Real Live Prof

The Cheater

Redneck recycling

Redneck recycling

Several years ago, I started offering extra credit for tests in my classes if students would study together in groups for at least 30 minutes. I have them sign a sheet that says in part, “I will give you 3 points for studying in a group, and 6 points if you study in two different groups.  If you are dishonest and claim to have studied when in fact you did not, you and your entire group will lose all points earned for this (and previous) assignment and you will no longer be eligible to participate in this extra credit assignment”. I offer this assignment because some students really do much better by studying with others, and, as a sociologist, I like to do my part to help students socialize. Also, it helps students’ test grades (by 3 or 6 points), who are often shocked that college is so much more “challenging” than was high school. 

Students turn these group study forms in just before the test. The Cheater turned his in, as everyone else. After I graded the tests, and returned them the next class (!), his “partner” on the group study form waited after class to speak with me. He asked if “Ralph” had turned in the form.

“Yes”, I said. “And I gave you credit for it too, didn’t I?”

“Yes, I got credit, but the thing is, well, we didn’t study together”, he stammered.

“Oh,” I said, “I see. Then, I will take off the extra credit.”

“I apologize”, he said.  

“Thank you for listening to your conscience and being honest”.

The next step for me, after removing the extra credit from the online grade book from both students, was to come up with a plan for how to confront the second student. I stewed, and schemed, and even steamed over it. I finally went passive-aggressive, and did not confront the student. My PA plan was to wait and see what he would do. Then, I reasoned, I would confront him.

Nothing happened for several days, and we got on with the next chapter, “Deviance”. Along the way, we covered a section called, “Techniques of Neutralization”, which always sounds ironic to me when we cover it. These techniques, I explain to them, are the rationalizations we use to excuse our own bad (sinful) behavior. (Apparently I am always the only honest one in class, because I ask if anyone is as good at this as I am, and no one responds.)

The five techniques we cover are, “Appeal to Higher Loyalty”, “Condemnation of the Condemners”, “Denial of Responsibility”, “Denial of Injury” and “Denial of Victim”. The ironic part for me is that the lecture almost sounds like I am teaching them how to excuse their own bad behavior. (“If you want to lie to someone, just say to yourself, “It won’t hurt anybody”” denial of injury) or, “I wouldn’t have to lie to if you were an honest person” (denial of victim)). I admit the irony to every class: “Please do not take these notes to improve the way you sin”, I plead!

I finished the “techniques” lecture, and my still non-confronted Cheater decided to talk to me after class.

“Dr. Miller, I noticed online that I had group study credit for the last test, but that it went away.”

“Yes, it did”

“Can you tell me why?”

“Sure. The person that you “studied” with confessed that you didn’t study together”.

“Oh? That’s funny, because we studied together by texting”, he said.

“Really?” (At this point, my “Really”, was probably not simply dripping with sarcasm, but freely flowing). “Funny thing is, that test that you want the extra credit for, was over groups, and I am sure you understood that groups were, “more than one person, in the same place at the same time”. I am sorry, but texting does not count.”

“Oh”, he said, and drifted out the door towards chapel.

Later as I thought about the techniques of neutralization, I realized that the Cheater had added a sixth technique, “An appeal to definitions.” I thought it was clever, but still full of holes.