Pressured to Succeed

After carefully monitoring her grades throughout the semester and struggling to put full effort into each of her projects and all of her completed homework, an overachieving student destined for the Ivy Leagues finds herself facing a major obstacle. Although she had studied the night before, the multiple-choice test resting upon her desk that glared back at her now seemed to mock her, eating away any focus she could create. Racing thoughts of college, parents, teachers, counselors…too many thoughts cluttered her mind with each passing minute being pounded into her ear by the ticking of the clock against the wall behind her. She could not fail this test, she could not get a B, she could not upset her parents, and she could not give up her chance at a potential college. So many factors depended on whether or not she shaded a circle marked “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D.” Willing to sacrifice just a bit of integrity in order to save her future life plans, she glances to the tattered piece of paper in her pocket and mindlessly fills in the bubbles as if reading an instruction manual.

Cheating, or claiming one’s work as your own, has become an increasingly popular crime in schools and has been explored by many writers including Colleen Wenke. In her essay, “Too Much Pressure,” Wenke describes how common cheating has become compared to previous years and provides possible explanations. A national survey conducted in 1997 by Who’s Who in American High School Students stated that 98 percent of students have admitted to cheating, an amount Wenke describes as much larger than her parents’ generation. With students, including herself, thinking that everyone cheats and it’s just how school is, the morals of the students are lowered and cheating is more widely accepted. “In this kind of society, morals take a back seat to how much you earn and how prosperous you are.” The best jobs are given to the students who graduate from the best colleges, and the students who are accepted into the best colleges are those who can correctly fill in the most lettered bubbles. When wanting to succeed in life, some students fall prey to taking the easy path and retrieve the answers before taking an exam to ensure their success. Family, school, church, media, and government are proposed to add stress to young people’s lives, especially with “the dramatic change in the role of the family over the past generation,” thus leading to an increase in cheating. When those who cheat succeed and do better than those who don’t, it sets a tempting example and can thrust a student who’s frustrated at working so hard for something with no prevail to resort to the cheat sheet. “Copying work or cheating was the only way to keep up with the rest of the class.”

Surveys and articles are constantly crying out that each new generation is dealing with more and more stress. Students are not only expected to do well in school, but are also anticipated to become involved with a sports team, get a job, volunteer on weekends, keep up with their chores, stay fit, and keep an eye out for colleges. With so much pressing on their lives, it’s apparent how some can buckle under the pressure and frantically search for an easier way out. With goal-oriented students determined to compromise values to achieve their goals, the rise of cheating begins. Those who normally cheat are almost rewarded and are thought of to be normal. Those who rarely cheat, but begin to do so follow the crowd and hope to take a share of some of the success cheaters are obtaining, and those who would never cheat sometimes fall victim to those who surpass with better grades, (although not true grades.) This system has become corrupt partly because of the schools, themselves. Turning to multiple-choice tests with simple answers and easily memorized patterns allows students to freely share answers. Numbers and statistics have substituted the importance of knowledge and growth. Staring blindly at the bare numbers on a report card that are supposed to represent all a student has learned that semester, how much he has progressed not only in his studies, but also in his life and with his true understanding of the world, and how he manages and uses his knowledge, people become too consumed with A’s and B’s.

While cheating is an offense and should not be taken lightly, there are reasonable explanations as to why students choose to do so. Schools have been drifting away from the importance of pure knowledge and the richness of understanding and have become obsessed with percentages, statistics, and standardization. When the frustrating stresses of a student’s life are replaced with what truly matters, then what appears to be the easy road will no longer be desired and cheating will decline.

Wenke, Colleen. “Too Much Pressure.” The Bedford Reader.. 9th ed. Ed. X. J. Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy and Jane Aaron Boston, 2006. 534-536.