. . . the right care at the right time

Cheating in an already dishonest world

FCBK-1 By Eli Zaret, New Oakland Community Liasion

My mom taught me that cheating is wrong, but I’ve still been a cheater all my life. Even today, I knowingly drove 60 in a 40 mph zone. There was no one around and I was in a rush. But that’s cheating too.

Like the majority of students throughout the millennia, I copied an answer or two. My parents told me never to cheat, and any cheatnumber of teachers told me, “When you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself.” Unfortunately, when a crisis arose, like I was unprepared, the moral high ground flew out the window. Surveys today indicate that about 75% of high school kids admit to some form of academic dishonesty.

Even in writing this article, I did some internet research and may have incorporated someone else’s thoughts in this blog. Technically, that’s plagiarism, the ultimate form of journalistic cheating. Curiously, 75% of collegians feel that copying off the internet isn’t a serious offense.

Despite these statistics, 34 percent of parents don’t talk to their kids about cheating because they don’t believe their children would cheat.

I began examining all of this when it became clear recently that Tom Brady cheated by knowingly having his footballs deflated to make them easier for him to throw.

brady2Tom was also a great college football player where academic  cheating scandals abound, most recently and notably at the esteemed University of North Carolina, where for decades certain teachers gave athletes passing grades in classes they never even attended. Now that’s really a great lesson for those players, isn’t it? Our University conspires to cheat for us while other students can be expelled if caught cheating.

I covered sports for 40 years, and heard dozens of players and coaches tell me words to the effect, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’”.

In recent years we learned that Bobby Thomson’s 1951 “Home run heard round the world” – the most famous in baseball history – was likely fueled by a NY Giants employee stealing the catcher’s signs with binoculars from a perch in the outfield.

One of my favorite athletes, Hall of Fame basketball player Bob Lanier, once showed me how he’d shield the referee and grab an opponent’s jersey to prevent him from getting a rebound. Lanier played in the same era with pitcher Gaylord Perry, who so successfully disguised his illegal spitball, that he became a folk hero and Hall of Fame player because of it.

As for Brady, my suspicion is that many or most NFL quarterbacks inflate or deflate balls according to their personal preference, and he isn’t going to take the hit for all of them. It seems like a dumb rule that’s attached to the dumb procedure that allows quarterbacks to choose their own balls in the first place.

The justifications or rationalizations for cheating are vast and personal. Someone who cheats in order to get food stamps for survival can easily be criticized by a hedge fund manager who may have disguised millions to avoid corporate taxes. We also have a history of breaking bad laws that need changing. Remember, we once had laws that legalized slave ownership?

Thirty years ago baseball had a rule that pine tar couldn’t be smeared above the label on a baseball bat. in 1983, George Brett’s tantrum when he was called on it became an instant legend, some months before that dumb rule was rescinded.

Ok, but how about parents, kids and academia where cheating is always a major issue? Personal integrity is an important and complex issue and parents play a key role in imbuing their child’s moral and ethical foundation. According to educator Jessica Lahey, an educator writing in the N.Y. Times,

Here’s why students cheat:

  • Competition for grades
  • Pressure of high-stakes testing
  • Failure to prepare or understand
  • Thrill of cheater’s high (according to several studies)

Here’s what to do:

  • Don’t assume your child understands the difference between collaborating and cheating
  • Brush up on plagiarism and why we give others credit for their work
  • Explain that academic dishonesty can destroy one’s reputation as an honorable person

Lahey advises parents to “Frame your conversation around school in terms of individual effort and personal goals rather than grades and test scores, as competition fuels academic dishonesty. Dissuade your child from comparing grades with her friends, and teach her that learning is not a means to an end, but the end itself.”

I’ll guarantee that Tom Brady (and Tom Brady’s mom) don’t see him as a cheater. Millions of others may see him differently and may be right or wrong according to a complex set of beliefs.

It’s why we have a great adage in this country that goes something like, but not exactly, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, or under or over-inflated footballs.”