I have a confession to make – and it’s a tough pill for my ego to swallow. It happened when I was 20 or 21, yet still makes me cringe.
I failed Genetics. I got a hard D in it (barely), but it being a requirement for my major, a D was not considered passing, and I had to take it again. (And I even had the “easy” professor the first time around!)
At the time I was engulfed with shame. (In case you missed the memo, Katie Kimberling does NOT fail classes. Period.) Convinced myself this was the End of The World.
My brain said this: Failing Genetics meant I was a failure at my major, which meant I was probably a failure at life, and my parents would most likely disown me. Furthermore, I had no business in college (how could I possibly graduate now at all, anyway?), I’d never get into medical school, and this was concrete proof that I was ugly and my mother dressed me funny. Only thing looming on my personal horizon was doom, failure, and my future residence in a refrigerator box on the side of the road.
It has taken me over a quarter of a century to even admit aloud this ‘epic disaster’ in my life. To be honest, I still get a little twinge of…acute discomfort.
And yet…I write to you NOT from a refrigerator box.
Second confession: I also have cheated.
In Mr. Stephen’s 5th grade social studies class, I did not know the answer to a question. I knew I didn’t know the answer. And I knew that Kimmy Rowsey’s answer on the paper next to me also was wrong (I at least knew THAT much), but that it was going to be far more creative than any wrong answer I could come up with (which, for some reason, seemed important at the time).
So, I copied her answer.
And of COURSE I got caught. (Duh. If the question is “what fruit has its seeds on the outside,” and the only two goofballs in class who answered “banana” were sitting right next to each other…well, Mr. Stephens was no dummy.)
Fortunately, my run-in with the academic authorities – while supremely embarrassing and terrifying for me – happened at a time in my life where the consequences would not be horribly far reaching (fifth grade provides a relatively soft place to fall).
I took my zero, got my “deficiency,” sulked (and beat myself up) for about six months, and LEARNED MY LESSON.
I would like to be perfectly clear about one thing right now, for the official (and permanent) record:
It is far better to fail than to cheat.
Painful as it may be – it is preferable to accept the honestly earned grade of whatever you believe is lower than your customary level (even an F) than to use dishonest, immoral means to attempt to raise that grade.
The extra pressures, stressors, and necessary adjustments in response to the Coronavirus as it impacts education has created a monster with one head but two faces: It is inherently more difficult to teach and learn strictly through an online platform…and cheating has become practically effortless. (How to Deal With Cheating in the Age of Zoom)
Well, what’s “cheating?” Merriam Webster Online defines “cheat” as: “to deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud” (Definition of cheat)
What strikes me in this definition is the reference to the deprivation of something valuable. What’s at stake when a student cheats on an academic assignment? Wherein lies the deprivation?
To be honest, it’s a long and far-reaching list. The student is depriving herself of learning, of intellectual curiosity, of the challenge of doing a hard thing. She deprives herself of trying and failing, which teaches us to try again, or try differently. She opens herself up to questions of her character – if she cheats on tests, what else does she cheat on?
Failing is part of the academic process. It’s a fundamental component of the critical thinking skillset that college is desperately trying to develop in students. And it’s really and truly NOT the end of the world. Ever. It just isn’t.
Regardless of where you are enrolled this semester, finals are coming. Odds are you will be completing your final assignments online. And there’s a chance among some of you that you’re staring down a grade that is less than desirable.
I encourage you to do this: If there is an Academic or Honor Code as part of your final assignments, read it. Really take the time to slowly and carefully ingest what it says – every word – and think about its meaning, both in terms of the assignment and in terms of the kind of person you want to be.
And imagine if someone you really and truly admired was in the room with you when you took that final. Would your beloved grandfather be prouder of you if you tried hard but missed the mark, or cheated to get an A? (Online cheating surges during the pandemic; US universities struggle to find a solution)
This finals season, make yourself proud. Study hard, try hard, and be gentle with yourself in the acceptance that whatever grade you got you earned fairly…and that is okay. It’s more than okay.
It’s honest, and true, and right.