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School Cheating Scandal Divides NH Town
September 19, 2007 11:06 AM   Subscribe

For the town of Hanover, NH, home to Dartmouth College, one could expect academic integrity to be a cornerstone. But a high school cheating scandal has shaken the town's foundations and divided the community. On an evening this past June a group of students at Hanover High School [video] used stolen keys to break into a teacher's filing cabinet, walking away with multiple mathematics exams. Five days later, another group stole chemistry finals. As many as 60 students may have had a role in the thefts, either helping to plan them or receiving answers from the stolen exams. Police investigated and a local prosecutor has filed criminal charges against nine students. "Parents of the accused are furious and frantically trying to reduce charges to violations that carry no criminal penalties, penalties they say could harm their children's chances of attending college or securing employment....some residents [are] laying blame squarely on the nine accused students - dubbed "the Notorious Nine" - while others have questioned whether the intense competitiveness of 750-student Hanover High forced students into positions of having to cheat."
posted by ericb (77 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
"having to cheat"--oh my, this is going to end well INDEED
posted by DU at 11:17 AM on September 19, 2007


It it okay that I think those kids are kind of cool? They're like the jewel thieves of academic dishonesty.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:17 AM on September 19, 2007


This is the first time I've ever heard a Subaru referred to as a "status symbol".
posted by anazgnos at 11:17 AM on September 19, 2007


Outrageous! Aren't there some low-income, non-student minority kids selling marijuana that can be prosecuted instead? They aren't going to college, so they won't mind.
posted by brain_drain at 11:19 AM on September 19, 2007 [5 favorites]


... the intense competitiveness of 750-student Hanover High forced students into positions of having to cheat.

I imagine that Barry Bonds would find this amusing.
posted by R. Mutt at 11:21 AM on September 19, 2007


These poor kids will have no choice but to become Republicans now.
posted by srboisvert at 11:22 AM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


"...while others have questioned whether the intense competitiveness of 750-student Hanover High forced students into positions of having to cheat."

How are people in New Frigging Hampshire asking that? Don't you have to believe in Free Will to live there? Live Free or Die, indeed.

Next door in Maine, we knew that "intense competitiveness" was a concept, not a sentient object that held a gun to your head and made you do things against your character.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:26 AM on September 19, 2007


Don't you have to believe in Free Will to live there? Live Free or Die, indeed.

HANOVER'S TOO CLOSE TO THE VERMONT BORDER

DIDN'T I ALWAYS SAY IT WAS TOO CLOSE TO THE VERMONT BORDER
posted by Greg Nog at 11:31 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure New Hampshire law says that trespass and burglary are okay if you're planning on going to college, so we're all good here.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:31 AM on September 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


"Jim Kenyon's son Nicholas is one of the accused.

In a statement to the local paper in which he writes a column, Jim Kenyon urged officials to look at the big picture.

Kenyon: It's become clear to me in recent weeks that cheating is widespread in Hanover High's high-pressured academic culture. The problem, I don't think, can be solved by attempting to saddle 10 kids with criminal records for the rest of their lives.

Kenyon's argument raised some eyebrows.

Letters to the editor criticized him for not accepting responsibility for his son's actions."*
Translation: "Other kids did it, so why should my son take the blame and punishment for stealing and cheating? Is it just because he got caught?
posted by ericb at 11:32 AM on September 19, 2007


Obviously nobody had to cheat, but there are plenty of kids who are under incredible stress because of their beliefs about the effect that their high school (and earlier!) performance will have on the rest of their lives.

They're not entirely wrong, either. When you compare the different opportunities available to, say, Harvard, Dartmouth, and Boston College graduates, it's clear that a few tenths (or even hundredths) of a point on your high school GPA can potentially make a pretty big difference in your life.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 11:32 AM on September 19, 2007


"One little mistake." Breaking and entering? I don't want to be around when one of these kids makes a big mistake.

Also, I am glad that the parents are willing to go on record as being "furious and frantically trying to reduce charges to violations that carry no criminal penalties, penalties they say could harm their children's chances of attending college or securing employment." I hope doing it harms those parents' chances of securing employment.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:34 AM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


This is the first time I've ever heard a Subaru referred to as a "status symbol".

