This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.
People complain that the cheating policies of schools like Harvard are too strict, but the real problem is that our high schools have policies regarding academic dishonesty that are moving further and further away from the policies students will encounter in college and which don’t really teach the students much at all.
Here at [my school], a student who cheats, on the first offense, gets a zero on the assignment (which, in most classes here, doesn’t have a huge effect by itself on the student’s final grade) and some detention (which consists of eating lunch in a classroom where one can socialize with the other inmates – unlike at [my previous Jesuit school], students in detention here need not complete any work whatsoever). On a second offense, students are supposed to be suspended, but enforcement is iffy and suspension is basically a vacation. California law requires public schools to give suspended students the opportunity to make up all missed work for full credit, so there really is no “bite” to it at all. Most public high schools out there have similar policies. And then these same students end up at universities where a first offense can mean forced withdrawal from school for a semester or more.
Students who have reached adulthood should certainly know better than to cheat and should know what “cheating” is, and so I have little sympathy for those who are busted for this at the university level, but I do believe that our high schools need to do a much better job of preparing students for this sort of thing and of sending a clearer message regarding the gravity of academic dishonesty. Granted, we don’t have the same ability to kick students out as a university has, but certainly there should be some punishments with a bit more “kick” to them.