Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Faking The Grade Is No Fake

I'm trying to conjure up the ghosts of high school past to think if cheating went on in my day.
Of course it did. One kid was walking past the English teacher's home room, spied the final exam on the desk and made notes.
His downfall came when he started spreading the new to his peers and got caught by an irate high school principal.
So the quite brilliant new CBC documentary Faking The Grade doesn't really surprise me. Except that the ways of cheating have been incredibly refined with the advancement of technology.
I remember in a University of Toronto final exam at Hart House one kid was caught with his shirt cuffs piled with detailed knowledge.
And at Carleton University in a graduate Sociology course we were told we could bring in one piece of paper. The teacher forgot to define how long that piece could be so one enterprising student came with a scroll sized resume of the course. And got away with it.
Surveys cited by director Andy Bicq indicate fully half of us admit to cheating at university and three/quarters say they cheated in high school.
Today the methods, modes and art of cheating are just an Internet click way.
We met the brain who wrote term papers at $10 a page for students --provided they also supplied him with a bag of weed. He claims he was making $50,000  annually from this racket.
In fact that premise forms one of the plot points in the currently running TV series Suits.
That's nothing --when I was at U of T there was a clearing house for old student papers that could be purchased for the sum of $25.
One student I know bought a history paper and submitted it in the very same course for which it was written. When he got a C+ (compared to the original A-) he was furious until he learned the  professor had started farming out the task to his wife who happened to be a much tougher marker.
So who was cheating who in this case?
There's the tiny earpiece that can transmit answers to the exam.
Or what about the posted notes placed in a nearby washroom --the student then asks to be excused and can refresh his knowledge before returning to the examination hall.
There's the fine art of sabotage --I'd heard of students cutting out the choice parts of library books so no one else could possess the answers.
Its not in this documentary but I recently heard from a university official that many Ontario high schools routinely inflate their marks to ensure university positions for their graduates.
Parents seem to know their kids are cheating. But in a competitive atmosphere where only 2 per cent of university graduates get into graduate school can we really blame them?
One author (The Cheating Culture) says kids get these ideas from watching TV newscasts of cheaters in society. And indeed every level of society seems to get caught cheating once in a while. These days it's U.S. general David Petraeus --his case, of course, came too late to be included here.
One card sharp admits he has easily cheated casinos out of $20 million --one wonders what this bright fellow would have achieved if he'd gone straight.
Plagiarism is another turn in the story with computer systems routinely used by educators to trap plagiarists --they didn't have this in my day.
And some people are asking why we don't cultivate the values of honesty. One Ohio high school cancelled its entire graduation ceremony when widespread cheating was discovered --outraged parents had their own ceremony for both the honest and cheating students.
Director Blicq hits a home run with this one, I couldn't stop watching and agreeing with his points. I couldn't stop watching --no fast forward cheating for me.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

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