Academic integrity is not a problem exclusive to Ottawa Hills. It is a problem that plagues all educational institutions to some extent. However, there is one specific case-study that has a lot of similarities to be drawn to Ottawa Hills.
In 2012, Stuyvesant High School, a prestigious New York City public school that sends its students to some of the best universities in the United States, caught media attention in the midst of a cheating scandal where 71 students were sharing answers during a state exam. One freshman of Stuyvessant described the climate, “You could call Stuyvesant a meritocracy. Your worth is kind of judged on your academic success” (New York Post). The exact amount of emphasis placed on academic success there is uncertain, but no one will deny that Ottawa Hills is a demanding education, where academics and grades are highly prioritized by students, teachers, administrators, and everyone else involved in our learning. This can at times create an environment where we are vulnerable to stress and external pressures.
Some choose to cower to the pressures and sacrifice ethics for temporary success. However, that’s all it is: temporary. As cliche as it sounds, the only person you cheat when cheating is yourself. There are exceptions; for example, some students feel that they gain nothing from “busy-work” and reason that whether they do the work themselves or not will not improve their learning. Despite this, cheating remains to be a strong disservice. Students at Stuyvesant do not always agree with the sentiment. They viewed cheating as a means to an end. A necessary evil to earn admittance into an Ivy League school or universities of that caliber.
It is important to note that cheating at Ottawa Hills is far from as rampant as it is reported to be in Stuyvesant. The New York Post sent a survey to the student body just four months into the 2017-18 school year, which had 56% of freshmen respond that they had cheated, while the number was 97% for Juniors and 83% for the entire school. These numbers are much higher than the results of the Arrowhead survey; however, the real problem lies not in the frequency, but the culture and students’ attitudes towards the problem. One student there bluntly declares that, “Stuyvesant breeds a culture of cheating, and you’re honestly stupid not to take advantage of it.” A student of Ottawa Hills explains, “Cheating in the hills is just an unfortunate reality that rarely gets in the way of students’ learning effectively. The kids still learn the material really well, they just use cheating as a way to cope with their heavy workload” (Arrowhead Student Survey). In both students’ perspectives, it is clear cheating is an accepted part of school life, almost justified because of how much work is assigned and how we are still able to learn even after not doing the work.
Although Ottawa Hills may not cheat as much as students at Stuyvesant, it happens enough to the point where students will openly discuss it and are comfortable with sharing to most of their peers that they “sladered” last night’s math homework or peeked over at Joey’s quiz during Biology. It happens enough that students will have an opinion on cheating, because they have no choice but to observe, and it happens enough that teachers are frustrated when their concerns never seem to be addressed.
Academic integrity is complicated to uphold, we know this, but that does not mean we should throw our hands in the air, give up, and say, “well, at least the problem isn’t that big.” Progress can be made, but the first step will be a conversation. There needs to be an open forum to discuss the issue, where students, teachers, and administrators proactively discuss solutions, or in the very least, what more we could do. If a conversation does not take place, we are saying that we are content with the level of cheating that goes on here.
Cheating is not a problem that stagnates, it is a virus that grows.