Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How to Reduce Academic Dishonesty

This morning, I was on a syndicated Canadian radio show to comment about the now well-publicized company that writes college admissions essays, term papers, and theses for students.

The existence of such companies is, alas, not surprising, especially as times get ever tougher, because many people will do what's expedient to get into a good school, get good grades, land a job etc.

That, of course, is why ethically challenged people hire resume writers--to deceive employers into thinking the candidate writes, thinks, and organizes better than s/he, in fact, does. (If that's not the reason, as some resume writers have argued in response to a previous post, then why don't candidates add "This resume was written by Mary Jones, a professional resume writer?" Why don't resume writers, ever eager to get more clients, insist that candidates do so?

In this post, I propose solutions:

To reduce academic dishonesty, if professors made term papers, theses, etc. of greater learning value to the students, many more students would write them rather than pay someone else to write them in their name. After all, few students hire others to do their fieldwork or internship. For example, rather than asking students to write about the significance of the doppelganger in 18th century literature, why not ask them to interview ten people about how they managed to use their liberal arts education to improve their lives?"

Speaking of academic fraud, I know two people who went to Yale Law School. Both got in dishonestly. One wrote an admission essay claiming her father was a terrible sexist pig and she had to fight to conquer that. In fact, her father was a full-fledged feminist. The other student claimed to be Native American, when in fact, she was not.

Here's an approach to improving societal ethics more broadly: Have a K-16 ethics curriculum filled with simulations of real-life ethical dilemmas. That curriculum would also teach the primacy of teaching the students' children that the cosmically ethical choice is always wiser than expediency. And that that must not only be preached but practiced. If a parent preaches ethics but to get a discount, tells a restaurant cashier the child is 12 rather than the true 13, the kid gets the message that expediency trumps ethics.

Of course, colleges have filled even k-12 curriculum with so much arcana that professors deem essential (from the Peloponnesian Wars to quadratic equations), that there's no room in the curriculum. So let's wrest curriculum selection from those trivia-obsessed research professors and replace them with successful people from all walks of life, from ethical businesspeople to social workers, scientists to blue-collar workers.

We'd have a more ethical and better world.

13 comments:

Shawn said...

"I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else."


More:

http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/125329/

http://mangans.blogspot.com/2010/11/shadow-scholar.html

Stephen said...

Ethics education rarely works as intended. As a former cadet at the United States Military Academy, I was saturated with lectures on 'duty, honor, country' and the honor code. It got to the point that terms like 'leader of character' and 'integrity' became punchlines. The end result was that many cadet became desensitized to ethical dilemmas.

Marty Nemko said...

Dear Stephen,

Yes, I had heard about ethics' courses lack of results. I pin some hope on it being suffused through the K-16 curriculum AND that it not be lecture, but mainly immersing students in ethical dilemmas AND explaining WHY the unsuccessful ethical life is so much a wiser choice that the successful unethical one.

Anonymous said...

One can reasonable expect expediency to increase in the foreseeable future as economic conditions foster a sense of scarcity, resentment against those considered to be "haves" or at least doing OK, and increased resource competition.

How best to combat or at least mitigate this? Thoughts, anyone?

themotherlode said...

"So let's wrest curriculum selection from those trivia-obsessed research professors and replace them with successful people from all walks of life, from ethical businesspeople to social workers, scientists to blue-collar workers."

That is one great statement. Pure brilliance with practical application!

Keep on preachin'!

PS Did you see this piece in USA Today yesterday?
http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2010-11-10-column10_ST1_N.htm

Marty Nemko said...

Superb question, Anonymous. My thought is that in our homes, schools, colleges, and media, we to a greater extent, remind people that beyond a minimal income, additional income or "success" doesn't increase happiness enough to justify the compromises one typically must make to be financially successful.

We must send a consistent message that what counts in the life well-led is making the biggest positive difference--to those immediately around us, to strangers, and to the larger society.

I truly believe I could live on $20K a year and in living that modestly, I'd have the freedom to be a better person and thus feel more content and make a bigger difference, and never feel the need to make ethical compromises.

Anonymous said...

"For example, rather than asking students to write about the significance of the doppelganger in 18th century literature, why not ask them to interview ten people about how they managed to use their liberal arts education to improve their lives?"

Well, Marty, some students find subjects such as doppelgangers interesting. And such a topic might be germane to a student studying, oh I don't know, 18th century literature.

Not everything is job related, after all--there's more to life.

And it's fine to teach ethics as an academic discipline, and literature (for instance) is an excellent way to get at humanity. Doppelgangers not withstanding.

Typically simplistic and clueless for someone who really has spent much time in front of the classroom.

Time to get over your anger, Marty.

Marty Nemko said...

I don't feel angry as much as I feel sorry for the millions of students who pay fortunes of money and time to be forced--lest they not get their vaunted diploma--things of utter irrelevancy to 99% of them.

alicia said...

I think this is brilliant.
The implementation, of course, would be difficult, but if it were taught well, consistently over the years...

Your note in the comment is key, I think: teaching students WHY the unsuccessful ethical life is wiser. Because I've chosen to be ethical, I can see this, but can't really articulate it well. A teacher who could would change lives.

Kids just have so many signals--from parents, from TV and movies, from peers, even from teachers--that success is more important: expediency trumps ethics.

A lot of adults have lost sight of what it's like to be a kid, especailly a teenager. The "little things" that an adult will let their ethics slide on are shockingly important to the teenager and really show a true insight into who that adult is.

I think, in this case, the teenager is more right than the adult.

Anonymous said...

Marty, are you suggesting you could live on $20K in the Bay Area?

Marty Nemko said...

Yes. I've blogged about it. The post is "How I Could Live Decently on $20,000 a year." Key is taking the time to find a basement apt or backyard cottage--older homeowners often rent those cheap, in part because they feel safer with someone around.

Jeffrie said...

Here's one possible way a person could live on $20,000/yr in the Bay Area. Of course, you might have to throw ethics to the wayside if you chose this method.

Marty Nemko said...

Jeffrie, wow!

 

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