Your alarm clock goes off. You’re awake, panicked— bags under your eyes, coffee on your breath, pencil in your hand, and blank papers scattered around you. What do you do? I get it, I really do. When almost any answer is at the tip of your fingers, a text message away, or even just a quick peek over another’s shoulders, academic integrity can seem unnecessarily taxing. Why stress ourselves out by putting so much effort in when the same results can be achieved by cheating? As cheating becomes more prevalent, it’s not unlikely to find someone who has cheated at least once. But, I digress. I’m not here to point any fingers. As a junior in high school, I understand that school work (not to mention sports, jobs, after school activities, etc.) piles up and the stress can become unbearable. From tests to quizzes to homework, there’s only so many hours in the day. To utilize them, it seems only natural to take the easiest way out by looking up answers online or copying work off a friend. I’ve had my fair share of late nights where I bitterly did my homework or drowned in piles of schoolwork as I prayed to finish quickly. The swiftness and effortlessness that copying provided was enchanting. It was easy to be drawn in by its false impression of knowledge— even if I did feel a twinge of guilt for betraying my ethics. Still, there were no immediate consequences to my actions— as far as I could see— and it did wonders for both my grades and my sleep. Cheating appeared like the end all solution to any and every problem. What many fail to realize, however, is that as we robotically search the internet looking for answers or mindlessly scribble down quick solutions borrowed from friends, we in a sense become machines whose only purpose is to copy what we find from an external source to our paper—but you can’t cheat your way through a real-world situations. If we never take the time to develop and strengthen our understanding of a concept, and the time comes, we’ll be left defenseless. With an increasing reliance on both machines and people, I had diminished on my own ability to process information and skewed my perception of knowledge to a point where I believed education was all about getting the right answer and memorization, not internalization. Cheating had given me the illusion of knowledge.
While deluded by the façade of intelligence, I barely had taken the time to realize the impacts academic dishonesty had on my physical brain. While plagiarizing answers or copying answers isn’t necessarily life-altering, it is brain-altering. When we deeply engage in a text and link it to previously existing knowledge in a relevant and methodical format, Nicholas Carr (author of the New York Times bestseller, The Shallows) states that the new information will become consolidated into our memory instead of being forgotten quickly—leaving “no trace” behind. When we cheat, we don’t engage in the material but rather, we train our minds to process information in quick, short bursts. While this may aid in simple recitation, it breeds shallower thinking, overall. The human brain’s adaptability is also in part what makes habitual academic dishonesty so frightening. Hebb’s theory, in the words of Carr, states that “neurons that fire together wire together”— but when we cheat, we’re sabotaging the opportunity to “fire” these neurons and create connections within our brain that would strengthen our understanding of a concept. Simultaneously, we also weaken the efficiency of preexisting neurons. While on the surface our perception of intelligence appears to remain the same, the reality is that our failure to exercise these neurons has debilitated our capacity to effectively tap into our ability to contemplate, analyze and incorporate information into our deep memory — meaning, we’re really not learning anything at all.
Superficially, violating academic integrity may appear to give us all the answers in seconds, but true knowledge takes time. True knowledge must be earned. While obtaining an answer key on the internet, copying down answers from friends, or copying off the paper next to us may appear to present a permanent solution to all our problems. This solution is all but temporary. We are not going to have an answer key or cheat sheet to use when we get out into the real world; all we’ll have is ourselves and whatever intellect we possess to solve the problem in front of us. But when faced with a life altering decision, all you have left is a mindless psyche bred by years of perpetuated cheating. Then what will you do? This is an issue that needs to be addressed right here, right now. It really comes down to a simple question: is a few minutes saved looking up an answer, copying a page, or glancing off the paper in front of us worth more than our loss of self-reliance? I certainly think not. As the saying goes, “cheaters will never prosper.”