“Well, I’m not saying I cheat all the time but I do feel the pressure to get straight A’s."
“I am willing to stand up at a school board meeting and explain to them why, we, as students would like to see individual rankings done away with. Because we are ranked, and well aware of our ranking amongst our peers, we are constantly competing.”
A teacher leaned over to the new freshman mother and said, “Don’t worry, freshman are not aware of the rankings."
“Yes they are, Mr. Kravitz,” he says earnestly. “Yes, they are. I always knew what my ranking was and so did every other kid I knew since freshman year.”
These are the comments I heard at the first Challenge Success meeting I attended last May. These were the responses to a teacher’s comment about wanting to address, “Very creative and out of control cheating issues that high schools are experiencing.”
What I found so refreshing at this meeting was the authentic manner that the students and teachers exchanged their thoughts. I admired the honesty, respect and thoughtfulness of this conversation between students and adults. I understood very well the power of discussing the actual problem that you want to address with the people who are most afflicted. I was in awe of the articulate and mature manner the students addressed these issues with their teachers and administrators. How wonderful that they felt comfortable to speak so honestly to them about such important issues! I respect the teachers and administrators for allowing such an interaction to take place.
You don’t have to agree with the opposing side, but if you truly want to see change happen, you need to not be afraid to speak your truth and you need to always remain respectful (disagree strongly or not) and listen to the opposing side. I was so impressed with the progress that this committee made after just one meeting.
I sat, wide eyed, holding my breath as the first girl had opened the discussion so candidly about cheating. I looked around the room, waiting for the vice principal or teachers to hand cuff her or at least write her name down. In my days in school, we would never be so bold to admit such a thing to administration. Of course, it wasn’t done at such creative measures either. We never discussed the drastic methods students must have been employing for the teacher to call them “creative and out of hand”. I am still curious.
The open and honest atmosphere amongst this group reminded me of discussions shared by my health classes and myself when we would discuss an article about The Price of Privilege. I used the article as an introduction for the lengthy discussion that always ensued after reading it. A lot of candid sharing would take place in the classroom and we would discuss the reality of the pressure students today feel to overachieve. The true experts in this area are the students themselves.
The main inspiration behind the controversial book I wrote, Tales from Swankville, was the students with whom I shared these frank discussions. I heard repeatedly from readers that the student quotes that open each chapter were very compelling. I have yet to find a kid who isn’t feeling the intense pressure weighing on them in one way or another. I also found that many of my students may not have felt overly stressed themselves but always could relate to it through a friend, sibling, neighbor or classmate. In other words, they are all very aware of the stress and pressure. Thus it doesn’t surprise me that at the first meeting I attend at this high school forum for students and administration, that cheating is the topic. I am surprised though how these students admitted to it and even boldly pointed out to the school administration that the number of tests and work they assign contribute to their desire to cheat because their workload is so great.
Cheating is happening at an alarming rate and in ways parents of my generation could not even imagine. Kids are under so much pressure to be an athlete and an academic; play an instrument, take a minimum of one AP class, and volunteer. In all honesty, could you fit in the hours you need to study for one AP class let alone any other class? Thus to get the grades they are expected to get and to stay on that sport team, they just may need to cheat. Is this how we want our next generation to feel? They won’t know any other way to handle all of their pressure but to take short cuts at any cost. According to some students, many parents know about this but turn their cheek. After all, an adult knows all too well that it’s not humanly possible to excel at such high levels in music, sports, academics, social causes and relationships without something having to give. Some parents and students will keep up the façade of excellence at great lengths. What is all of this doing to kids physically and emotionally now and down the road?
Siah S. Fried, MPH, CHES, is a parent leader for Challenge Success at a high school in California. She is the founder and owner of Healthy Starts Make Healthy Hearts, which is a program designed to target childhood obesity. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science and a master’s degree in Public Health with an emphasis in School and Community Health. Ms. Fried writes a blog at swankvilleparenting.com.