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Jewish World Review March 29, 2001/ 5 Nissan, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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If it weren't for the parents, we might accomplish something -- AT Mountain Pointe High School, located in what environmentalists and other arsonists refer to as the urban sprawl of Phoenix, 40 students in sophomore honors English classes created a hornet's nest when they developed a Web site for cheating. The Web site contained answers to study packets and other materials generally gleaned through the sweat of the high school brow.

Many of the students in the class went to now-defunct and copied their homework courtesy of budding Web masters who could not fathom the notion of individual effort.

When the principal learned of the dishonesty, he sentenced the 40 lads and lassies involved to 18 hours of community service. The school newspaper published an article entitled, "Web of deception" under a pseudonym. The article stated that 80-90 % of the students, "plagiarized, copied, posted and declared they can do as they wish." Pseudonym was right - the students cheated and got off too easily.

Enter the parents from this area of upper middle SUVs. One parent is outraged because the newspaper article impugns the integrity of her child. The child's integrity has it coming. Another parent objects because she was not told of the problem before the newspaper article was published. As if all students in the school were not aware of the scandal without the newspaper article?

But the most popular indignation stems from the theory that this was not cheating. One father's take, "I think it's ingenious. It's the wave of the future." One young man rationalized, "If it was cheating, it would have been something where the teacher told us we couldn't work together." He has thrown down the gauntlet, "Define cheating and then we'll talk."

The parents have appealed the principal's findings and punishment to the governing board. Their appeal rests on claims of due process, the newspaper article, and the increasingly popular notion that this was not cheating.

Fault the enforcer, not those who violate the rules. Jump on how the violation is handled, but never acknowledge that violation. Blame those who condemn bad acts, not the bad actors. Educators finally do something remotely sensible and parents hammer them.

Not only have these parents sanctioned what was clearly wrong behavior, they have all taught their children that even when you break the rules, hurl about sufficient outrage and indignation to get off the hook. Our children may be a mess, but they are the acorns. The trees have had a great deal to do with their warped value systems. Children cheat because their parents sanction circumstantial ethics and offer technological rationalization.

Jonathan Lebed, the 15-year-old who posted false Internet messages about stocks he owned so as to bamboozle hopeful souls into buying his inflated shares, is another study in the acorns corrupt trees produce. He would buy, lie and sell high. He made $800,000 through fraud (actually, he walked away with only $500,000 - the SEC haggled with the family to extract the rest as a fine). When the SEC caught Master Jonathan, his father, Greg Lebed, said, " I'm proud of my son. It's not like he was out stealing the hubcaps off cars or peddling drugs to the neighbors." Sure, six-figure fraud over the Internet is elegant, not your lower middle class street crime.

Parents re-label conduct or blame it on the sheer presence of technology. Copying answers from the Internet is not cheating, it's "innovative" and the "wave of the future." Napster is not copyright infringement, it's peer-to-peer file sharing. Jonathan Lebed, as the New York Times explained, simply did what everyone else does in the market -- manipulate stock prices. The Internet just makes it so easy - who can resist?

The parents and the Times fail to see the long-term implications of such youthful scofflaws. The system breaks. Grades are meaningless when they have no correlation to effort or results. Cynicism envelops a market fraught with cheaters and wary investors back away from the vehicle that drives capitalism.

Parental technological rationalization has one more flaw in its logic. These kids all knew they were acting dishonestly. Little Jonny used 4 different screen names to disguise his identity as he pumped and dumped. Not one of the honors English students thought to ask their teacher if copying from the Web site was permitted. When their teacher got wind of the Web site, the students dismantled it instantly, while they were still in school and in between class periods of honors English. The kids knew in their hearts that they were cheating. Now if we could just convince their proud parents of the same.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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03/09/01: The lessons of Tom and Nicole
03/01/01: Pardon the temporary outrage
02/23/01: In defense of homework
02/20/01: A Message for faith-based organizations: Don't take the money, just run
02/06/01: Enough already with the Clintoons
01/26/01: The challenge to be better than we have been
01/19/01: Where have you gone Frieda Pushnik?
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12/23/00: Litigation: It's the American way
12/15/00: In defense of rhetoric
12/06/00: The company we keep: Lawyers and elections
12/01/00: Liberals' art of trashing of women
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11/13/00: When it's broke, fixing it wouldn't offend the Framers
11/08/00: ELECTION 2000: I SURRENDER
10/27/00: Al in the package? Memo to women: Choosing presidents and husbands
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08/18/00: Resenting the accusations of racial prejudice
08/04/00: Women: Their own worst enemy
07/21/00: Hillary: Our longshoreman First Lady
07/21/00: SUVs: The root of all evil
07/14/00: The basketball gene and white men not jumping so well
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06/14/00: Sex and the City: The shallow but vulgar female
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06/02/00: Oh, Canada: Our Nutty Neighbors to the North
05/23/00: The new mollycoddling coach
05/16/00: On adultery and leadership
05/12/00: Taking your lumps
05/02/00: Elian: There's never a liberal around when you need one
04/25/00: Life's circle and tenderness
04/18/00: Womyn who want it both ways
04/11/00: The monsters we're raising with the ergo proposition
04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
03/28/00: Dr. Laura: The passive/aggressive kid's mom
03/21/00: Dough and campaigns
03/14/00: The volunteerism of conscription and pomp
03/07/00: Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics
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02/15/00: Those chameleon 60s activists
02/08/00: McCandidate McCain: Flirting with principles
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01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
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01/04/00: Struggling mightily amidst the comfort
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12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
12/07/99: Turtles and teamsters, side-by-side in Seattle
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11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
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10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
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09/09/99: Selective censorship
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07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
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07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings