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Academic Integrity

I completely get it.  I’m a highschool student too, a junior at that–I, too, have nightly homework assignments stealing my sleep and virtually daily quizzes testing not only the class material but also my patience.  We’ve all been there, when it comes to be too much, and that temptation to glance at someone else’s paper or ask them for answers to the homework reaches a high point.  As we stay up until 2:30 am typing or scribbling furiously, eyes red and eyelids drooping, we seriously question ourselves: what’s the problem with getting a little “help” on my homework 2 minutes before class? What’s so wrong with “borrowing” a couple answers for the test; my “integrity” feels just fine, and I still feel smart? What could be all that bad about the good ol’ highlight, copy, and paste?

The first and most obvious issue here with academic integrity and violating it is, of course, the senseless, mindless transferring of information without any level of absorption of the material itself, which is not the type of “learning” or thinking that a school hopes to promote. Our classes are meant to challenge our way of developing ideas, provoke original thought, and help our minds to wrap around a problem or puzzle; they aren’t meant to teach us how to quickly re-word something so the 30-second copy isn’t as obvious, or how to hide our shifting eyes and sit at just the right angle to see the paper of the kid sitting in front of you. The more we rely on the 30 seconds before class to be able to paraphrase someone else’s thoughts without letting ourselves understand them, or the more we look for whether the person next to us has circled A, B, C, or D, the more we are growing accustomed to that way of thinking instead of actually grasping and applying concepts for ourselves. As Nicholas Carr says in his book, The Shallows, a New York Times bestselling book addressing the workings of our brain and how the Internet affects it, “the genius of our brain’s construction is not that it contains a lot of hardwiring but that it doesn’t… it’s not just repeated physical actions that can rewire our brains. Purely mental activity can also alter our neural circuitry…” What this means is that the way we mentally approach a certain activity, if repeated, can actually reshape the way we think and act in other aspects of life… which brings us to the next, more dangerous consequence of violating academic integrity.

Yes, passing off others’ sweat and toil as your own is morally wrong in itself, but the frequency with which you do this and the mindset that you are allowing yourself to assume while you are “stealing” this knowledge is essentially self-inflicting harm by preventing your mind from working to its full capacity and withholding yourself from your intellectual potential. The attitude that is assumed while cheating, the one in which blatant dishonesty is acceptable, is not only menacing, but also jeopardizes the attitudes which would apply to other aspects of your life; the mentality of dampened guilt and acknowledgement of wrong could permeate to any other activities you do besides academics (with sports, for example; I’ve played tennis matches against girls who boldly change the score incorrectly to favor themselves without even blinking). And this concept of attitude-spreading is not limited just to that one mentality of cheating and wrong; if the shallow, minimal mental efforts to transfer a sentence from another paper to your own becomes your main way of completing schoolwork, then it could very well become your main way of approaching other tasks, as well. Again, Carr’s explanations for the rapid adaptability of our brain (“Our ways of thinking, perceiving, and acting…we change them through the way we live–and…through the tools we use”) and how remarkably effortless a change to the fundamental way of your thinking is underscores the deeper dangers of cheating–the possibility that the attitude that comes with it is permanent, at least for the time being.  The “way we live” would be we work our brains, and the “tools we use” could pertain to the paper or person we would be cheating off of.  Everything we do and everything we think affects us on a deeper level, whether we are conscious of it or not; this is a consequence that most of us aren’t aware of when partaking in the sans-thinking method of copying and plagiarizing.

Again, before I start to seem like a pretentious brain expert–I’m on the same page as you.  I didn’t realize that the wrongs of cheating went beyond a moral violation, and I certainly didn’t think beyond the short-term gratification of “borrowing answers” for homework problems; but it’s not too late for any of us to start making adjustments to the way we learn and think. After all, the brain is constantly changing–there’s still time to follow the path of integrity together.