virtual children by Scott Warnock

Those rotten cheaters?

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I’m in the world of online learning, and I read about this topic most days. Recently I saw an email ad that said, “When a school or district makes the shift to online testing, the top concern of teachers is how to prevent students from cheating.” The “top concern”? While we should be concerned about cheating, let’s not exaggerate its prevalence online. After all, you don’t have to look far to see that people cheat, well, everywhere.

Maybe we expect cheating in some arenas. Taxes. High-profile (=big $) sports. Politics. We can relish the finger-pointing at the them who cheats, but it doesn’t take much to see how widely people bend the rules.

Runner’s World reported that dozens of people cheated to get in the 2015 Boston Marathon. These aren’t people who are going to win the damn race, mind you. I know it’s a prestigious event, but enough to cheat by, as the magazine reported, obtaining the bib number of someone else who legitimately qualified; allowing a faster runner, known as a “bib mule,” to carry your number at a qualifier; cutting the course at a qualifying race; or falsifying race results?

I have several friends who are triathletes, and triathlon cheating is even more befuddling. Imagine standing on the podium when you didn’t complete the race. But that’s what the New York Times reported that a high-level female triathlete did. The article quoted a triathlete who also hosts a Web forum who said, “My readers think that doping is reprehensible, but that cutting the course is worse, almost incomprehensible […] At least if you dope, you’re still trying to win the race by actually completing it.”

More weird cheating: I like to settle in and bang out the NYT crossword puzzle; It seems like a dignified way to spend a Sunday morning. Then I saw this FiveThirtyEight piece: “A plagiarism scandal is unfolding in the crossword world.” Catch the lead:

A group of eagle-eyed puzzlers, using digital tools, has uncovered a pattern of copying in the professional crossword-puzzle world that has led to accusations of plagiarism and false identity.

“Accusations”? “Plagiarism”? “False identity”? My god, what’s going on? Computer databases uncovered that a syndicated editor (and millionaire as a result) of puzzles in other newspapers copied NYT puzzles. The FiveThirtyEight author, Oliver Roeder, said, “… by my count, at least 16 USA Today puzzles since 2003 and at least 49 Universal puzzles since 1998 have exactly replicated the theme answers of a previously published New York Times puzzle.”

You can read the rest of the article, which includes great graphics to demonstrate what Roeder calls “shady” and “shoddy” plagiarisms. One puzzle constructor in the article said deliberate “plagiarism is virtually unheard of in the crossword community,” but Roeder says “this age of innocence may be quickly coming to an end.” You can hear the weepy shudders of cruciverbalists everywhere.

Cheating rocked a perhaps even more genteel community: Bridge. Earlier this year, bridge daily columnist Frank Stewart, (the column is a much better read than you might suspect), reported the “shattering events” of a cheating scandal. He doesn’t elaborate on the methods, but writes in the anguished tone of those earlier crossword puzzlers or triathletes: “The world of bridge has been in turmoil. Major world and ACBL events from past years appear to have been tainted. Many players are bereaved at seeing our game desecrated.”

Innocence lost. Desecration. Incomprehensible behavior. Yet it cuts across these disparate activities.

Why? Pride. Ego. Money. I think societally, we accept these motivations, especially the last. (In a recent Presidential debate, Trump said his ability to avoid paying taxes made him “smart.” No question many agree.)

Maybe this is one of those really pessimistic glimpses into human nature. Or maybe it’s fine: Even though a big chunk of us are cheaters, we’re still okay.

You do want to teach your kids not to cheat. Yet everyone does it. One time playing Apples to Apples, both of my sons claimed that the winning card was theirs. Aside from revealing an odd flaw in the game mechanics, someone was cheating. I have my suspicions who it was, but we never solved this family puzzle. The reasons behind it may always remain murky as well.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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3 Responses to “Those rotten cheaters?”

  1. Two things:

    1: I expect to see cruciverbalists in a Handy Dandy Glossary in the near future.

    2: It was the younger.

  2. Had to stick a Trump comment in there didn’t you. So many examples to choose from on that topic and you pick one where he actually didn’t cheat but used existing tax law to his advantage.
    And why are your kids playing apples to apples for money?

  3. Glad you stuck Trump in the article! Wish Tom Brady made it in as well! Lol!

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