Having spent most of my life in New England, I can tell you that having a beat-up woody station-wagon is a status symbol. The more money you have the less need to "show it off." Like they say, people in L.A. "drive" their money; folks in N.Y. "wear" theirs. In New England people "hide" their money!
posted by ericb at 11:40 AM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


I bet the sorts of intense pressures inner city minority children face when trying to get into college are nothing compared to these pitifuw wittle innocents. Waaaaah. Mommy, I burglarized my school not I may have to be forced to go to Tufts! Waaah!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:09 PM on September 19, 2007


Lock the little fuckers up. They cheated, and they got caught, deal with the consequences.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:11 PM on September 19, 2007


This little test-stealing caper sounded like a great bonding experience. I'm not being sarcastic. It's the kind of thing that, when you're a kid in high school, gets you all excited to "stick it to the man." You've got an element of risk, a bunch of other kids involved in the scheme, and a potential GPA boost as a payoff - as a teen-aged student, what's not to like? But they're kids, and they didn't organize effectively enough or plan their heist thoughtfully enough and they got caught. Stupid kids.

Something about the way this was handled sounds fishy to me, as though someone had a bone to pick with the school or the parents. I'm not condoning cheating and burglary but I would have thought that something like this, where so many kids were involved, would have been handled carefully by the school administration and the parents, meeting in some back room where they rubbed their temples in frustration and drank bad coffee and had heated debates about what to do with these damn kids these days. I don't get why a criminal investigation was pursued so quickly. I think there's [more inside].
posted by krippledkonscious at 12:18 PM on September 19, 2007


This is not surprising to anyone. In a culture where failure is absolutely not an option, such things come to the surface. The problem is really the availability of top schools, or rather the perception that there are only a few top schools and everything is more or less the same. It will change, eventually as smart and motivated kids start emerging from colleges outside the top ten or twelve US News schools. I think the best way to summarize it is as follows:

Homer: Well, now that you're a little bit older, I can tell you that's a crock! No matter how good you are at something, there's always about a million people better than you.
Bart: Gotcha. Can't win, don't try.

When you reach a population of our size, simple statistics will show that there will always be someone better, as a whole. There will be always someone who went to a great prep school who didn't get a C on that test or scored 20 points higher on their SATs. Any competent social scientist will tell you that such differentiations are rather meaningless and that small deviations at such a high level are no indications of someone's underlying ability. Random shit just happens, and it has no predictive value.

To explain how common this is in social sciences, let us look at another example and abstract ourselves from future overachieving Patrick Bateman types. Yo-Yo Ma far exceeds the popularity (in terms of sales and notoriety) than the next best cellist. It is exponetial and I would go so far to wager that he exceeds the aggregate income and sales records of the aggregate incomes of the next 5 best cellist. Can one really tell the difference between Yo-Yo Ma and number two? Possibly, but is the difference as valuable or great as to be predictive of Yo-Yo Ma's talent? I don't think so.

Top schools are the same way. I think I've made a comment about this before, but while Harvard (or Dartmouth, etc.) may be a good school ... is it really that much better than #25 on the list? Or #55? I would wager to say no, that it is not, at least in terms of reputation and opportunities it garners from its students. I would go further to say that the top 5% student body of the a top 10 school is probably very, very similar to the top 5% student body of school ranking in the second tier.

But, of course, the heart of the matter that this article doesn't touch, and I think is the elephant in the room, is that these kids aren't trying to get into Dartmouth so they can get a great humanities education. They're trying to get in because it almost guarantees access to a top tier grad school. At least one would have a much, much easier time (again, exponentially so) moving in parallel with similar grades and test scores to a top tier, say law or business school. And then from there, try to find me a white shoe law firm in NYC that hires from a non-top tier school.

It all, at its heart, comes down to a certain degree of prestige, greed and almost neurotic need for success. Instead of telling these kids that working hard, ethically and smart is all they can do, and that outside of that certain factors beyond anyone's control decide their fate, they've created sort of little emperors. Where success is paramount and where the end result matters more than how you got there. Such cause and effect is no longer relevant where admissions and job placement becomes probabilistic in nature, given the large pool of qualified people and the small amount of positions available.

I would go further to argue that creating androids that run their lives as if they're running for president, and thus always doing the "right thing", creates a homogeneous population lacking diversity and incredibly susceptible to a change in environment, but that's rather a metaphysical debate.
posted by geoff. at 12:19 PM on September 19, 2007 [6 favorites]


This is the part where someone makes a prison rape joke, isn't it?

Or am I too early?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:20 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I should emphasize that I'm not trying to portray the kids as innocent bystanders of the system, but to believe that a few students and a few parents are the aberration is naive. The problem is really systematic and perpetrated by nearly everyone involved.
posted by geoff. at 12:21 PM on September 19, 2007


the world needs ditch diggers too.
posted by Mach5 at 12:29 PM on September 19, 2007


When you reach a population of our size, simple statistics will show that there will always be someone better, as a whole.

While burglary and cheating weren't involved in her situation, I can't help but recall the case of ethically-challenged and grade-grubbing Blair Hornstine (previously -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
posted by ericb at 12:32 PM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


My knee-jerk reaction to plagiarists and cheaters is conducting a blanket party. Some form of vicious beat-down.

