Small incident, large lesson

My high-school freshman English class was reading Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. During a quiz on part of the book, I discovered cheating among a few of the students. As a teacher, I knew that the usual procedure would be that those who had cheated would fail the quiz and receive the admonitions they had no doubt heard before. But I couldn't leave the experience there; something more had to happen—which, in my own frame of reference, meant healing, although I had no idea what form that would take.

I began asking the students a few questions, such as, "Do you do this in your other classes, too?" and "Do you realize that cheating is stealing?" They indicated that cheating was not common in every class because some teachers were just too "scary," and the students feared more than the usual consequences. But no, it wouldn't work for me to become one of the usual consequences. But no, it wouldn't work for me to become one of the "scary" teachers; severity of consequences might not always deter those who wanted to cheat from doing so. And no, they had never thought that cheating is stealing.... At the end of that hour I told my class that our work on this issue was not finished. I'm sure they wondered what else I could possibly do—so did I!

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Being honest means more than being moral
September 29, 1997
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