Letter to the editor: Don’t shift blame from cheaters

In “Who is cheating who <sic>?”, Max Krieger reports finding it incredible that students themselves are blamed for cheating on the SAT.   Let’s be clear. He’s talking about students who did cheat on the SAT. What could possibly justify his surprising incredulity? Krieger’s main argument seems to be this utter non sequitur: “If the purpose of an education is to teach you how to behave in society and how to apply the knowledge you are forced to memorize, then clearly the burden of academic honesty truly lies on teachers, parents and the community.”   Suppose we agree that the point of education is in part to teach young people “how to behave in society.” It does not follow, nor is it plausible that students who behave badly are blameless for their own behavior.   But aside from its conclusion simply not following, this argument “proves too much,” for if the cheater can make this claim, the bank robber or murderer should be able to make it as well. Imagine the robber going into court and arguing in her own defense, “It’s society’s fault I robbed that bank. It should have made me into a better person than I am.”   The judge might well reply, “Even if it is society’s fault, you’re still a bank robber. And we are entitled to protect ourselves from people like you.” See that the thing about anti-social behavior. It has real victims. The cheaters aren’t just attacking conventional social norms. They are stealing. And they might just be stealing from you. Perhaps one of them stole your place at that school you just missed getting into. Or their stealing could harm you in some other way, like when an incompetent doctor misdiagnoses you because he cheated his way through medical school.   Cheating hurts people. Remember that the next time one of them — or their defenders — tries to make you feel sorry for the poor cheater, since he is the real victim. He’s not. You and I, those of us who don’t cheat, are the victims, victims of thieves who rationalize their thievery by blaming it on someone — anyone — but themselves.   Sincerely, Don Loeb, Chair Philosophy Department