I recently read an article in The New York Times entitled “Stuyvesant Students Describe the How and the Why of Cheating” (Sept. 25).

Once I finished it, I turned to my friend and said what had been on my mind since the fourth paragraph: “This sounds exactly like Country Day.”

The sharing of homework answers, the occasional subtle tip-off from a student who has already taken an exam, the collaboration on assignments that were never specifically deemed “individual” but in reality probably were—these acts happen every day at SCDS, and apparently  they’re happening across the nation in another high-flight school, Stuyvesant High in New York City.

To be fair, not all aspects of Stuyvesant, New York City’s “flagship” public school, can be compared to Country Day—it’s a lot bigger, more selective and more competitive. And the cheating described in the story is on that same level.

The kids there seem to have it down to a science, and a pretty intense one at that.

A person takes the test in the morning, snaps a quick picture, and suddenly the entire class has it. Some students might even ask for answers to other tests as a trade.

Test questions and answers are posted on Facebook, and students carry note-adorned water bottles and scraps of paper into tests so they won’t be helpless when they’re stumped.

And plagiarism is rampant when it comes to typed homework assignments (so much so that a teacher specifically asked students to turn in handwritten assignments).

The story even described a pair of students who invented a tapping system for multiple-choice tests: once for A, twice for B and so on.

At Country Day, we don’t share the same “high risk-high reward” cheating, but I do agree on one point: as the story said, “lower-level cheating happens every day.”

But what is cheating? In an age that emphasizes collaboration, the line that divides “working together” and “copying” has become blurred. At Stuyvesant, students said, “collaboration, not competition, is the norm.”

So is working together on homework cheating? What about sharing lecture notes and outlines? How about copying down the answer to a math problem you didn’t understand right before it’s due?

The majority of SCDS students would label those first two acts collaboration—not cheating.

And while the third (copying down a problem after an explanation from a friend right before it’s due) was deemed cheating by the majority of high schoolers, more than half of juniors and seniors took the other road, saying it was actually “collaboration.”

So perhaps I’m jaded (along with the rest of my class)–but as I see it, that’s definitely collaboration.

Collaboration is how it’s done. If you want to survive the three tests you have in a week, plus the never-ending pile of homework, you work together.

As Stuyvesant students said, collaboration is a way of banding together against a system that’s “grinding them down.” At Country Day, it’s no different.

I’m not saying kids don’t do their work—it’s not as though one student does the history homework and another student does the math homework (because that would be cheating). But we do depend on one another’s strengths. And is that really so wrong?

No student, teacher or administrator at Country Day would condone cheating—obviously, it’s wrong. In the high-school handbook, the section devoted to the issue says cheaters will be suspended or expelled, depending on the gravity of their offense.

English teachers ask students to submit essays to turnitin.com, and tests are rarely multiple-choice based, so students can’t just be fed answers.

Working together isn’t considered cheating, and neither is looking up answers to your homework online. Using the Internet to get answers while taking a test is cheating, though, and so is copying off someone’s exam.

So it’s not the tests people are cheating on—it’s what’s in between. And why? The culture surrounding the act, just like the definition, is different from what it used to be.

Teachers understand the pressures students face in high school—they’re sympathetic and, of course, discourage cheating. But when it comes to actually punishing students for it, they let up a little.

Once I was in a class where a teacher saw a student peering over at another student’s quiz. Now that’s cheating—not collaboration.

The teacher’s response? “Tsk tsk, cheating is bad!” And the boy was asked to move.

Now that’s some pretty harsh punishment right there.

And because this wasn’t the first time the teacher had seen the student cheat, the strike policy surrounding cheating that the school employs should have kicked in. Rather than just getting a zero on the quiz, the student should have had harsher consequences.

If the teacher had followed the handbook’s protocol, the student would be suspended, the infraction would be put on his academic record, and his chances of getting into a good college would be significantly diminished.

Is it really worth jeopardizing the student’s entire future over one quiz question? I guess the teacher didn’t think so.

Those who would strictly enforce a no-cheating code would say the student was jeopardizing his future himself, and it was the teacher’s duty to condemn him even further.

But what those people don’t understand is that there has been a perceptible culture shift surrounding “cheating”—as the story said, “students band together, sharing homework and test advice in a common understanding that they simply have to survive until they reach their goals: dream colleges and dream jobs.”

I mean, of course what the student was doing was wrong. So what the teacher should have done was enforce the school’s policy from the beginning, which would have helped the student realize there are consequences.

At both Country Day and Stuyvesant, social currency is academic achievement. As Karina Moy, a Stuyvesant graduate, said, “I’m sure everybody understood it was wrong to take other people’s work, but they had ways of rationalizing it. Everyone took it as a necessary evil to get through.”

Kids at Country Day are saints in comparison to the high-level cheaters at Stuyvesant, and thank goodness because we don’t have to compete with them in high school.

But then it comes time to apply to college, and every high-school senior is thrown in one all-containing pit.

And suddenly the New York cheaters and the Country Day saints are in direct competition.

And how can you possibly compete with students who have been cheating their entire high- school career?

One Stuyvesant teacher summed up the predicament pretty well: “Suddenly (you’re) in an environment where every single kid is really just as smart as (you) are. How do you distinguish yourself as being a top student, which is where (your) identity has always been?”

And so we return to the idea of collaboration. That’s how you’re going to get through.

When I’m at home studying for a history test with another student’s notes (collaborating, by the way), both my mom and dad say I’m cheating.

But I know that I’m not–and maybe that’s where the problem lies.

My generation has a different definition of cheating from other generations. But for now it’s my parents’ generation that makes the rules.

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