When I was a college instructor, I saw simple and complex cheating. Much of it had to do with plagiarism, much of it intentional, where whole papers had been cut and pasted from an Internet source. Other times I would receive the same paper in two different classes from different students. I guess they thought if they changed the name I wouldn't notice. Shame on them but more than anything shame on a system that encourages cheating because of unreal expectations.
We know that even teachers and administrators are not above cheating. Because of the unreal pressure to excel on state testing, educators have been caught coaching kids beyond acceptable means, giving answers, and even changing answers to improve test scores. This whole No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because to secure federal funds it seems some people will do almost anything. How can we expect the kids to do the right thing if adults do not?
I have also seen parents drive kids too hard in so many ways. Besides living vicariously through their progeny by having them play all kinds of sports, join all sorts of clubs, and make certain that they have not even one free second in any given day, they also drive them too hard to excel in school. Kids with perfectly good test papers with scores of 90 or above are ridiculed. One kid told me, "Mom said don't show me another test unless it is a 100." Multiply this by thousands and you get an idea of what's happening and why kids will cheat if they feel there is no other way.
What should be done about the case at Stuyvesant? Or the one in Great Neck? Should those students be expelled? Should metal detectors be installed and cell phones collected every morning and returned at the end of the day? How far should we go to stop cheating?
Perhaps the easy answer is to cut off this cancer at its blood supply. Adults should reassess their expectations for their children. Yes, we all want the best for our kids, but not at the expense of their emotional and physical well being. Unrealistic expectations fuel kids' fears and at Stuyvesant (where you know from the start that you are going on to Harvard, Yale, or Columbia) kids are in an academic pressure cooker. It does not help that standardized and state testing, inferior instruments to be sure, are always looming and success will be determined by their performance on these exams.
Cheating is an age old tradition. Plato no doubt caught Aristotle once or twice, and it has been happening ever since. You can be sure Plato did not give up on his brilliant student for a transgression or two, and we cannot as well. We should understand that cheating will always be part of the equation as long as the solution is too difficult to attain. Perhaps we can create learning environments that will eventually be less about achievement and more about accomplishments measured in various ways (such as portfolios and presentations) that make cheating unnecessary.