Cheating is the new learning.

15 11 2011

Apparently, cheating is the new learning. How do I know?:

Exhibit A): “I think it’s about time that we get rid of the idea that cheating is a bad thing per se. Generally speaking, cheating is nothing else than collaboration, something we even want to foster in education today.”

Exhibit B): “Here’s some typical summer AP English homework: “Read Walden and write a report on Thoreau’s theme.” I’d bet that SparkNotes sees a surge of traffic in the last week of summer. It’s not that Walden doesn’t contain big ideas relevant to today’s kids. But they’ll do better by constructing meaning from it socially — not alone with a text and a Google search for “Walden Thoreau Themes.” They need something tangible to learn by imitation or iteration, which is the way we all learn most everything. They need to see and hear what academic discourse sounds, looks and feels like.”

Isn’t it convenient that the entire learning paradigm at every level of education has to shift just because there a bunch of edtech companies want to sell their products to school and colleges? I recognize that pointing this out makes me an old fogey, as another passage from Exhibit B suggests:

We’d be blind not to recognize and utilize students’ inclination for social interaction and their obsession with mobile technology. This is our opportunity to join them on this side of the millennium. If we don’t, we will lose their attention, and to some degree, their respect. They know we’re teaching them, for the most part, like we were taught — like our parents were taught.

So I’m an old fogey. But I don’t just want to defend the old paradigm of learning, I want to attack the new one. The easy line of attack, which is actually incorporated into Exhibit A, is how exactly are you going to assess learning if everyone’s collaborating? Why should Little Johnny get any credit of Little Suzy did all the work? That’s a good argument, but I want to take it one step further.

This is from Exhibit A:

Grades are given based on the performance of the individual, not the group so society taught us that it is better to take care of things on our own. Therefore the skill “able to work in a team” became something you would mention in your CV or demand in a job offer. But, as I said, I believe that team working is the natural behavior of humans. To declare it a special skill only proves that our society is detached from natural behavior.

The workplace isn’t natural either. In most workplaces, you don’t get a raise as a team. You don’t get promoted as a team. Indeed, the whole point of employee management is usually to pit one employee against the other to see who can do the most work in order to distinguish themselves and rise into management. I’m not exactly a big fan of dog-eat-dog capitalism, but that’s America people. If students don’t learn to work on their own, they’re going to be eaten alive out there.

Still, the labor historian in me wonders whether that’s precisely the point. If all work in the future is done in teams, then salaries won’t rise because every employee will be easy to replace with another member of the team. To borrow a line of reasoning that Historiann left here yesterday, when they start teaching this way at Choate and Yale, then maybe we can talk about new paradigms. Until that point comes, this seems to me to be a lot more like the old segregation than the new learning.



4 responses

15 11 2011

Here’s a question: do students *like* group work? Because when I (actually quite recently) graduated from library school, the endless group work was pretty universally hated by us… the actual students. We did group work in my (non-library, humanities) PhD program, too, but it was better integrated and balanced with individual work.

15 11 2011

Dead right – I like your post. Well said.

16 11 2011
Music for Deckchairs

I don’t think Exhibit A’s point is well made, so I agree with you there.

But there are two points in yours that bother me, for similar reasons. First of all, I’m not sure that I can feel any better about an educational mission whose guiding missing is to equip students to be more competitive colleagues. Competition is a fact of life, but so are a whole lot of other traits that we don’t necessarily celebrate.

Secondly, I think waiting for Yale is a misguided strategy. This is a bit like republicans waiting for the Royal Family to see sense and politely step aside.

16 11 2011
Jonathan Rees


I’m not waiting for Yale because it is never going to happen at Yale on an institution-wide scale. Yale teachers managers, not the people who only need to learn how to play well with others and to take orders.

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