a Comment