Throw the book at those whiny, selfish, morally bankrupt little shits.
posted by schroedinger at 12:34 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


They're trying to get in because it almost guarantees access to a top tier grad school.

For some, this might be true. For most, they're trying to get in because all of their friends are trying to get in, and the social pressure to avoid "failing" by "ending up" at a school that doesn't have status is enormous.

Right or not (and it's not), it's a fact that these high-status-conscious kids are going to feel a huge amount of shame if their friends say "Oh, you got into [fill in name of non-Ivy, non-New England school]! That's...great! It's in [fill in name of midwestern/southern state], right? You'll love it, I'm sure!" (all said in a fake-happy tone, of course)

Apparently, they will do anything to avoid that shame.
posted by rtha at 12:39 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, the sense of entitlement galls, but of course no criminal penalties.
Even if they're the spoiltest brats in America, they're kids. They've been caught cheating and the rest and should be disciplined and suffer academic consequences as severe as you like, but that's it.
posted by Abiezer at 12:39 PM on September 19, 2007


Looking over someone's shoulder is one thing. Breaking and entering is definitely quite another. I went to a very, very competitive high school. There was plenty of pressure to excel (>99% of seniors go to college) but we responded to it by studying our asses off. Had any of us even considered doing what these kids did, it's likely someone would have turned them in. And you can bet their parents wouldn't have defended them.

But that was a long time ago As morally bankrupt as people thought the 70s were, they seem like the 50s in comparison to this.

No, I can't believe I just said that.
posted by tommasz at 12:41 PM on September 19, 2007


Kirth Gerson writes "Also, I am glad that the parents are willing to go on record as being 'furious and frantically trying to reduce charges to violations that carry no criminal penalties, penalties they say could harm their children's chances of attending college or securing employment.' I hope doing it harms those parents" chances of securing employment."

Well, to be fair to the parents, there is a huge amount of parental instinct in play. However, as happens quite a bit in parenting, sometimes you have to fight your instincts in order to teach your kids, or allow your kids to learn their own lessons.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:43 PM on September 19, 2007


I don't get why a criminal investigation was pursued so quickly.

Possibly because they committed a fairly serious crime.

Let's say a bunch of kids TP your house on Halloween. That's a prank. It's mischief. You probably don't bother calling the cops unless you're a cranky lunatic.

Let's say, instead, that they break into your house and steal something. Even something fairly worthless--let's say it's a couple half-empty boxes of cereal and a bunch of bananas. I'm betting you'd call the cops right quick.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:45 PM on September 19, 2007


Parents of the accused are furious and frantically trying to reduce charges to violations that carry no criminal penalties, penalties they say could harm their children's chances of attending college or securing employment...

macgregor pointed at his home and said "you see that home? i built that home with my own hands. do you think they call me 'macgregor the home builder'? no."

then macgregor pointed at his dock and said "you see that dock? i built that dock with my own hands. do you think they call me 'macgregor the dock builder'? no."

then macgregor pointed at his boat and said "you see that boat? i built that boat with my own hands. do you think they call me 'macgregor the boat builder'? no."

"but you fuck ONE goat..."
posted by quonsar at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2007


it's a fact that these high-status-conscious kids are going to feel a huge amount of shame if their friends say...

Not if their friends are all headed to (gasp) Vanderbilt too.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2007


geoff. writes "I would go further to argue that creating androids that run their lives as if they're running for president, and thus always doing the 'right thing', creates a homogeneous population lacking diversity and incredibly susceptible to a change in environment, but that's rather a metaphysical debate."

Japan had/has this problem, although from what I understand there is a little less pressure today on kids to perform. But the pressure can be so intense that suicide is considered an honorable way out for some.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:49 PM on September 19, 2007


It isn't a "cheating" scandal. It's a criminal conspiracy scandal. If they got together and broke into a teacher's house to steal a test, would we still be wondering if there's "something fishy" about how it was handled? They didn't make a mistake, they committed a crime. If they were South Boston kids, or Nashua kids, or Winona kids who got caught breaking into a school, they'd expect to be standing in front of a judge, and nobody would be whining about their chances of getting into college.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:51 PM on September 19, 2007


I think the fact that "Ivy League" and the word "privilege" is involved is coloring some judgment in this thread... not that I mind, but some of it is pretty harsh.

As for the comparison between burglarizing a home vs. a school, that doesn't really play for me. Who do the kids think the school belongs to when they break in? Do you really think they would have attempted a break-in if it were a house rather than a public building? Again, I'm not condoning this behavior at all and I think these idiots deserve punishment, but let's try to understand the motives here and not label these kids as career criminals who would undoubtedly burglarize your home and sodomize your parakeet because they've already attempted to break into their own school.

