“How dare you accuse my Percy of cheating!” bellows the outraged parent. “He would never do such a thing!”
The teacher presents Percy’s answer sheet from the Biology 101 mid-term. Percy’s wrong answers match identically with Susie’s, an honors student who sits one row in front and to the side of Percy’s seat.
The teacher explains: “There are six multiple choice answers to each question. The likelihood that Percy’s wrong answer would match Susie’s wrong answer is one out of five. The chance of two independent events happening simultaneously is the product of the chance that they would happen alone.”
“How do you know Susie didn’t copy Percy’s answers?” Percy’s parent shouts.
“All 12 of Percy’s wrong answers are identical to Susie’s. One out of five to the twelfth power is one chance in 244 million.”
“This is a science class, not a math class!” Percy’s parent exclaims. “Your explanation has nothing to do with anything!”
“The chance of winning the power ball is one in 292 million, about the same likelihood that these wrong answers match by coincidence.”
“Stranger things have happened!” Percy’s parent continues. “Someone wins the lottery every week! Percy wouldn’t cheat! He comes from a good family! We give a lot of money to this college! We pay your salary!”
“I have allowed Percy to take the exam again,” the teacher says calmly. “He can sit for the test in my office. I will proctor it myself.”
“That is completely unacceptable! I will devote the rest of my life to seeing to it that you are fired and never work in education again at this university or any other!” Percy’s parent continues. “You have damaged my son’s self-esteem! You are a monster!”
Later that afternoon, the professor is accosted in the parking lot by Percy’s parent—still incensed—and an attorney. The conversation is unproductive.
The college does what it can to defend the teacher. Several months later after lengthy meetings and depositions, the case “settles.” Percy is allowed to drop the biology class. No mention of his alleged cheating is made on his transcript.
Can we agree that the behavior of the parent described above—an amalgam of parents we have all met—is appalling? Don’t you wish you could take this person aside and explain: you think you are helping your child but you are actually damaging him, perhaps irreparably. You have rescued him from accepting responsibility for the consequences of his actions. He clearly cheated. He’s never going to change his behavior. You should be ashamed that you have raised such a child. He is suffering from “entitleisis” and “affluenza,” may have a terminal case of both.
I don’t know what to advise this parent. They are so far over the line, they are beyond the power of this poor author to help. Instead, I want to offer some guidance to the parents of children who are outraged that there are folks who allow their children to cheat, encourage them to be dishonest, embolden them to plagiarize.
Young adults don’t just “show up” out of nowhere as full-blown cheaters. There was always a previous incident, a minor offense, a prior act. The time to intervene is at that first occurrence. “Tis education forms the common mind, Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined” as Pope pointed out.
Yes, it can be maddening to see parents intervening, arguing calls from the umpires, disputing grades with professors, bringing up a generation of Iagos. (Iago from Othello, not Iago from Aladdin for goodness sake.) But whether cheaters prosper isn’t the point. You want to have the right relationship with your kid.
"What profits a person to gain the entire world if they lose their soul?" a religious tradition suggests. And Nietzsche said that it's better to be occasionally deceived that to always be on the lookout for deceivers. Let's teach our kids not to care if somebody else is cheating. Let's teach our kids that we live in a world of plenty not of scarcity. Let's teach our kids to follow their own proper path even if someone else has more "likes."
Which brings me for the final quotes for this week: "just because you hear a donkey braying in a field doesn't mean that you have to get down on all fours and throw your head back." Or as Fitzgerald said, "living well is the best revenge."
If you and your kid are connected, it is less likely that you will have to hire an attorney after every exam. You can probably avoid a statistician to explain the likelihood that your child's answers match those of another student as well. Something to be said for that, don't you agree?