Cheating at Highly Competitive High Schools

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The Times has an illuminating piece on the cheating scandal at Stuyvesant High, in which 71 kids were caught cheating on the state's Regents exam:


These are the sorts of calculations many students at Stuyvesant, New York City's flagship public school, learn to make by the middle of their freshman year: weighing two classes against each other, the possibility of getting an A against the possibility of getting caught, keeping their integrity against making it to a dream college. By the time they graduate, many have internalized a moral and academic math: Copying homework is fine, but cheating on a test is less so; cheating to get by in a required class is more acceptable than cheating on an Advanced Placement exam; anything less than a grade of 85 is "failing"; achieve anything more than a grade-point average of 95, and you might be bound for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Yale.

Read the whole piece. What amazed me was how little you saw the word "learning" or any of its derivatives in the article. 

I am left with a few questions: How much does your ability to get 95, instead of a 90 or 85, have to do with your ability to actually perform at a Yale or an MIT, as opposed to merely getting in? The kids in this piece seem to think of the test not so much as a test, but more like a barrier. Are they right? This certainly seems to indicate as much:

Yet in general, students said that harsh discipline was not the norm and that many teachers were so understanding of the pressure students faced that they would hand out lighter punishments for cheating. Anticheating measures, like running essays through the antiplagiarism Web site turnitin.com and checking for cellphones, were common, students said. But so were steps like telling students who were copying homework simply to put it away and allowing those cheats to retake tests, despite policies that prescribe a range of punishments, from giving a zero on the assignment up to suspending the student.

What I am asking is whether there's an issue here in terms of systemic morality, as opposed to merely the individual morality of lying. It is almost as if the kids are responding with a lie after being faced with a much larger lie.

Forgive my rather vague formulation. I'm still thinking this through. It touches on some questions I'm seeing in my own forays into the world of education among high achievers.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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