As an aside, my mother and my fiance (different people!) work at one of the rougher high schools in my state. They're lucky to go a day without having police on campus arresting somebody for burglary, assault, drugs, weapons charges or terroristic threatening. They have problems with parents who don't send their kids to school with lunch, parents who actually come to school to fight with other parents or their kids, and parents who just don't give a shit and don't bother finding a way for their kid to attend at all. If they discovered a ring of students who were trying to cheat on exams by obtaining copies of the test, I think their reaction would be, "Great Jebus, these kids actually care about their test???"
posted by krippledkonscious at 1:06 PM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


geoff: The problem is really systematic

The crime was systematic. The problem is systemic. But your point is well taken. A cheating scandal involving a KNOWN quanity of nearly 10% of the student body indicates huge problems at that school. My kids also went to a highly competitive small high school where 100% of the kids go on to Ivy League, Big Ten and highly competitive small LibArts colleges; I never heard of anything like this there.

For more on the craziness that parents of teens & college kids get into
posted by nax at 1:16 PM on September 19, 2007


Yeah I don't buy "parental instinct". I think it's a certain kind of parent. Other parent's instincts would be to beat their kids senseless so they could both be charged with crimes. Both decisions reflect on the person not parents or parenting in general.
posted by Wood at 1:18 PM on September 19, 2007


"Other kids coaches did it, so why should my son Bill Belichick take the blame and punishment for stealing and cheating? Is it just because he got caught?" -- every other caller on WEEI sports talk radio last week.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:18 PM on September 19, 2007


Yeah, 'cause college is a status symbol is all. You pay your money, you get the paper that says who you can hang around with and how much money you're allowed to make. I mean, yeah, there are still some old dinosaurs around who go on about 'education' and 'improving your mind' and stuff, but we've got 'em worn down so three quarters of it is wankery anyway. Give it a couple years and they'll cut out the crap and just hand it on over. Oh hey, dude, you got any bread? Grab it man, we're goin' to the circus!

Seriously, I hope they bust those kids to hell and back.
posted by eritain at 1:20 PM on September 19, 2007


Not if their friends are all headed to (gasp) Vanderbilt too.

I know. But their friends aren't. It's not just their friends, of course - it's parents and the media and so on. But having moved in circles like that myself once upon a time, I remember the looks and the fake cheeriness that the got-into-Yale-early-decision kids had for the got-into-Vanderbilt/Emory/Beloit/Bowdoin kids. Don't discount the pressure that a few well-placed status-conscious seniors can have on a larger group of people.
posted by rtha at 1:27 PM on September 19, 2007


I broke into my school with some friends once; we wandered around on a Saturday, exploring various classrooms and moving stuff around to see if anyone would notice come Monday morning. We didn't take anything or vandalize the place -- it was more of a crime of opportunity, as we were walking by and saw the open window.

Of course, I was in 2nd grade.

Having a child willing to conspire to commit a robbery in order to improve their grades is, I think, an indicator for being the kind of parent who would do everything possible to make it the fault of anyone except their kid. Kids get to this point primarily because they've learned that there are no consequences to their actions. A firm parent who sets good boundaries will in general not have kids who do this, but if they do, they're (I think) more likely to say "you f'd up, deal with it."

I'm not blaming the parents instead of the kids, though; these kids are more than old enough to know what they're getting into, and it's their fault primarily. Still, I know that what generally kept me in line as a teenager was the desire to avoid my father's disappointment, and if I didn't have parents who forced me to live up to my mistakes, I might have gotten into trouble as a teen.
posted by davejay at 1:28 PM on September 19, 2007


Who do the kids think the school belongs to when they break in?
How about, not them?

Do you really think they would have attempted a break-in if it were a house rather than a public building?
Do you really have any reason to believe they wouldn't? The school was an easy target, because they were familiar with it and it was deserted for long periods (and they could make up a plausible excuse when found there.) If all of those conditions were also true of a house, and if the exam they wanted were in the house, then yes, I do think they'd break into it.

...let's try to understand the motives here and not label these kids as career criminals who would undoubtedly burglarize your home and sodomize your parakeet because they've already attempted to break into their own school.
The motives here were to subvert the system that evaluates their academic worth. I care a lot less about that that the means they chose to accomplish that subversion. As long as we're making requests, let's not get all hyperbolic with stupid implications that someone is worried about a parakeet. Also, it's not their school, unless they're paying property taxes. I'd bet they aren't.

