How To Cure a Friend of Cheating by Enabling

Oh, come on. I’m nuts, right? Enabling bad behavior to cure cheating? How to ruin a friendship for sure, one would think. And yet it worked. Not intentionally, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Wait. When I said “cheating” I did not mean the kind of cheating where one partner betrays his or her significant other by playing house with the cutie next door or at work. We’ll leave that topic to Jerry Springer and his ilk. Cheaters of the sexual sort do have something in common with this tale’s protagonists, though: They tend to learn only by hard experience, as do we all.

So what sort of cheating are we discussing? Simple. Cheating on school tests. If prostitution is “the oldest profession,” then cheating on that pop quiz or finals test can be considered “the oldest cheating.” Long before puberty, the school kid learns that scoring well on tests is a good thing if possible, a way to achieve status or, at minimum, a way to avoid scorn, derision, and parental insistence that one does one’s homework before engaging in more pleasurable activities. Unless you’re a tadpole enrolled in one of our Latter Day Schools of Political Correctness and Social Justice where everyone is a winner just for participating, it pays to score big and hurts to fail. That’s the real world.

But if you’re pretty sure you’re going to fail no matter what…and you sense a lifeline close at hand that might save you from drowning…why not grab it? What have you got to lose?

By being enabled, Steve (not his real name) found out. Not in grade school, but in his twenties.

Steve and I met in a Psychological Statistics 101 class at Montana State University in the late sixties. Neither of us was a “normal” student. At age 25, this was my third time in college, pursuing my third major. I’d been a rodeo professional, riding mostly saddle broncs and bulls before getting into a slump three years earlier and turning my life upside down by deciding to quit the circuit. My two draft years in the U.S. Army had come and gone, as had a number of different survival jobs. I had a family to support and was deadly serious about getting my sheepskin in psychology as fast as I could. “Intense” would be the word.

Steve was around my age, maybe a year or two older. He was a big man who already had a college degree, but in what turned out to be a useless field when it came to employment. After graduating, he’d played four years of pro football in the NFL before his knees knocked him out of the game forever…four weeks before he would have had enough time in the league to get a pension.

The class was not large, fewer than a dozen students. Steve and I hit it off from the beginning. It was inevitable that when the first big quiz came around–upon which a significant percentage of our grade would depend–that we sat in school desks next to each other. These were movable seats, easily shifted so that we students ended up in a sort of semicircle around the smallish room. The professor knew his stuff. He also graded tough, and he was–as it turned out–the only professor I ever encountered who graded on a strict curve, which meant that no matter who scored what, somebody was going to get an A and somebody was going to get an F. I was slightly wired, just apprehensive enough to be on my toes, reasonably prepared and ready to go. Steve was…terrified. His confidence level was not high. I couldn’t read any of the other students, but my friend was an open book to me.

After the professor handed out the quiz sheets, he told us we were on the honor system…and left the room.

There were fifty questions on the test, all multiple choice. At least they were not essay questions. I bent to my task and, by the time I was halfway through, knew I was going to get some of them wrong. But not a huge number, I thought. It would all depend on how the others did. On the curve.

At about this point, Steve whispered to me, “Can I copy off you?”

There was no way I could say no. I knew the man had a living to make and, as he saw it, no way to make it. My mind had long been geared to kicking butt wherever butt presented itself, but his thinking was understandably different. If he failed to upgrade his educational resume, he was in hot, hot water. With his permanently bad knees and a good 300 pounds of big (not fat) man perched on them, there was no way he could handle a blue collar job. I’d quit a job as a hardrock, underground miner to go back to school. If school failed me, I’d find a job somewhere, somehow, that would support my little family at least a little above subsistence level. If Steve couldn’t make the move from contact athletics into a white collar profession, he was pretty much blued, screwed, and tattooed, as the saying goes.

“Sure,” I whispered back, quickly enough that he would never know I’d gone through those calculations at light speed before opening the corner of my mouth.

And so he did.

The next day, we got our test papers back, complete with scores and grades. I got an A. Steve got an F.

“I don’t understand,” he admitted miserably. It didn’t help much when we compared papers and I pointed out the obvious. He had answered fourteen questions incorrectly, leaving him with 72% correct. I had answered seven questions incorrectly, leaving me with 86% correct. With most professors, that would have given me a grade of B and Steve one of D, but the curve, eh? The key was that he had copied exactly seven of my answers–which happened to be the exact seven questions I missed.

