Honor codes have been used to enforce honesty and exploit cheaters and copycats alike; always steadfast and ready to seize the next student caught in the act of cheating or plagiarism.

However, schools enforcing honor codes have been known to take harsh measures to ensure that all cheaters are condemned and punished for their actions. Sometimes these measures are ineffective and are not made to guarantee that the student will not repeat the same incident again. Furthermore, the only way an honor code can work is if there’s some degree of confidentiality under an accusation and a system of counseling over punishment in place, especially in a world where people instill different motives and live in diverse circumstances.

Honor codes aren’t effective if they don’t offer ways to not only stop the want of cheating; they need to be advocating the traits of decency as well if an honor code aims to bring about change to cheaters and honest students as a whole.cc

How Cheating made a deviant out of me. Many people stereotype cheaters as sly, mysterious, malicious students with low grades intending to cheat their way past a semester. Granted, every immoral act cannot go unpunished, however, not every student is the same – each with their own unique qualities and backgrounds. For example, imagine a student who is both optimistically ingenuous and academically stable. Her fellow peers often copied off each other and would make comparably higher grades in the process. She began to notice her performance was petty and lowly when measured up to her peers. Unsure of what else to do, she was determined to climb back on top, even if it was against her better judgment. She started cheating on her next few exams and was almost successful with her little tactic until she was eventually caught.

She was sent to a counselor, who asked why she cheated even though she knew it was wrong. She felt remorseful as tears trickled down her face. She wept out in tears as she tried to explain herself – about how it was unfair that it was, that her integrity could only get her so high of a grade. She told the counselor that she was so angry about the situation, she felt compelled to accept that the only people worth being recognized, are the ones who can cheat the best.

The counselor acknowledged that she was rueful of her actions, so instead of punishing her with a week of suspension, she was offered a week of after-school advisory to help her develop a mentality that she doesn’t need to cheat to be on the top of her classes. From that day forward, she vowed that she’d never cheat again.

In the same way, as an alternative to walloping students for cheating, an honor code should work to resolve the problem at its source in order to break the patterns of cheating. After all, honor codes should never have to be feared but embraced on a foundation of grace and understanding.cc1

The Broken Oath Traditionally, students who are caught in the act of cheating are usually punished with “suspension or expulsion” or “failure on the the assignment as reasonable sanctions.” Yet, there are situations when a teacher fails to take an oath of secrecy/privacy, which keeps the confrontation between the student, the teacher and nobody else. In other words, everything “not easily kept confidential” is bound to be shared, as student senator Alyssa Vangelli might put it.

The argument is that violation of the honor code should never be as cruel as humiliation not kept in confidence. A student who is publicly disgraced for cheating on an exam can lead to endless amounts of mocking, exclusion, and mistrust from peers, which can affect their social and academic performance, and the student will more likely continue cheating as a result.  So unless honor committees and teachers pledge to uphold the honor code and agree to an oath of sub rosa, only then can the honor code be reliable. Otherwise, it would be a fickle system and just “another set of rules and regulation to obey”.

While honor codes may or may not be imposed, honors can only flourish not under a policy of  “one punishment fit all” scenario but need to be adaptive and cautious of the consequences of both enforcing and violating the code. Of course, cheating and plagiarism can never entirely disappear, which is why it is important to for schools to teach the value of integrity and the caliber of being an honest individual, especially in an era where it is the easiest to copy quotes and paragraphs from the Internet and claim it as original ideas. While honor codes aren’t a bad idea, systems can easily be abused and can practice unorthodox methods of discipline, and the previously mentioned ideas can make fair and positive criteria for honor codes to effectively breed a more honest student body.

Bradon Ortiz

Somerset High School
International Relations and National Security Studies

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How to Address Cheating and Plagiarism

Also published on Medium.

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