Cheating 10/15/22

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

It started with a fishing tournament.  Yes, fishing.  I have some friends who seem to live for fishing, and I don’t have a problem with it.  Heck, when I was younger, my parents would (very rarely) take me fishing, and I truly love fish.  But I don’t see how fishing is interesting enough to make shows about it or have contests.  I mean, it’s fishing.  Seriously.  But recently, a national scandal erupted because a master fisherman was apparently shoving lead weights down his catches’ throats.  He was winning my artificially increasing the weight of this fish.  He was cheating.  At fishing.  Fishing. 

Then came chess.  I love chess, but I have to admit, I think I enjoy the thought of chess more than the actual game.  I’ve played a time or two, but I’ve never been ranked.  Interestingly, not long ago, I managed to hold my own against a nationally ranked chess player.  I don’t know how highly ranked but ranked.  But to make a show out of it?  Yes, there are televised chess tournaments, and they’re almost as action packed as fishing shows.  A few weeks ago, though, it was brought to light that a chess master had been cheating.  At chess.  Chess.

Or maybe I have those two stories backwards chronologically.  But seriously, I remember when cheating used to mean something.  When people cheated at important stuff, like over privileged white people cheating to get into college.  I guess it’s fine that the news is reporting all of this stuff, but I don’t see how some of it makes national news.  Yes, within the circles of people with a true love about those topics (which clearly, I lack), I can see news like that traveling quickly.  For me, though, somebody could slap me in the face with a mackerel and I’d think it was a chess master. 

But I do have something to say about integrity.  In my undergraduate days, late as a matter of fact, I was taking an exam in analytical chemistry, and there was one problem on the test that, frankly, I just didn’t get.  I struggled and struggled to get started, when my human nature finally won out.  I noticed out of the corner of my eye the student next to me working on the same problem, and I glanced over, not for long, but long enough to see how to start the problem.  So, I started it, and worked through the rest of the problem, heavy in mathematics and complex to complete.  But I didn’t know how to start. 

When I turned the paper in, I told the professor what had happened, that the student next to me did not know I looked, and that once I saw how to start it, I did the rest of the problem myself.  Without saying a word, he took out a red pen, and put a large “0” on the problem.  For a moment, just a moment, I thought to protest since most of the work was mine, but I stopped short.  I thanked the professor and left.  I didn’t do well on that test (there were not many questions as they were all complex and took many steps to work out), but the grade I got was mine.  Just mine.  And that was fine.

As a professor, I might have handled it differently, but it doesn’t matter.  The fact is that my conscious was intact, and that’s what I care about.  Maybe that’s the difference.  People who cheat apparently don’t have the same sense of pride, or at least that’s my guess.  I’d rather have a C under my own power than an A through cheating. 

I keep thinking about these kids with parents spending money to get them into a school for which they’re not ready.  The school in question was a high-end ivy-league school with an incredible reputation.  These schools are not trivial.  They expect their students to work hard and rely on a solid academic background.  Without such a solid foundation, the students will surely struggle in their courses from the outset as the professors of those courses will assume they have a certain baseline of knowledge.  And with the challenging academics, the students who don’t have the grades and knowledge to get into the schools on their own merit will likely be missing the motivation and work ethics necessary to put the time in to be successful, even if they did have the necessary background.  So who does this cheating really help?  Surely not the benefactor of the scandal.

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