A few weeks ago, The New York Times published “Stuyvesant Students Describe the How and Why of Cheating” regarding the culture of academic dishonesty at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and why the students of such an elite institution feel the need to cheat.
In order to understand the students’ rationales, a faculty member said, “Suddenly, they’re in an environment where every single kid is really just as smart as they are. How do you distinguish yourself as being a top student, which is where their identity has always been?”
The truth of the teacher’s statement was something I had never considered when I was applying to college. Four years later and partaking in the application process for graduate school, though, those words ring a great and evident truth about the excessive pressure placed on students to achieve academic excellence.
Initially, it’s easy to despise cheating and plagiarism as well as those who do it. Integrity is essential to establish and maintain, and to abandon it for the sake of success suggests moral frailty and poor character. Yet no professors, mentors or parents consider the pressures they place upon students when they set outrageous academic standards. Nor do they realize how brutal the competition for the academic spotlight truly is.
As the article states, the task of identifying star pupils in elementary and middle schools is simple. However, the varying degrees in intelligence amongst kids become less apparent as students are forced to contend with others who are just as equipped and dedicated as they are in both high school and college. The transition from being the exception to being the norm can be frightening to many students. The demands from parents and academic institutions for them to continue being ideal students only contribute to that fear.
With such pressures boxing students in, is it truly unexpected that students would sacrifice morals to stand a chance in the world of academia? Cheating shouldn’t be condoned, but before they reprimand, adults should understand the extreme conditions under which students deem it necessary to make those decisions.
They should understand the environments under which students are asked to thrive. At times, the ability to stand out amongst peers who are of equal or greater intelligence poses a difficult challenge, especially when applying to college or graduate school. Rather than appear dim-witted in comparison to their peers, students cheat to maintain not only their GPAs, but their intellectual image.
Family pressure is also a significant factor that is not given enough consideration. Parents should learn that the pressures they exert on their children to excel academically can be enough for children to develop a cheating streak, if not an emotional complex. Rather than placing emphasis on being the best, parents should encourage their children to reach their personal best, so their children don’t feel threatened to succeed or feel that they will be unloved if they don’t meet or surpass certain standards.
The road to success is paved with high expectations, but so is the road of academic dishonesty. In encouraging and wanting students to strive for excellence, mentors, parents and guardians should note that students who wish to excel are already their own biggest critics. Applying excess pressure only compounds an already sensitive situation.
Educators both in and out of the home should teach the value of integrity before the value of a good GPA before students compromise more than just getting into their dream school.