Cheating among high school students is a "game," a challenge of skill like shoplifting or sneaking a beer. It's "socially accepted" and "everyone does it." The best methods are the "wandering eye" and the ages-old "cheat sheet," but some students still use mirrors and write on the backs of desks.
These results of an admittedly informal poll of student habits of Colonel Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville will be published in today's issue of the student newspaper, the Magruder Eagel.
Teacher Chuck Bollweg, the paper's adviser, said he was "shocked" that 153 of the 159 students answering the poll said they had cheated sometime during high school. As a result of the survey, Bollweg said he is now convinced that "I don't have any student who would stand up in front of the class and say that cheating is morally wrong."
Newspaper editor Mark Martins was not surprised, however. "I've seen some pretty unbelievable things," he said. "Last week I saw a girl with a cheat sheet. When the teacher came by to question her, she hit it and acted as if he was trying to search her personal parts. What could he do? He walked away."
Montgomery County is an affluent area with an unusually high number of professional parents and college-bound students, a fact that Bollweg believes is part of the problem.
"It's college pressure, peer pressure," he said. "I think it's getting worse. The students' attitude is the attitude of society right now, a carry-over from Watergate. They have so many things to point to, Marvin Mandel and so on. They learn it from their parents who cheat on income taxes and speed limits."
In a similar survey at another Montgomery County High School last year, the student newspaper found that 70 per cent of the students said they would cheat on homework, classwork and quizzes although only a third said they would cheat on a composition, term paper or major exam. Last year's survey was done at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, where 632 of the 1,000 students responded.
According to the Magruder survey, more than three-quarters of the students said they had never been caught at cheating and only a "handful" expressed any guilt over it, Martins said.
"I could not say I have not cheated," Martins admitted "I don't know anyone who hasn't."
To cheat, he said, students stuff "cheat sheets" of numerous varieties in their shirts and socks and write on their arms. Some students refused to reveal their secrets on the questionnaire to keep others from dicovering their tactics.
In some cases, students said they cheated because "the test was too hard." Another noted that the teacher had left the room and if he hadn't cheated, "I knew I'd be the only one to do bad (on the test) . . ." "The ends justify the means," wrote another.
Bollweg said he was as shocked by the attitude of students as he was over the incidence of cheating. "They're completely nonchalant about it," he remarked.
In fact, in one of Bollweg's classes where the supposedly anonymous survey was being conducted, a student assigned to collect the questionnaires noticed that one student had answered that he did not cheat. The student collecting the poll said out loud, "What You're not cheating?" He pointed to the student and the whole class laughed.
"There are two kinds of cheating - taking answers or helping someone else," said Martins. And cheating on homework is so rampant that students no longer consider it cheating.
In interviewing teachers about the phenominon, Martins said he found they felt "their word is not really respected anymore" when the question of a student's cheating arises. "Most parents don't believe their kids are cheaters, so a teacher is forced to back down," Martins explained.
Students believe too much emphasis is placed on grades, according to Martins' interpretation of the poll.
The goal is to get into college. "Students feel they don't have to work now to get their grades and that when they get to college they'll really crack down on all their bad habits."
Besides, he remarked "high school is a joke. It's like junior high was 20 years ago. The big thing now is college. Kids size up a teacher and get away with everything they can. You get a driver's license and you find other things to do besides study. And many kids work part-time and don't get home until 11 p.m. But their parents still pressure them to keep up their grades."
They also see that students who are smart and earn good grades receive the same diploma as students just above the failing mark, he said.
"Our schook is not hard," said Martins. "It's not asking too much of us. Students don't really think about how cheating has devalued their grades."
Martins believes parents will be "surprised" by the poll results. However, he holds them partially responsible.
"Parents say cheating is wrong, but they set a double standard." "That kind of value just rolls off kids' backs."
One student ended his survey form this way: "I cheated on this survey. I [LINE ILLEGIBLE]