==========================
A cheating scandal involving a KNOWN quanity of nearly 10% of the student body indicates huge problems at that school.
Yes. Allowing a gang of burglar-students to avoid their earned meeting with the criminal-justice system would not do much to reduce those problems. Involving the police just might.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:34 PM on September 19, 2007


Don't discount the pressure that a few well-placed status-conscious seniors can have on a larger group of people.

I weep for them. What a terrible life they will face each and every time they take their Volvo to the shop or the club, "will the mechanic know I went to Georgetown and feel he might actually have the right to enguage me in conversation like a commoner? Will the tennis pro think twice about fucking me behind my husband's back because we were caught up in a scandal that forced him to settle for Johns Hopkins for med school?"
posted by Pollomacho at 1:37 PM on September 19, 2007


my mother and my fiance (different people!)

Dammit, krippledkonscious -- you can come over here right now and clean the soda offa my computer monitor!
posted by ericb at 1:40 PM on September 19, 2007


Boy, times sure have changed.

When I was a senior in high school and I was having a tough time with the calculus midterm, I just wrote, "Remember who sells you your weed!" on it and turned it in.

Got a C, I think.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:41 PM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


For more on the craziness that parents of teens & college kids get into

Yeah -- that NPR story about 'helicopter parents' is interesting.

"Hey, Parents, leave those kids alone! All in all its just another brick in the wall."
posted by ericb at 1:43 PM on September 19, 2007


"Other coaches did it, so why should Bill Belichick take the blame and punishment for stealing and cheating? Is it just because he got caught?" -- every other caller on WEEI sports talk radio last week.

But, but, but....'Bill Clinton did it' -- the only (and failing) 'Talking Point' left in the 'Republican Playbook 2008.'
posted by ericb at 1:46 PM on September 19, 2007


So where's this vindictive crowd when we're all tut-tutting over "our punishment-fixated culture" and "our exploding prison population?" Glad to see all of y'all, hope I see more of you.
posted by jfuller at 1:51 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I weep for them. What a terrible life they will face each and every time they take their Volvo to the shop or the club ...

Yeah. It's an incredibly destructive attitude (you get that I was trying to describe what their attitudes might be like, right? Not trying to make excuses for, condone, or plead for mercy). I feel sorry for these kids (and their parents) because they've bought in so hard to the idea the Going to Harvard Will Make My Life Perfect!, but I think they should have to face criminal penalties and whatever else is appropriate. My public high school was a pressure cooker too, but cheating at this scale - um, no no no.
posted by rtha at 2:00 PM on September 19, 2007


A local Hanover, NH blogger, Robert G. Hansen (Senior Associate Dean and Professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College) comments:
“…the most interesting part of this is that, naturally, some of the kids are children of folks we know. I will resist any urge to engage in schadenfreude, for the usual ‘there but for the grace of God…’ reason. However…one of the poor kids is the son of Jim Kenyon, a notorious columnist for the Valley News. This is the guy who never misses a chance to tear into Dartmouth and generally side with the forces of bleeding hearts and evil. His column is one I never miss, and much like Paul Krugman’s, it never ceases to raise my ire. The last one he wrote got me upset because he criticized our local food co-op for having a 60-year old woman arrested for shoplifting (she was later acquitted by the judge). The co-op should have shown mercy on a nice old lady, Kenyon said; my reading was that he has one kind of justice for people he knows and likes and another kind of justice for outsiders and ‘ne-er do wells’. Nothing like a little discrimination, eh?

Perhaps Mr. Kenyon knew when he wrote that column that his son was being investigated for his own form of shoplifting?

The Valley News had some quotes from Jim Kenyon regarding the incident and his son:

He said Hanover High School’s ‘high pressured academic culture’ leads to widespread cheating.

‘The entire community must be willing to take a hard look at how it might have unwittingly contributed to this problem and work together to find solutions.’

Kenyon said the school’s cheating problems ‘do not begin or end with the final exams now in question.’

Give me a break, please! So we are to sacrifice our academic ambitions because nine kids can’t resist the pressure to steal exams? And this is not mainly the problem of the kids and their families, but of the entire community? Yes, society is to blame, competition is evil, we are not responsible for our own actions, we all have to work together…blah blah blah.”
posted by ericb at 2:01 PM on September 19, 2007


The motives here were to subvert the system that evaluates their academic worth. I care a lot less about that that the means they chose to accomplish that subversion. As long as we're making requests, let's not get all hyperbolic with stupid implications that someone is worried about a parakeet. Also, it's not their school, unless they're paying property taxes. I'd bet they aren't.

Come on, let's not fool ourselves - everyone worries about parakeets. Because if you break in and leave the window busted, the little feathered twits will fly away and die at the paws of some lucky cat.

