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Solving Our Cheating Problem in Schools (Part Two)


This week, I am blogging a four-part series on the cheating epidemic educators are seeing in our schools today—both in K-12 and higher education. Yesterday, I offered five reasons why I think we’ve seen a rise in cheating students. Surveys reveal that three of four students admit to cheating on tests or assignments. These students are not necessarily bad kids or troubled kids, but they’ve been conditioned to cheat by our culture. Many kids tell me each year: “Everyone’s doing it.” But how could they? Are teachers not paying attention? Have parents failed to develop a conscience in their kids today? If so, what do we need to do to rekindle their conscience? Let me offer three vital ingredients we must build into our kids to accomplish this.

Cultivating a conscience in students

As I interact with students about cheating, the first observation I notice is how acceptable it has become. Their conscience is numb. Cheating is familiar territory for most kids I meet. Even expected. In an effort to better understand cheating, scientists have concluded that it’s motivated by three realities in society today:

  • Fear of Loss – We don’t want to lose something we feel we deserve.
  • Creativity – We’ve become innovative in finding loopholes to help us do it.
  • Observing dishonest behavior – We gain permission from other cheaters.

Consider the facts. Each of these triggers has expanded over the last thirty years. Kids feel entitled to better grades. Kids now possess creative ways via technology to help them cheat. And due to the push to gain an advantage, they give each other permission to cheat. It’s actually contagious, just like jay-walking or yawning.

Here are three ingredients to cultivate a conscience in students:

1. Empathic relationships.

Students are more prone to cheat when they are self-absorbed. When all that matters is “me” I don’t care much about what happens to others. I am open to cheating someone else for personal gain. The trait of empathy furnishes us with compassion beyond our own needs and wants. It allows us to feel what others do and care about needs beyond our own.

2. Ethical standards

Students are prone to cheat when they’ve never developed a set of values or moral standards to live by. If parents have failed to give them a sense of right and wrong, expediency rules the day. We will do whatever we have to do to get what we want. Pragmatism replaces principles. A set of ethics that provide students with a compass to make decisions by can be a self-image booster and a guardrail on their path.

3. Expanded perspective.

Students are prone to cheat when they only see the “little picture.” In other words, if I cannot see past my own little world, if I cannot see how my cheating affects others, I may see nothing wrong with it. I believe we must expose students to real world scenarios that illustrate how deception can negatively impact others; how a small bad choice can have a negative ripple effect on the people around me.

Tomorrow, we will dig further into this issue of morals and ethics. For now, let me hear from you…

What do you think about this issue? Do you see what I see? What ingredients do you believe we must build in students?


  1. Patrick McHugh on May 28, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Tim, not sure if you have seen the book “How will You Measure Your Life” by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. He has an interesting theory about Full versus Marginal Thinking that he believes has led to the ongoing issues Businesses and our culture has with ethical behavior and decisions. It is worth checking out and it relates very much to what you are saying that most feel taking a short cut or cheating just this once does not hurt anyone. But that is probably how debacles like Enron get started.

    • Tim Elmore on May 28, 2013 at 9:06 am

      Thanks Patrick. I will have to revisit that book as I continue blogging about this topic. I appreciate your feedback and recommendation!

  2. Peny on May 28, 2013 at 9:02 am

    Hi Tim! How are you? Wow very interesting issue you have chosen to address. I would like to add on a couple of points from my personal experience. Of course I’m going to speak from a cross cultural experience where a lot of things are watered down. First of all when we were kids we never saw this as a moral/ethical issue. It was communicated as a rule, a no-no with no explanation so as kids you naturally want to break the rules. Do things you that you were told not to. It gives you the thrills and the sense of accomplishment even when you masterfully managed to cheat inspite of the invigilation. Besides even an average student or a smart kid tend to resolve to casually “getting help” for a simple question they forget. Like you said they see no harm in it. Secondly, the major cheating of depending on cheating to pass the test comes out of desperation. And this is immediately thought of by kids who are not as academically skilled because of fear of losing. Another great factor is the “friend” that is willing to “help” either directly by being the help or by even covering up. Especially when they see someone cheat do they report or overlook? They know it’s not the right thing to do but they want to be nice to a friend and help 🙂 it’s not harmful in their opinion. What would you say to the other kids who help?

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Solving Our Cheating Problem in Schools (Part Two)