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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cheating Well

"Winning isn't the most important thing. It's the only thing"
-- Vince Lombardi
If desired things are scarce, there will be competition for them. If there is competition, there will be winners and losers. If winning is the only thing, or even just the most important thing, then cheating is just another technique.

But there is stupid cheating and there is intelligent cheating. Stupid cheating is almost universally despised: superficially as an affront to morality; but more deeply as an insult to intelligence.

Intelligent cheating is universally, albeit sometimes begrudgingly, admired. Elite private schools and other leadership programs, for example, ROTC, construct strong inducements to engage in intelligent cheating. “In-groups” are particularly good at rationalizing the morality of cheating: it means bending the rules – even breaking them – “for the sake of” your in-group comrades. It seldom is merely a personal, “selfish” thing.

Another difference between stupid vs. intelligent cheating rests on a cost-benefit analysis: did the violation risk a cost greater than a potential payoff? If so, then it was stupid. (Getting caught is generally taken to be a prima facie indicator of lack of planning skill, i.e. stupidity.)

In sports, business, politics and the military, to name obvious blatant examples, all sorts of rules are ignored, if the payoff promises to exceed the costs of being penalized. Taking risks here, especially when successful, is called “leadership.”

By third grade schoolchildren recognize the hypocrisy preached at them by their teachers when they are told that cheating is always wrong. They understand that their elders are just trying to avoid having to deal with one sticky school problem or another, e.g. inadequate teaching, lack of control, favoritism, special privilege, and the like.

And when it comes doing well on school-wide standardized tests, or in intramural sports, the Disapproving Moral Eye tends to blink if a student’s laudatory zeal occasionally overcomes concerns for regulations.

To continue this discussion see Preventing Cheating: transforming educational values

-- EGR