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The Issues of Cheating and the Problems with an Honor Code in My High School in Pennsylvania

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My High School is one of the highest-ranking public schools in Pennsylvania. Many students take between five and fifteen AP classes, and they work hard to attain perfect GPAs and test scores in hopes of getting accepted into prestigious colleges. The school doesn’t even report class rankings because the difference between the top students’ grades is minute. In such a high-achieving atmosphere, it is almost inevitable that some cheating will exist. Although cheating is a problem, however, the implementation of an honor code would not be successful.

There is already a lot of cheating — especially among higher-level classes — but most cheating is relatively inconsequential. Everyone in my school has been repeatedly warned about the dangers of plagiarism, and clear punishments have been outlined for students who cheat. Most papers are sent through a plagiarism-detector such as Turnitin. As a result, few students are willing to take a risk as big as copying an entire essay from the Internet. However, there is plenty of collaboration that goes on in other ways. Most students have heard the phrase, “Just change the wording so it isn’t obvious,” as their friends sends them pictures of their classwork. In an environment where students may be taking four or five advanced classes at a time, a busywork assignment cannot take priority over studying for a test or writing a paper. The assignments that students most often cheat on are the ones where no one feels it is a risk to do so. As Donald L. McCabe points out, the success of an honor code depends on a “culture of academic integrity” (Source C). Few students see the problem with cheating in such small quantities, especially if integrity comes at the cost of a good grade. Also, like Source F points out, many students also feel as though they have no choice but to cheat to remain competitive.

One of the biggest problems with an honor code is that students would not feel comfortable reporting their peers, and forcing them to do so would just foster disrespect towards the teachers. Most students believe that cheating is immoral and deserves punishment, but only 8% would actually report one of their peers for cheating (Source E). There is a strong sense of camaraderie among students as they commiserate about how much homework they have or how unfair a certain teacher is. Turning those people against each other would only create feelings of animosity. Other high schools that attempted to create an honor code, such as Lawrence Academy, faced backlash for such rules, and they were eventually taken out (Source B). Students simply do not feel comfortable sending their peers to be punished.

Finally, an honor code based in punishment would simply be unrealistic. In some AP classes, teachers are required to create tests from a bank of College Board-approved textbooks. As a result, in many cases it is possible to find and study some test questions online before an exam. Should the students be blamed for using a useful resource to study? Should the teachers be blamed for following orders to create tests in a certain way? Although cheating is clearly a problem, the system in place — for AP classes in particular — facilitates it. Instead of creating an honor code that would be ineffective for the majority of students, the school should focus on creating a love of learning, not a scheme to avoid doing work.

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