Author: Christine Barratt
On March 13, Professor Agustus Jordan of the Psychology Department gave a lecture entitled "Implications of College Student Cheating for Liberal Education," based on research he conducted of cheating rates at Middlebury. In a study that he conducted last spring, Jordan found some startling statistics on cheating occurrences at Middlebury. Sixty-six percent of Middlebury students reported cheating on either a test or an exam at some point in their Middlebury career. Fifty-three percent reported cheating on an exam and 40 percent reported cheating on papers. The statistics on a single semester prevalence rate of cheating at Middlebury showed that 22 percent of students in the given semester cheated on an exam, and 28 percent of students cheated on a paper.
I think that the immediate reaction to this research from most would be disappointment. Most would say that cheating is 'bad' and the fact that we have an Honor Code in which professors place their trust in students seems to make cheating all the more disgraceful. However, I think that by immediately jumping to place negative judgment on the cheating students, we fail to truly understand why cheating occurs and miss an opportunity to question and reassess our values and our purpose here as students of Middlebury College.
As individuals, I believe we would all benefit if we stop to ask ourselves what is our intention and purpose in doing the things that we do. In his lecture, Jordan made the distinction between extrinsic and internal motivation. Grades in school are a form of extrinsic motivation, in that students work to learn the material because they want a good grade on the test, rather than to actually learn the material. This is in contrast to internal motivation, in which students learn for the pure sake of learning in itself. The student learns because he or she has a desire to gain that knowledge and understanding. Jordan's research also found that when students are asked about their internal versus extrinsic motivation levels, those who report being more extrinsically motivated also report a higher occurrence of cheating. This follows logically. If a student's purpose in school is to earn a grade on a test, then cheating simply becomes an ulterior means of reaching that end.
Of course, the internal motivation appears to be the more moral and honorable purpose for being here. Most of us would like to believe that we are here for four years not simply to get a degree, but because we have a genuine desire to learn more about the world and about the disciplines in which we take classes. Yet, it is important to realize the conflict that students face when the pressure to do well in their classes, including the tremendous time commitment that this requires, conflicts with their desire to learn what they are truly interested in for the pure sake of learning. In a perfect world, these would coexist, and the school would offer a class for every interest and passion that a student had. But in reality, this doesn't happen, and students are forced to choose between following their inner desires and spending their time and energy doing that which they have been told they should be doing. This has become all the more important a decision since the tragedies of Sept. 11, in which many of us began to realize the mortality of our own lives and the limited time each of us has to do all that we desire.
So what is the answer? There is no simple answer. I am not dismissing the high prevalence of cheating. Nor am I saying that grades be dismissed entirely or that we should attempt to eliminate all exterior motivating forces behind our learning. However, I do think that as individuals we must constantly be asking ourselves why we doing the things we do. We must not simply do what we do today because it was what we did yesterday, but instead, need to weigh the positives and negatives of everything that we do, as it pertains to our own desires and values. Every individual needs to decide for him or herself what he or she hopes to gain from their experiences, and then use that information to determine how he or she will live his or her life.
Cheating Disgraces Honor Code
Author: Christine Barratt