Seriously though, I understand your argument. Trespass and burglary are criminal acts and we as a society need to enforce our laws. My point was just to reinforce the fact that these kids are stupid, extremely so, and probably didn't equate "breaking into the school" with criminal activity, whereas breaking into someone's house is much more black/white and they probably couldn't have convinced 40-60 kids to participate in that. Again: They're frickin' kids! Some of them think you can stop pregnancy by jumping up and down! So when they get caught doing something illegal, or get knocked up, their ignorance is never an excuse, but we need to remember we're dealing with mental incompetence here, and not necessarily an indicator of serial behavior.
posted by krippledkonscious at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2007


if you break in and leave the window busted, the little feathered twits will fly away and die at the paws of some lucky cat.

"I thawt I thaw a puddy-tat. I did, I did see a puddy-tat!"
posted by ericb at 2:25 PM on September 19, 2007


forced to cheat?

I was forced to get shitty grades.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:29 PM on September 19, 2007


They're frickin' kids! ...we need to remember we're dealing with mental incompetence here

Couldn't help but bring note to the recently posted thread (5 above this one in the MeFi queue): The Case Against Adolescence:
"'Imagine what it would feel like—or think back to what it felt like—when your body and mind are telling you you're an adult while the adults around you keep insisting you're a child.' An interview with psychologist Robert Epstein, who argues that American teens are far more intelligent, capable, and moral than we give them credit for. His new book, The Case Against Adolescence, suggests that infantilization of teens leads to psychological problems. See also Epstein's article 'The Myth of the Teen Brain' [PDF] from Scientific American Mind."
posted by ericb at 2:32 PM on September 19, 2007


So where's this vindictive crowd when we're all tut-tutting over "our punishment-fixated culture" and "our exploding prison population?" Glad to see all of y'all, hope I see more of you.

We're usually nursing a domestic beer or driving our Japanese cars to our jobs in a secondary city at a less than top tier firm because we were too moral to burglarize our schools or weren't quite type A enough at 16 to have given that big of a shit. Stupid, stupid.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:32 PM on September 19, 2007


People arguing "They're just kids! It's ignorance!"

Look, the sex education of the US is woeful. Not knowing about pregnancy and sex is one thing--it's not something people talk about. But breaking and entering? No 16-year-old thinks this isn't wrong. You know that stuff is wrong by the time you're eight. If your parents and other adults aren't drilling it into you, you get that much from the media. And if they thought cheating wasn't wrong or something that would get them in trouble, they would have done it openly and shared answers during the final!

There is a special hell for the academic wrongdoers. To me, participants have the most twisted of ethics, the most cowardly and slimy of reasoning. It is something born of pure ethical bankruptcy.
posted by schroedinger at 2:33 PM on September 19, 2007


In an environment with the pressure to succeed like this, it seems like the smart kids are able to succeed without cheating, but enough dumb kids are able to succeed by cheating, sucking up, etc. Of course if they try a stunt like this they're not smart enough to get away with it.

For an interesting corollary - as far as I know there's not a great deal of cheating on the GRE in the U.S.; anything that requires a high verbal or writing score you're going into for the love of it and not from societal/parental/greed pressure. Going into any grad program that requires mathematical knowledge again is likely to mean some genuine interest and you should have enough math knowledge to get a 770-800 with no hassle at all. (The score distribution for the verbal or writing tests looks like a bell curve. The score distribution for the math test looks like a bell curve with an exponential tacked on one end from all the technical disciplines - there's more people that get 800 than get 790 than get 780.)

Things that don't require a real high score in either are basically using it as evidence that you're not an idiot.

So, overall, not much reason for Americans to cheat.

But I understand in Asia, with the much vaunted focus on engineering, math, and science that they have, there's much more pressure to get into a grad program. Even if your math skills aren't up to par. Even if you have to hope for that little boost from a high verbal score that your engineering school doesn't care about all that much. So, the GRE has to resort to special measures to prevent cheating and to prevent people from memorizing lists of possible questions and answers.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:53 PM on September 19, 2007


People arguing "They're just kids! It's ignorance!"

I am saying that, but I am not saying it excuses them from what they did. Bring the pain.

The problem with cheating is that, unless you get caught, it totally works. Exactly like lying. Both have this huge spectrum of acceptance, and then you have this other huge spectrum of appropriate punishment, and where these two intersect will be the basis of argument for all of eternity. ALL OF ETERNITY.
posted by krippledkonscious at 2:55 PM on September 19, 2007


I think that there is a point to what some of the parents are saying, above and beyond simply trying to get their kids out of hot water: picking nine students for punishment when it's clear that there's a deeper problem in the school's culture isn't really going to solve anything in the long term, as satisfying as it may be to everyone (including the D.A. and the town politicians, who get to put it on their resumes).

