March 31, 2003
Julian Simon on cheating

Julian Simon throws light on the dishonesties of the education world with this recollection:

One of the findings of modern psychology is that people tend not to be consistent about whether they are "honest" or "dishonest". An experience of mine illustrates the principle. After I got out of the Navy I took a summer course in organic chemistry to complete my qualifications for entering medical school in the fall; most of the other 200 students also were pre-meds. There were two hours of classes and six hours of laboratory work every day – forty hours a week, with lots of homework. The instructor put tough competitive pressure on the students to obtain high yields on their lab experiments. The tension in the laboratory rose so palpably that it became obvious that students would begin to cheat. I passed on that observation to a lab assistant, but nothing was changed. Two-thirds of the way through the course the cheating began, and then the system broke down completely. The wholesale cheating was not due mainly to the characters of the students, but rather to the structure of the system.

My thanks to Chris Cooper for these links to Simon's stuff.

This is the world British education is heading towards. The extreme recent case is of that headmaster who simply rewrote his pupils' exam papers afterwards to improve them. In a different world with different incentives he wouldn't have behaved like this.

The throw-good-foreigners-at-it solution will be no solution at all.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:18 PM
Category: Examinations and qualifications