Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cheating is not a valuable workplace skill.

Joanne threw out a provocative headline: Cheating is a valuable workplace skill, but she's a blogger so I can assume she might or might not actually agree with it.
Homeschool your kids so they learn to cheat, writes Penelope Trunk on her homeschooling blog. What schools call cheating — getting the right answer from others — is “effective workplace behavior” and a valuable skill, she argues.
Some 85 percent of students admit to cheating, Trunk writes. . . .
Stuyvesant, a New York City magnet school that’s harder to get into than Harvard, had an incredibly organized cheating system that rivals best practices for productivity types in Fortune 500 organizations. . . .

What made Stuyvesant’s cheating system so effective was that everybody had a certain topic that they would be expert on, and everyone else knew how to get the answers from that person. That’s a great workplace skill, and you do kids a disservice by training them to think that it’s improper behavior. 
Compared to their elders, Generation Y is “incredibly productive because they’re great collaborators.”
In the age of information, sharing information rules the day, and there’s no longer a place for a Lone Ranger at the office who works independently of everyone else. Today’s business world is too complicated and too networked for people to work so independently as to not be getting information from other people. 
Teachers have been pushing collaborative work on projects and peer tutoring for many years now. Collaborative work on tests is another matter.

Does Trunk have a point?
Cheating is not collaborative work. “What schools call cheating — getting the right answer from others — is “effective workplace behavior” and a valuable skill, she argues.” and she would be wrong.

 She wants to mask the true problem with excusing cheating by equating it with workplace skills. In school, you are learning how to do things. You are developing the abilities and information base and your “production” is that development. Collaboration doesn’t “work” unless you learn the material or skills. No one is expecting students to produce an advertisement campaign for real even though the task might approximate the steps to doing so.

School is about that base of fundamental skills that can be applied to any situation and the fundamental knowledge that all future tasks would appear to require. The problem with the Stuyvesant scandal was that the students weren't learning, someone else was doing it for them. There was also the whole "honesty" and "plagiarism" thing.

Which employee would you hire and trust?
Copying from other students isn’t learning because it doesn’t promote acquisition of either material or methods, it merely provides you with a meaningless result, quickly forgotten and never to be repeated. School isn’t about the result, it is about the learning.

Why is the workplace different? Because it is assumed that the workers already have achieved the “learning”, the acquisition of skills and methods, and the acquisition of a fundamental knowledge base. You can tolerate “research” and “getting the answer from others” if the job to be done is a unique job compared to the skillset of the worker. It is cheaper to pay for usage rights, or copyright, or independent contractor for that one job and then move on to the next. If the worker, however, cannot produce on his own, can ONLY copy from others, it is in the company’s best interest to fire that worker and hire someone who can.

Teaching students that cheating is okay and “effective workplace behavior” is directly damaging to the learning process even though it appears, on the surface, to be allowing the student to show more “knowledge” without spending any mental effort. Learning is hard because it is new. Avoiding that difficulty merely ensures that it will never occur.

It may seem more efficient and effective in the short run and certainly develops the person who can copy but fails at the long term goal of developing the person who can do the work.

If you give me the choice, I will always choose the method that develops the one who can tutor others, who can think and take responsibility, and who can be the source for all the lazy, stupid people, because that is how I define a successful and educated student, the “A” student: The kid you copy from.

Which worker would you pay?


  1. Well, certainly some people in a workplace have knowledge that others do not, and if you need that knowledge you go ask them. Just as you might be told things you need to know by a teacher. If, however, every time you need that same information over the course of the project, you have to go back and ask that same knowledgeable person over and over again (instead of remembering it after the first time you asked), that would not be considered effective.

    So, for instance, if you were going to give a presentation (or take a test), and you went to a co-worker to get information, that would be good. If, during the presentation (or test), you forgot that information and had to excuse yourself and go back to the co-worker and ask for the information again, that would be bad. And, indeed, if you didn't get the information before the presentation, but instead waited until during the presentation (or test) to find out the information, that would also be bad. I'm thinking learning information that you are taught (and remembering it for a reasonable amount of time) would be an important workplace skill.

  2. More depressing than the PEMDAS mess up. :(