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Academic Integrity

Fellow classmates, we’ve all been there: nodding off as we try to keep typing up our essay at 12AM. Extracurriculars kept us from home until 6PM. We’re desperate for sleep, but we’re also equally and pitifully desperate for an A. As our sight blurs and our eyes are bloodshot from the hours spent in front of a screen, we suddenly remember that we still have math homework to do—great, another blow to our sleep. So, we text someone begging for the homework answers. Bing! Our phones light up with those answers. It’s so tempting to just copy them, considering how busy and stressed we all are. What’s the harm? We still would’ve known how to do the problems anyway, and it’s just for tonight. That is, until we do it the next night and the next night, and then the cost of cheating comes to light.

Here, we have sacrificed our academic integrity at the cost of our intelligence. We know cheating is immoral, but what we don’t understand is what it does to our brain. Nicholas Carr, author of best-seller, The Shallows, uses the brain’s neuroplasticity to explain how our brain changes. I’m not going to assume you know what neuroplasticity means: It’s the fact that our brain can change from an experience or lack thereof. Neuroplasticity is your brain being flexible to learning new skills, like an instrument, by forming new neural connections.When we cheat, violating our academic integrity, we weaken these connections. We can strengthen them by doing homework ourselves. We are rewiring our brains to become accustomed to the machine-like skill of copy and paste rather than thinking for ourselves. This reshaping weakens our memories.

Neuroplasticity can act against our memories, and Nicholas Carr evaluates this consequence. Carr discusses memory and how we learn by referencing John Sweller and stating, “The depth of our intelligence hinges on our ability to transfer information from working memory to long-term memory and weave it into conceptual schemas” (124). Carr is saying that we need to get information from our short-term memory to our long-term memory in order to learn. This is done by associating new information with what we already know. When we study for exams, our brains do this process of thinking by reading, activating our short-term memory, associating with old information, and storing into our long-term memory as new learned information. The facts we pick up are joined to make complex concepts or “schemas” in our long-term memories. Therefore, our long-term memories are where our intelligence stems from. Cheating doesn’t allow us to learn because we don’t go through the process of thinking. Through neuroplasticity, cheating makes our brains less adept at storing into our long-term memories where knowledge comes about. When we cheat, we become shallower thinkers and therefore, our intelligence is undermined.

Our intelligence determines our success. No, I don’t mean whether we achieve a 4.0 GPA, because that is not what intelligence means. Intelligence is our knowledge from experiences like the self-discipline of doing our own thinking. Success comes from our intelligence, or the skills and wisdom we gain as we complete work using our own thoughts. Success means reaching our potential and becoming the people we have strived to be. When we rely on others for the homework answers, we lose the ability to think for ourselves and we lose our independence as the light of success wanes away. We all want to get older, yet we cannot even think independently. Cheating costs us our intellect and therefore limits our independence. We will not be successful whilst reliant on others. Let’s ask ourselves, do we want to look back on a person who cheated and never gained knowledge or a person who was morally correct and gained intelligence through original work? Suddenly, academic integrity matters much more here because the work we do during school translates into our lives, careers, and success. I urge you to think about your own goals for success, and imagine it gone because you cheated. So, if you value your intellect and success, you cannot rob yourself of the value of integrity in your work.

I know the feeling: we have a boatload of homework. We get texted the answers. If we cheat and get 100s on all of the homeworks, we won’t know how to do the problems on test, then what will we do? The tests count for more points than the homework. Similarly, if we cheat on all of our schoolwork, what will we do when it counts in the real world for our success? Is success not what we are all striving for? Fellow classmates, think about that, while you can still think.