Friday, March 25, 2011

Answers May Vary

Being a student for as long as I was and then being a University professor for nearly 10 years, I have been witness to students who cheat. Some cheat in obvious ways, like looking over the shoulder of the student in front of them during an exam, or plagiarizing someone else's work verbatim off the internet, or copying another student's homework. Some cheat in more clever ways by using PDAs, or copying notes onto their bodies, or hiding books in the bathroom and then excusing themselves during an exam. I have seen students who could not be more blatant in their cheating, and students who are caught red-handed but swear upon their grandmother's grave that they are innocent. I guess that I could prepare a fairly amusing handbook on cheating given what I have come across over the years.

However, my favorite story on cheating was told to me all the way back in elementary school. It was such a great anecdote that I just could not forget it. Surely a classic in the annals of cheating. The story goes as follows. A young whippersnapper boy in the third grade was acting up during the time when he should have been concentrating on his work. He was warned, but continued to disrupt the class. Finally, the teacher reached the end of her tether and decided to punish the boy in the most henious way possible (at least to an 8 year old). He would not get to join his classmates at recess, but instead have to stay inside and complete the work that he had not done. Oh, the humanity.

The assignment was reading comprehension. It involved reading a short story in a workbook and then answering some questions about the story. When the teacher came back in from chaperoning the students on the playground, she found a contrite boy sitting quietly at his desk. She asked him if he had completed his work and he nodded his head yes. The teacher opened up his workbook and inspected his answers. She praised him for getting every single one of the answers correct. Yet she knew that he had cheated by copying directly from the answer key on her desk. How could she have known? Well, across the bottom of the page he had written the sentence, "Answers may vary." Busted. Off to the principal's office he went.