It isn’t about cheating

Alexandra Petri, on the Harvard scandal of cheating, explores an option other than simple cheating. It’s about failure, it’s about collaboration, it’s about too many who don’t think it is cheating. I’ve clipped some lines from her article, so if you want full context and article — and there’s more there — go to the link.

It’s about the demise of failure.

The mark of greatness used to be failing greatly….

The stories are legion. From Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg, many of its most famous graduates [?] failed to graduate.

Bright students avoid challenges like the plague. Take a course where you might not succeed, just to learn something? What are you, some sort of moron? If we fail, even once, we’ll become failures….

After all, the only thing more embarrassing than taking a course where your entire grade is dependent on open-book, open-note, open-Internet, take-home exams is taking a course like that and not getting an A.

So you collaborate.

It’s just collaboration. It’s what happens when you are faced with a difficult question and the idea of doing it badly is more galling than the idea of doing it wrongly.

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  • Jen

    As a parent with elementary age kids, I see the pressure they will face in the next years of schooling. I hope that I can help them see the value in learning, trying something difficult and even failing at times. Like Alexandra’s perspective on this.

  • joe strube

    Failure isn’t given as an option in the narrative our children our sold as they grow up.

    For a High School student being willing to fail, they have to be willing to pay the price of failure.

    Some examples – going to community college while all your friends are at a four year college, ridicule ( I rarely see students choosing to do anything in front of a group when they are not sure they will succeed)

  • Tom F.

    I think the failure isn’t an option narrative is a big part of what’s wrong.

    But seriously, failure isn’t an option in the same way it used to be. Many of the stories of people failing in the past don’t seem to take that into account. A college degree isn’t worth as much as it used to be. Competition is fierce after college for college level jobs. Recent reports show that 30-40% of college students are in jobs that don’t require a degree after graduation. Tank your GPA? That might cost you a job down the line. Or maybe an entrance to grad school, which is the new bachelors.

    Back a few generations, a degree from Harvard simply guaranteed success. You would get a good job, period. That still seems more true of Harvard than it does of state schools. However, it isn’t as true as it used to be. (And modern examples of Gates and the like are not convincing; they were geniuses, and they knew they were geniuses. Not all undergrads are so lucky with either intelligence or self-confidence.)

    This isn’t to excuse the cheating. It’s just to point out that this “fear of failure” is not simply all “in student’s heads”. It may not simply be lack of courage to fail, it may also be an accurate read on the true risks of the job market.

  • tom

    I would like to add that education that trains us not to collaborate does not prepare anyone for life after education. Almost every job is dependent having people who not only will collaborate on solutions but who are really good at collaborating. I’m 53 years old and have spent the last 15 years having to teach highly educated people how to work together on problems. Maybe we should turn education on it’s head and begin to move toward collaboration as the norm.