Friday, September 28, 2012

New York Times continues to report on cheating by top high school students


The New York Times has again returned to the subject of high school student cheating with a story by Vivian Yee, “Elite school students describe the how and why of cheating” in print (Friday, September 28, 2012; an earlier story appeared Sept. 8), or “Stuyvesant students describe rationale for cheating” online, link here

One thing that’s interesting is that grades really do promote social peer approval in this environment.

I find it rather strange to think that it is that difficult to memorize a bunch of chemistry reactions:  you’re supposed to learn the principles and learn how to balance equations (rather like algebra).  Do students have access to the Periodic Table for exams?

I can remember the “memorization” challenge for organic chemistry, starting with nomenclature.  What happens then in medical school?

The cheating problem goes on up the chain, as recycling of previous tests is common (and controversial) in medical specialty exams, especially radiology.

I also was criticized by peers in high school for predicting a question on a government test, about “institutionalism”.  I really had thought of it; I did not know it had been asked in earlier periods.  In fact, good students can predict what will be asked on a test.

When I was an assistant instructor in grad school, I made up separate sets of problems for the two classes in algebra.  Today, teachers have “A” and “B” tests for alternate rows.

Another thing that some teachers do is divide a test into two parts.  The closed book portion (as in calculus) has to be turned in before the open book part starts (with a graphing calculator). 

And during my high school and undergraduate days, grades could be a measure of personal survival.  We had a Vietnam-era male-only military draft,  with student deferments, during those years.

Plagiarism becomes a problem not only for students but for professional journalists.  I’ve even heard complaints that my own Internet postings have become the object of high school plagiarism. 

But think of this: the kinds of kids who invent Facebook, Napster, or other similar innovations don’t need to copy other people’s work.  But in the software world, all code has some copying.  It’s bound to result in issues (as was shown by the “Winklevii” litigation).

Music and film nearly always involves some amount of copying, too.  Culture is necessarily transformative of what has come before.  

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