Tirade I

Warning – Sometimes I get mad.  If a post is labeled as this one is either suck it up and read bravely what I have to say, or duck and cover.  I’ll get over it and write something more cheerful next week.     Unless I get mad again. 

Where is Truth?

During the civil trials of Jesus Christ, Pontius Pilate asked him –while he stood there battered and bloody, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).   Jesus didn’t answer Pilate – perhaps his tone made it clear that he didn’t really want an answer.  Regardless, the question is The Question, but day after day I am reminded that whatever Truth is, our modern society values no more than it values virginity.

Case in point – the Atlanta public schools.  Earlier this month the Atlanta Constitution reported that for the last decade 178 educators, working in 44 schools and in the central administration, falsified the results for the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.  They actually donned rubber gloves, erased the little penciled  “bubbles,” and replaced erroneous answers.  They got startlingly improved scores using this method.  (Vogell)

At the other end of the school continuum, students, the vast majority of them, are turning cheating into a fine, electronic art.  According to a study done by the Center for Youth Ethics at the Josephson Institute in Los Angeles 64% admitted to cheating on tests within the last year.  In the same study 82% said they copied homework.  (USNews – Education) 

In a small study done in a Midwestern town the stats were even worse – between 74 and 87% percent admitted to some form of cheating on tests (Ramirez).  These industrious young people have at their disposal dozens of new techniques – phone-photos  of the test sent to your buddy in the next class,  a quick, surreptitious blackberry Google search,  a little thumb-dancing under the desk.  The truly innovative will even hack into the computerized grade book and just assign himself a grade, adjust his attendance records – the possibilities are endless.

I did my own checking with a Google search for “essays for sale.” (As an English teacher I was always on the lookout for plagiarized papers.) The search garnered over 28,000.000 results.  Twenty-eight million!  That means that millions of people are making money by helping students cheat, and that they evidently have plenty of customers. 

I have been aware that over the expanse of my career Truth as an absolute value has been going out of style.  The student who most didactically pounded on her desk and declared, “There’s no such thing as absolute truth!” wasn’t my first clue, but it’s one that’s stuck with me.  She may have been a very bright girl, but she didn’t come up with that one on her own. 

In an effort to find that non-existent middle ground, where no one is offended and no thinking has to take place, school curricula have grabbed the relativist philosophy with a white-knuckled grip.  My darling student had learned her lessons well. 

And you can’t help realizing how close the relativist mantra is to plagiarizing a paper.  Why look up facts if none of them is true?  Why bother writing a paper if you can just buy one? Who cares whether or not you implicitly lie by sneaking a peek at the test questions beforehand?  Why memorize stuff if nothing’s true? 

Of course the next question is -- Why bother cheating on a test if your teacher will do that for you? 

We spend upwards of $10,000 per student per year on public education, and for that we get a whole generation of con artists?  Oops – 2 generations, counting the Atlanta teachers,  and I doubt they’re the only ones pressured to use deception to “prove” they’ve left no student behind. 

I’m beginning to see this tirade as more of a book than a post, so I’ll close, but let me say this:

I have spent most of my life in a classroom, either sitting in a desk or standing before rows of them.  I have heartily believed in what I was doing there, whether learning or teaching, and I had the naïve idea that it was all connected to this concept of Truth.  Just stop and think; if we’re not teaching Truth, we have to be teaching lies.   The middle ground just doesn’t exist.

What is truth?  I doubt if many of our nation’s students have a clue.

Works Cited

“Most High School Students Cheat.”  Live Science.  May 2010.      http://www.livescience.com/8254-high-school-students-cheat.html

Ramirez, Eddy. “Cheating on the Rise Among High School Students.” USNews – Education.  December 2. 2008. http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/on-education/2008/12/02/cheating-on-the-rise-among-high-school-students

Vogell,, Heather. “Investigation into APS cheating finds unethical behavior across every level.” The Atlanda Constitution. July 6, 2011. http://sweetness-light.com/archive/atlanta-teachers-cheated-for-better-scores.