Steve was crushed. He also assured me that he’d never cheat again and I believed him. Purely by accident, I had cured my friend of cheating by enabling him, allowing him to copy my answers.

Would he have gotten some of those seven right if he’d stuck to doing his own thinking? No one knows. Did he pass the course in the end? I don’t know that, either. He didn’t share and I didn’t dare ask.

8 thoughts on “How To Cure a Friend of Cheating by Enabling

  1. I can see how that would cure someone of cheating. Losing out big time would tend to do that. I think it is kind of funny that out of all the answers he could have copied, he chose the ones you also got wrong. Probably more complex material to remember.

  2. There is the old joke about two students being called in for cheating on a test and the teacher tells one of them he shouldn’t have copied from his friend. The cheater said “how do you know it was me?” And the teacher said “In question 5 he put “I don’t know” and you wrote down “I don’t either”.
    As a former teacher I find that the cheater usually leaves tracks and that a conscious teacher will notice. I remember girls who would write cheat-sheets on their upper thighs (in the days of skirts for young ladies, and guys would write on their arms and hands… kind of easy to notice the disturbance when the young lady pulls up her skirt or the young man is staring intently at his palms or arms… LOL
    I actually learned that if I prepared a cheat sheet I’d actually remember everything and didn’t need to run the risk of getting caught.
    My saddest experience was with 3 young ladies presenting their graduation thesis, and they had plagiarized from a book. The jury decided to be nice and I told them they would have to rewrite their paper and present it 6 months later. They accepted and we signed the papers. But later, they returned tothe university insisting that they be allowed to present their paper and forced the school to process them for plagiarism, and they had to go to another country to do everything over and get their degree. I was very sad for them since instead of 6 months delay, they lost a lot of money and 6 years…. 🙁

    Thanks for the anecdote, Ghost, and for reminding me of these situations. In my house we luckily avoided this problem by not punishing a student for bad grades but – since we believe in being as honest as possible, working with the children so they could be their personal best in whatever area they were having difficulty with.

    Your friend was lucky his professor taught him the lesson quickly.

  3. Sha, it’s never really been out of my mind. The experience was striking on several levels, at least to me, including:

    1. The obviously talented big-man athlete blowing out both knees mere weeks too soon for a pension. (Steve stood about six foot six, 300 lbs.)

    2. His stress level, which I did not have. He was the first and to this day the only NFL player I got to know well, at least on some level, and his fear going forward into an entirely new field–it was clear that until he’d been cut from the team, he’d not planned his next step, at least not with confidence, and without the assurance a “defined” career field a degree could offer, he was really worried. Of similar age, I already had experience on ranches, in the Army, had rejected myself out of rodeo which is different from being cut by the team, had sales experience, some little bit of management, mining, had worked at truck stops pumping gas and changing tires, etc. Basically, I could survive anywhere, any time, and knew it, while by stark contrast Steve simply hadn’t (yet, anyway) developed the variety of survival skills I already possessed. He was (probably still is) a great guy and not one I could ever forget.

    3. He was the first person I ever helped by enabling…but he was not the last. Pam also falls into that category.


    Becky, you hit the nail on the head. The seven questions I missed were in my opinion the toughest on the test, which was exactly why he copied them.

    You know, it just hit me. Slow student here. That professor quite possibly graded on a curve because curves are more complex statistical things than simple percentage-to-grade lists, and being a lover of stats he just couldn’t help himself!

  4. Manny: I’d love to be able to say I never cheated, or at least learned my lesson early, but it wasn’t quite that simple.

    For the most part, my biggest face-whack happened in the fourth grade. Spelling bee competition. Our “District” competition was held in the tiny community of Hall, which was small enough that when kids graduated from grade school, they went to high school with us in Drummond. Two of us from Drummond’s class of 25 or so were representing our class–but I was worried about my classmate competitor. Gerald was the son of the Principal and a pretty decent speller. So I cheated, did the writing-on-wrist (never anywhere else) thing you describe, listing the one word that always gave me fits: GUARD. I always wanted to spell it GAURD.

