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Integrity in School

We’ve all been tempted before. Whether for an important exam, a tedious assignment, or simply forgotten homework – cheating seems to offer a quick fix for any obstacles between us and that ‘A.’ However, we must seriously consider the consequences of cheating; the ramifications pan out to be much more devastating and deeply-rooted than they initially seem. Of course, there is a penalty if caught in the act, but cheating can do more than compromise our academic integrity. Indeed, we may find ourselves lacking the creative ability to do our own work even when we want to, effectively forcing us into a loop of repeated offenses.

It is indisputable that when we cheat, we are not actively remembering the solution to a problem or devoting the brainpower necessary to create an original work. Rather, we refer to an external source to be spoon-fed the information needed to accomplish the task at hand. As such, cheating is metaphorically – and many times literally – the act of relying on Google Search for an assignment. Cheaters may be provided all the correct answers, but the ease at which the information becomes available allows for the complete bypass of active thought; when we cheat we do not ever actually learn the information, or even think it through.

This runs parallel to the point of author Nicholas Carr, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, noticing the Internet’s depreciating effect on his ability to concentrate, took it upon himself to extensively research the topic. In his book, The Shallows, he expressed his concern that the vast database of information that is the Internet is not catalyzing the education of the human race, but is reducing us to simple-minded, or “shallow,” people instead. Carr’s central claim is that Internet use has devastating effects facilitated by neuroplasticity, the quality of our brain to change anatomically, investing neural cells from the least stimulated to the most stimulated parts of the brain. Though neuroplasticity is supposed to optimize our brains to meet our needs, when the only stimulus we provide our brain is through surfing the Web or in this case, cheating, it is the process of cheating rather than the process of learning that our brains become most adept at. As such, we lose the ability to synthesize ideas with learned information, and instead only grow fluent in regurgitating information. Instead of acquiring a toolbox of knowledge through the difficult but rewarding learning experience, we find that we are only provided the tools necessary to deal with the specific task at hand. While this is efficient in the short term, these tools will prove to be borrowed; they will vanish from the hands of their wielder the instant the job is complete.

One might argue that cheating is a way of learning in and of itself. The instantaneous exposure to more information, and more accurate and directly relevant information, may have an allure as a method of studying. However, as Carr put it, “If working memory is the mind’s scratch pad, then long-term memory is its filing system… In order for us to think about something we’ve previously learned or experienced, our brain has to transfer the memory from long-term back into working memory.” Carr articulates that in order for us to have truly learned something, we must first at least commit it to long-term memory. Only once an idea is stored in our long-term memory is it truly possible to process the information, think back, and in the case of academics, derive our answers and work from it.

As I acknowledged from the start, cheating does present a certain, undeniable temptation. Not only is it exceedingly convenient, it feeds off of our natural, though unfortunate, reluctance to trust ourselves. Furthermore, that feeling of dread we experience when we receive a bad grade or realize we forgot about an assignment is something we all want to avoid, whatever the costs. The claim must be made, though gingerly, that we cohabitate a society that promotes breaches of academic integrity, what with the constant examinations and the supposed, utter importance of our grades to our future success. As such, it becomes extremely important that we not only stay tenacious and adhere to our moral guidelines, but also remember the barebones value of learning, the activity that should be at the forefront of our agendas as students.