What Should I Do About My Cheating Classmate?

Cheating is rampant in schools across the country.  Cheating is stealing from others for personal gain.  It’s never allowed, and cheaters should stop right now.  if you cheat, you know you are doing wrong.  If you overlook cheating, you are allowing others to get away with theft, and hurting yourself.  Cheating hurts everyone.

This article was copied without permission from the NYTimes.com Magazine section, from Oct. 14, 2018.  Copying this article for teaching purposes is not theft, it falls under the educational clause of what is knows as “fair use”.  If I printed this article and tried to sell advertisements to make money, that would be theft.  If I “made believe” that I wrote it, and that I was so smart I could write so well, that would be stealing someone’s work and pawning it off as my own, also unacceptable.  This is from the New York Times, which I am happy to subscribe to, but I didn’t write it.

THE ETHICIST  By Kwame Anthony Appiah

What Should I Do About My Cheating Classmate?

I am a senior at a competitive high school. My best friend is known for being a top student and the president of the student body. Over the last year, I caught him cheating on tests and plagiarizing work several times. When I confront him, he insists that he is not cheating, just outsmarting the system. I’m concerned that his academic dishonesty may jeopardize his future and ruin his reputation. What should I do? Name Withheld


Rosie Ruiz was declared the female winner of the 1980 Boston Marathon — before it came out that she joined the race only for its last mile. She wanted the rewards without putting in the effort. As in all competitions, the substantial rewards for high status in a high school make cheating attractive. But your best friend is not only cheating in that race; he’s cheating in the proverbial game of life. The fake record he’s assembling makes him eligible for all sorts of social rewards — the respect of teachers and peers, a place at the college of his choice, career options — that he hasn’t earned. You’re concerned that his habits will lead to his being caught, punished, stigmatized. But he has already lost out. When your putative successes are faked, you’re not entitled to self-respect.

Rosie Ruiz, center, is helped by Boston police after winning the women’s division of the Boston Marathon, April 21, 1980. Ms. Ruiz had a partial unofficial time of 2 hours, 31 minutes, and may have broken the women’s record set in 1979. (AP Photo)

Worse, his cheating amounts to abusing the trust of others and fraying the social bonds that sustain us. To cheat, after all, is to take advantage of students who don’t. Your friend stands higher than he’s entitled to in the academic rankings of the school, which means that others are doing less well than they should be. And he’s undermining the systems of evaluation that the school uses to tell who is doing well and who needs help.

Is his conduct a reflection of surrounding norms or pressures? Your own response suggests otherwise. It’s possible that he feels his family would value him less if his record weren’t so stellar; they may even have pushed him in ways that encourage this thought. But of course, he’s being dishonest with them as well, and were he exposed, he could have family relationships to repair.

You’re not going to report him to the authorities, I know. That would get you in trouble with your peers and violate the norms of friendship. But you can keep pointing out that he’s wrong about his moral assessment of the situation. For what it’s worth, the story of Rosie Ruiz is a cautionary one. A few years after the marathon prize was taken from her, she went to prison for embezzlement. It was her first criminal conviction; it was not her last.