    The worst of it was, I won that competition, then went on to the Regional competition in Butte which was broadcast over the radio (no TV in those days)…and won that, too, rather handily and without cheating. But I was a long time getting over the guilt, knowing that if I hadn’t cheated–the word “guard” HAD come up–Gerald would likely have been the District winner, not me.

    Fast forward to Montana State University, roughly nine months after the story in this post. I was taking courses even during the summer, hammering down as hard as I could toward getting that diploma the following March rather than waiting until June. My first wife was not with me in married housing that week; I forget if she was visiting her parents in Deer Lodge or her friend in Garrison or what, but in any case, I was on my own.

    And temptation arose. Not that I jumped in the sack with anybody, but neither did I buckle down as quickly as I should have, knowing a term paper for Group Psychology was due in a couple of days. It needed to be ten pages, though I forget whether that was single or double spaced.

    As the writer I am today, especially with the Internet at hand to assist with research, figuring out and assembling a paper like that would be recreation, not toil. But back then, in my mid-twenties….

    It was around 2:00 a.m. the morning the paper was due when I realized the poo was about to hit the propeller. I’d been out that evening, hanging with a female classmate I carefully never mentioned to my wife. Nothing sexual happening, but we got along really well and could talk for hours, something no wife wants to hear her husband say about another woman, right? Not that I fooled Vicky (wife) all that much. She’s pretty sensitive and was having “visions” of me leaving her–which I eventually did, but not until three years later, and not for my former classmate.

    Anyway, I’d frittered much of the night away and now there was the piper to pay.

    Happily, I’d checked out an interesting book from the University library which had some interesting articles in it…and in the end, I made the decision to plagiarize one of the articles. Hey, it was a really good one! My greatest and quite rational fear was that George Rice, the professor and without question the college prof I liked AND respected the most, by about a million miles….he might have read that article. Big risk.

    Not that I was foolish enough to copy the text verbatim. I paraphrased like crazy, broke things up a bit, changed the order, all of the things a born criminal knows to do to cover his tracks in the woods with a hunter on his trail. But still.

    And once again, the worst happened. I got an A+ on the paper with a complimentary remark in the margin.


    Thus it was that, in addition to learning about karma and how it works, mill of the gods grinding slowly but exceedingly fine and all that, the most powerful disincentive to cheating on tests came from a double barreled dose of too much success–in the spelling bee and with the term paper–and the resulting guilt, which was powerful enough to make me wonder, later, if I had Catholic or Jewish genes in my jeans. Or maybe both.

  5. I think I may have tried using a cheat sheet a couple of times in high school, inspired by classmates but more so by my older siblings. It never stuck anyway, as I really didn’t have a perceived need for cheating and I was okay with the occasional D on tests or even in a class. The trick my siblings showed me was writing very small notes on the thumbnail.

    Most of the dishonest acts leaving little black marks on my soul have been more subtle and easier to brush off as insignificant (at the time); a couple that come to mind are watching pirated movies and failing to mention the wiggle in my bmx bike’s fork when asked why I was selling it so cheap.

  6. Oh, now I’m remembering all the times I lied and asked my mom to lie on my behalf to cover for unexcused absences. (Interestingly, records indicated that I skipped the most days in my favorite of all years, third grade. 37 days, if I remember). I recall being asked directly by my 6th-grade science and lit teacher. I lied to his face, and not very well, but if he knew it (he probably did) he didn’t let on. Another time, a classmate – a nice Mormon girl – overheard me talking about playing hooky and asked out loud if I skipped school. Her innocent shock convinced me it would be best to lie. I think that same teacher was standing nearby, which convinced me even more.

  7. “Little black marks….” Love that turn of phrase, Leonid. I wouldn’t have dared ask a parent to lie for me…for anything. Mom was a former high school English teacher with a Master’s Degree who considered education next thing to sacred and Dad–who struggled in school, in part because of the Great Depression’s hard economic times–would have just grabbed the razor strap from where it hung behind the stove. Innocent shock from a classmate would have certainly hit me hard, as it did you, but playing hooky was tricky for another reason, too: When you live on a ranch six miles outside of a town (population about 440 at the time), ride to school on a bus, and your high school graduating class numbers 14, there’s pretty much nowhere to hide anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.