“Everyone Does It at Least Once”

May 7, 2008
“It’s the system’s fault! I had no choice, I just couldn’t handle the stress,” Eric said to one of his friends who confronted him about cheating on a term paper. With colleges and universities becoming even more selective and expensive to attend, the competition for acceptance and scholarships is fiercer than ever before. This stress has led to more and more students taking the easy way out. Eric is not alone. I have heard many of my peers try to eloquently defend cheating on an assignment as something that they “had to do,” or just “way too easy to pass up.” These same peers defend underage drinking, using illegal drugs and speeding as things that “everyone does at least once,” claiming that “it doesn’t really hurt anyone.” It doesn’t hurt anyone? Six thousand people were killed at the hands of underage drunk drivers last year.

Both of these things, cheating and breaking the law, have consequences. However, these consequences are rather minor. What happened when Eric was caught cheating on an assignment? He received a zero on the assignment and was told, “Don’t do it again.” What happened when Eric broke the law and was cited for underage drinking? He is doing some community service but was instead told in a strong, authoritative voice, “Don’t do it again.” Needless to say, this hasn’t stopped Eric from cheating or drinking. These minor consequences are sending the wrong message: cheating and breaking the law are acceptable because their consequences are not severe enough to be considered major. Realistically, though, the majority of my cheating peers don’t get caught. It is almost impossible for administrators and staff to prove cheating unless they catch the student in the act. The same goes for breaking the law; a police officer has to catch a person in the act to cite that person for breaking a law like drinking alcohol underage.

Although cheating is still frowned upon by society, it has become increasingly easy for young people to defend cheating by saying “I did it because I was under pressure to get good grades.” I can understand the pressure those students are experiencing. As an honors student myself, I am currently taking three Advanced Placement and three honors courses. I am constantly under pressure to get good grades and stay involved in extra-curricular activities. It is hard, but I have never cheated and I have never gotten a grade lower than an “A.” One might say breaking the law isn’t acceptable by society’s standards. Unfortunately, that person might have been right twenty years ago, but not today. Although speeding and underage drinking are seen by society as “bad” things, we have learned to accept these behaviors as rites of passage or something that “everyone does,” overlooking their true severity and long-lasting negative effects.

Breaking a law, no matter how “minor” that law may be, is wrong. Laws are in place to maintain order and peace in our society. However, more and more people today are choosing to break those laws on a regular basis. What are our police officers, judges, and private citizens doing to stop those citizens from breaking the law? Most of the time, nothing. Not necessarily because they don’t care, but more so because they just don’t think it’s really that wrong. After hearing about her fourth Minor-In-Possession of alcohol charge, I asked a fellow classmate why she continued to break the law. She simply replied, “It’s fun.” She went on to say, “Besides, what’s the judge going to do to me, give me more community service? Please.”

Cheating has long-term negative effects. It starts with just a quick “comparison” of papers to check answers. Soon it grows to copying a friend’s paper. Before long, that student is cheating on a final exam. If a student feels that whenever the going gets tough he or she can just cheat, that student will never be prepared to face the adversity that life will serve him every day. What happens when that student faces a difficult situation that can’t be solved by cheating? Breaking the law has its own set of negative long-term effects. It all starts with going just a little bit over the speed limit every once and while, then just five-over most of the time, until finally, instead of going over the speed limit every once and while, obeying the speed limit every once and while seems out of place. Breaking a minor law and getting away with it is empowering. It leds many to say, “If I can get away with it, it must not be that bad.” Breaking the law and getting away with it makes us feel invincible. Repeatedly breaking a “minor” law and getting away with it makes it feel acceptable to do something that would have never been acceptable to us before.

Many of my peers have tried to convince me that cheating is something that everyone does, and is something that I have to do if I want to succeed. Those same peers have many a time tried to defend their illegal activity again as something that everyone does and something that isn’t really that bad. The fact of the matter is breaking the law is wrong. Even though many in our society have begun to see breaking “minor” laws and academic cheating as socially acceptable activities, they are not. Cheating and law breaking are causing a deterioration of the integrity of our nation’s young people, and if we don’t take action there may be no hope for the next generation.

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