If there were 60+ students involved in the theft, and 9 who are going to get punished, far from being a lesson against cheating, what it really says is that you can cheat and have a roughly 85% chance of getting away with it.

"Exemplary" justice -- that great American tradition of picking out someone for humiliation and severe punishment seemingly at random from a group of those responsible -- is ineffective and causes more problems than it solves.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:07 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


schroedinger writes 'There is a special hell for the academic wrongdoers. '

And the entry sign above the gate reads Cravath, Swaine and Moore.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:32 PM on September 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


PeterMcDermott wins!
posted by saslett at 3:37 PM on September 19, 2007


If there were 60+ students involved in the theft, and 9 who are going to get punished, far from being a lesson against cheating, what it really says is that you can cheat and have a roughly 85% chance of getting away with it.

"Exemplary" justice -- that great American tradition of picking out someone for humiliation and severe punishment seemingly at random from a group of those responsible -- is ineffective and causes more problems than it solves.


Well, only 9 broke in. I'm sure that the other 51+ students aren't getting off scot-free, just that they aren't being brought up on criminal charges. Does that asuage some outrage?
posted by Snyder at 3:47 PM on September 19, 2007


Does that asuage some outrage?

Maybe, but if they threw in free pretzels I'd be asuaged.
posted by Pollomacho at 3:51 PM on September 19, 2007


assuaged.
posted by quonsar at 4:14 PM on September 19, 2007


but i cheated and asked the firefox spell check.
posted by quonsar at 4:15 PM on September 19, 2007


What about the students who don't participate in cheating schemes. Seems like the message to them will not be good if the miscreants receive only a slap on the wrist.
The greater harm here would have been to the conforming (to the rules) students.
posted by notreally at 4:15 PM on September 19, 2007


No wonder these kids had to cheat: they're even stupider than I thought.

They stole the exams, but not the answer key: "...Podjuban [one of the students who was arrested] told police, “the idea was that the other students, not involved in the exam thefts, should figure out the answers to the test and give it to those who had involvement. He stated that they told the others, ‘We got it, you work on it.' ” - Valley News

From the same article: "On the evening of Monday, June 18, some students were studying for the chemistry final at Baker Library. However, they said, they found the material “impossible” and eventually decided to try to take the exam from the high school."

So....they stole the exam, but not the answer key, and still had to at least get someone else to work out the answers. Which wouldn't necessarily be correct.

Kids today! Lazy and stupid!
posted by rtha at 4:17 PM on September 19, 2007


He stated that they told the others, ‘We got it, you work on it.'

Hey, maybe they are fit for the next big private equity group.
posted by geoff. at 5:03 PM on September 19, 2007


We got it, you work on it.

That's a really weak plan. The students who will give you correct answers don't need the test beforehand. Maybe they should have stolen some money as well to pay the "workers".
posted by Wood at 5:21 PM on September 19, 2007


Not much advantage to the robbers if they're going to turn around and pass out the exams to another sixty people. Where's the cut throat Harvard bound competition in that?

If the case is proven, throw them out of school. Second chance? That's what GEDs and the army were invented for.

(By the way, Stephen Fry got into Cambridge after a little jail time, so it's not as if the kids' fondest hopes are completely out of the question.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:34 PM on September 19, 2007


The school couldn't have been that competitive, or the burglars wouldn't have shared the exams with fifty-odd other people. That would defeat the purpose.

The cheating problem didn't get that way over night. They must have had a slow buildup of what level of cheating was acceptable and what was beyond considering. There always is.

I like the Heinrich Pyramid theory. The possible problems you can have lie in a triangle shape, pointy end up. The top represents the worst thing that can happen. The bottom is all the things that represent the most minor possible thing, that some people wouldn't even consider a big deal.

The theory is, at least the way we use it at work, is that there is some equilibrium level (not the bottom) where you spend most of your time. Something below that happens, people overlook it or wring their hands but take no action. Over time, that level tends to rise as people become accustomed to things at that level happening, or become less afraid of what will happen to them if it does.

The problem with that is, there's a spread. Sometimes things above the line are going to happen. If nothing is done at that time, guess what? That's where your line is now. Tomorrow, something can happen a bit above that. And so on.

The only way to push that line down is to react (some might say overreact) to incidents above the line. Yes, the "make an example of them" theory.

That's why these students have to go down in flames, and with enough publicity to influence other schools. They weren't tricked into this, they did it because it was only marginally above the "don't do this, nudge, nudge, wink, wink" line. That line needs to get pushed back down. If this blows over with no big consequences for anyone, the line goes up, not down.

