Recently, a group of five residents from my retirement community in Amherst matched wits with the Buffalo State College debate team, whose bright young members presented a case for us to examine and then discuss with them at a future date.
This case, based on real facts, had to do with a sophomore at Sequoia Union High School in Redwood City, Calif. The student was removed from an advanced English class in March 2012 because he had cheated by copying a homework assignment from another student. He had signed a no cheating/honesty pledge.
Because many of those enrolled in these elite advanced classes are accepted at the best colleges and universities, the student’s father sued the school district, claiming that the punishment was too harsh, and that it had harmed his son’s chances of being accepted into the best schools. He admitted that his son had cheated.
When we contemplated this case, we wondered if there would be a generational gap in the value systems between the debate team and ourselves. Those in my group grew up in a time when parents respected teachers and accepted their judgment when a student needed to be disciplined. It was a time when school was an opportunity for learning, not an opportunity for parents to manipulate the system. We were expected to do our own work, and accept responsibility for our own actions. Our parents did not shield us from the consequences, nor did we expect them to.
On the issue of integrity and honesty, we were on the same page with the debate team. These students were equally appalled that a parent would push the envelope of ethical behavior, enabling his child to feel so above the norm that he felt free to cheat.
As luck would have it, on the day before our meeting last month, the father dropped the lawsuit because it was revealed by the school that, prior to the trial, his son had cheated on a homework assignment in his freshman year as well. He had copied a translation directly from a teachers’ edition of his Spanish textbook (provided by his mother). So, case closed.
This case cost the school district $15,000. The lesson learned, both sides agreed, was that the son was the loser. He learned to cheat, but he did not learn to accept responsibility. And he learned that his parents will still push to advance their cause (him), even when he is in the wrong.
In his disproportionate reaction to his son’s being caught, this father may have done his son the greatest disservice of all. In a time without the Internet, the father’s misuse of the legal system for his son could have been a quieter, local issue. But in our overconnected, 24/7 in-touch world, the son’s cheating is now well known and the suit is recorded for all to read. Rather than it being a matter of the father coming to the rescue of his too severely punished son (his opinion), he now has quite likely secured “cheater” permanently to his son’s record.
As for the senior citizens who were privileged to match wits with the debate team from Buffalo State, it was a privilege to be with young people who openly value honesty and integrity. Thank you for engaging us in a stimulating evening, and assuring us that the future and values we treasure are safe in hands such as yours.