My daughter is finishing up an online class this year. It was really hard for her, and she has learned many lessons from her struggle to pass the course. One of them was that her classmates cheat.
That was a shock to her. Before the class has finished, she knows of three students who have been failed for cheating in separate incidents.
I was saddened along with her, but not so surprised. As a homeschool grad, I am well aware that homeschool students, too, are sinners. The temptation to be dishonest is just as strong at home as it is in any other learning environment.
I wonder, though, if we as homeschool parents don’t take this issue seriously enough. The underlying heart issues surrounding cheating and plagiarizing are things we should be discussing continually with our students, bringing them to the forefront of our training.
Could your student, or mine, be tempted to cheat? Absolutely. They will be tempted. Whether or not they give in to the temptation depends on their own character as much as on your training. We cannot completely ensure our students won’t falsify their work any more than we can prevent any other sin from working in our home. But if we recognize the temptation, we can take steps to minimize its effect on our homeschool and on our students’ character.
Why do students cheat?
There are so many reasons students are tempted to sin. I think in the case of homeschool student cheating, there are several factors that can make cheating particularly easy to fall into.
1. The student or parent values grades more than learning.
This is huge for me personally, an issue I really failed at as a high school and college student. I learned very young the power of an A and the shame of a B or C, and I would do anything to avoid that. As a result, I could not tell you much of anything I learned in high school other than how to “ace a test.”
Don’t get me wrong — study skills are important. I just spent a week emphasizing them to my own daughter, teaching her how to excel in a course she doesn’t understand. There is a time and a place to learning how to memorize the right facts and answer the right questions.
That cannot be the majority of education, however. It’s like eating the Atkins diet. Yes, you’ll get a lot of protein and feel full and lose pounds fast. But you won’t learn how to eat for the remaining decades of your life while maintaining proper nutrition. So the net gain is zero.
It is tempting for students, especially high-achieving students, to sacrifice learning on the altar of grades. I felt that temptation as a young person, and I feel the temptation as the parent of a college-bound teen. So I keep asking myself, “Is he learning? Is he learning the right lessons?”
An A at any cost is not the right lesson at any time.
2. The student or parent is afraid of failure.
I mean, really, who isn’t afraid of failure, right? Fear of failure is what motivates us to study at all. There must be a healthy fear or we might all just be lazy, indolent bums.
But what is failure? Is an F on a couple of tests the definition of failure?
Or is lying?
Is failure being exposed, or being challenged? Is failure loss of privilege or loss of integrity?
I’ve been thinking about fear a lot lately. I don’t think all fear is bad. We are commanded not to fear, but we are commanded yet to fear God. Should I fear failure? Should I terrify my child with failure?
I think it all comes down to how I define failure. Actions will reveal what and who I really fear. And after I have defined failure for myself and for my students, my teen’s actions will reveal how he defines success.
3. The student or parent is lazy.
Teens are inherently lazy. Even I was, and even mine are, and even yours are.
I stand by that statement.
Because we are all lazy. We don’t want to do the hard things, or else we would be surrounded with astonishing works of creativity, genius, and philanthropy every day. But we aren’t overwhelmed by our own greatness — our own deity image manifest — because we are too lazy to bring it forth.
God created every single land animal and two perfect specimens of humanity in one day, for pete’s sakes, and then had extra time at the end to visit with them. I can barely cook one three-course meal and write 2000 words in the same amount of time, and at the end of the day I’m so cranky no one wants to come to close to me.
It takes a lot of work to better oneself, which is the whole of teenage responsibility. They are charged with learning all worldly wisdom, mastering etiquette and hygiene, and taking definitive steps toward self-sufficiency all while maintaining moral purity and appropriate respect toward the previous generations.
I am so glad I’m not a teen again.
Is it any wonder they are too exhausted to memorize unintelligible math formulas and insignificant history dates and unpronounceable science terms? They must do so — it’s their job — but who wants to do that? Who wants the work?
And what about us as parents? Day in and day out not just putting up with the smell and the chaos and the foolishness of living with teens, but taking on the teaching of unintelligible math formulas and insignificant history dates and unpronounceable science terms? And explaining their incomprehensible significance to modern life? And then doing it over and over and over and over and over again until someone pretends to understand? It’s exhausting. Who wants that work?
I’m not blaming all bad teens on lazy parenting. Don’t misunderstand me. I know every teen makes his own decisions regardless of parents’ love and character.
I’m just saying, it’s a lot of work for everyone.
4. The students or parents don’t have sufficient accountability.
In my daughter’s class, she said, students began cheating when parents failed to proctor their online tests. As in, the parents weren’t even home when the student took the test. It’s a situation that makes you raise the eyebrow.
But I have to be honest — I can see how this happens. It isn’t as if one day we wake up and say, “I’m going to let my student take tests unsupervised in situations where he can easily cheat and get the answers. Hmmm…let’s leave the house. Find the answers how you can! See ya in a couple hours!”
That’s not it at all. More likely, we start with the small things that seem not so bad.
We hand the test to our child then go upstairs to fold laundry, the phone rings, we get distracted, then suddenly forget the student was taking a test in the kitchen and we were nowhere nearby. Hope nothing happened.
And what about us parents? Who knows how or if we are evaluating our children? We independent-minded, freedom-loving libertarians who shun oversight and regulation, we bristle at the mere mention of any accountability to our parenting, our educating, our raising our children.
There, I’ve said it.
Accountability comes in many forms. There is the porfolio kind, the CPS kind, the testing kind, the regulated kind.
Another kind is more terrifying — the spiritual kind, the character kind, the wood-hay-stubble kind, the life legacy kind.
One way or another, my friend, we are going to be held accountable for our parenting, our homeschooling, all of it. Maybe no one in our town or facebook circle will find out the corners we cut or the life lessons we failed to teach, but at some point all will be open.
So personally, I would rather be accountable to a teacher rather than stand before God and answer for academic dishonesty. That is terrifying to me.
But we all must give an account.
5. The student or parent does not prize honesty.
Everyone has a line, I tell my children. There is a point beyond which they won’t go. The challenge is to find yours and to look at it in honesty.
Sometimes we think we know where that line is, but when adversity comes, we find it was back at a different place. It is only during times of failure and stress that we see the line for ourselves and for those around us.
I found out that my daughter’s line is closer than I had even thought. Repeated failure discouraged and temporarily (for months) defeated her, but she revealed her truth line to be close to her heart as she openly revealed her frailties to those around her.
I am so proud of her.
I have a son who has a similar close line. He has at times begged me for more accountability, yearning for openness and transparency in his work and personal life. When he has violated that for a time, the pain it caused him was worse than any discipline that could be meted out.
I had a close friend with whom I discussed this line several months ago. I had respected her, and had held her up as an example to myself and to my daughter. Yet when the pressure came, she revealed her line to be less than solid. The message I gave her was simple: Find your line.
When we openly admit mistakes, when we accept the failure, when we welcome accountability, when we fall down but rise back up, we walk the line.
Homeschool students and parents face the pressures of dishonesty every day. Cheating is just as tempting if not more at home than at school. So the question isn’t if we’ll be tempted. The question is if we’ll prepare for the temptation and how will we as parents prepare our students to face the pressure.
Quite honestly, it’s an issue that never goes away.
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