Too bad for the students, but essential for the long-term health of the program.
posted by ctmf at 6:10 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


This will be a valuable lesson to these young people. After all, they can't very well join the ruling class without learning that they are mostly exempt from criminal law, too.
posted by dreamsign at 8:56 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


rtha writes "So....they stole the exam, but not the answer key, and still had to at least get someone else to work out the answers. Which wouldn't necessarily be correct.

"Kids today! Lazy
and stupid!"

There might not have been a key. I had lots of instructors who did the exam at the same time we did; which resulted in the occasional announcement during the exam: "Uh, question 4B. Right. It's impossible as written. Replace 23 with 2x."
posted by Mitheral at 9:40 PM on September 19, 2007


If there were 60+ students involved in the theft, and 9 who are going to get punished, far from being a lesson against cheating, what it really says is that you can cheat and have a roughly 85% chance of getting away with it.

Consider risk the combination of probability of getting caught and acceptability of punishment. I'm not willing to accept even a 15% chance of getting shot, say, or expelled. I might accept a 75% chance of getting suspended for a day or two. Not only that, but next year, the legend is about the ones who got shot for cheating, not the 85% who didn't get punished, so the deterrent factor still works.

where 'shot' stands for something really undesirable, not literally shot.
posted by ctmf at 10:42 PM on September 19, 2007


If you really love your kids, you do the stealing for them. C'mon, parents. Keep their records clean!
posted by graventy at 2:51 AM on September 20, 2007


Reading, writing, and cheating
“…The prospect of jail and a promising future derailed is frightening. But it is also scary to hear a parent equate an allegation of breaking and entering into a school for the purpose of stealing exams as ‘one little mistake.’ This is, at minimum, a very big mistake.

Today, cheating is routinely dismissed as no big deal. A stadium filled with New England Patriots fans sent that clear message to Coach Bill Belichick after he was fined $500,000 for illegally filming the signals of New York Jets coaches in the season opener.

‘Do whatever it takes to win’ is the accepted mantra in politics, business, and sports. Not surprisingly, that attitude spills down into high school.

….What happened at Hanover High School went beyond lying or cheating. Students allegedly entered the school building one evening after school was out. While some stood guard, others entered a classroom and used stolen keys to break into a teacher's filing cabinet and steal tests.

Breaking and entering is a crime, not just a mistake. It is fair to treat all alleged perpetrators equally, by turning the matter over to police. Participation at any level, as lookout or thief, should make a parent very angry - at the child who chose that path.

These students have the right to a presumption of innocence and due process. But parents who worry that criminal prosecution hinders college admissions and future career opportunities seem to be missing the major concerns raised by this incident.

Why did these students decide the break-in was worth the risk?

What drove their children to conclude that success via stealing and cheating is more important than basic honesty?”
posted by ericb at 8:39 AM on September 20, 2007


I'm sorry. I understand these kids screwed up. They shouldn't have done it. However, I have a problem with calling it criminal, even though I do understand exactly why anyone would.

You see, it was their school. I know, Kirth Gerson seems to think that you have to pay taxes in order to be an owner of the public commons, but that's hyperbolic bullshit, and frankly, an extremely counter-productive position to take (apart from the fact that all kinds of things at school encourage the idea that it is, in fact, your school).

I have no problem at all keeping this out of criminal courts. Had they vandalized, I'd feel exactly opposite! But it wasn't that kind of thing. It was an academic matter, and it calls for an academic solution.

Send the fuckers to Texas A&M!
posted by Goofyy at 10:15 AM on September 20, 2007


Breaking and entering is an academic matter! Goofyy new sentencing guidelines call for sending burglars to detention! However, taggers to do hard time!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:30 PM on September 20, 2007


You see, it was their school....

What if they had broken into their church and stolen items from there? Into their teacher's home? Into their neighbor's houses?
posted by ericb at 6:15 PM on September 20, 2007


ABC News:
"'This was not a crime of opportunity. This was premeditated. There were some plans that were tried and then retried. They made some serious attempts. We do not investigate things like cheating, but this was breaking and entering,' said Hanover Police Chief Nicholas Giaconne.

Some of the students could have been charged with felonies, given the nature of the offenses, which included cutting a window screen and stealing keys, he said.

...[School Superintendent Wayne] Gersen rejects the notion that Hanover High School's standards of excellence act as some sort of incubator for unethical behavior. 'Yes, we have a lot of energetic, enthusiastic, high-achieving kids. Seventy percent are involved in athletic teams, and 90 percent go on to college. But I have to say I don't think the pressure is any different now than when I graduated in 1965.'

Gersen said that cheating incidents are usually handled internally among parents, school officials and teachers, but that this situation was very different. 'We called the police because our building was broken into. In the same way any homeowner would call.'"
posted by ericb at 6:22 PM on September 20, 2007


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