Cheaters never prosper, or so we were told by our parents. My husband and I were brought up to respect the law. Cheating in school was unthinkable. We avoided allowing others to copy our test answers and never let anyone copy our homework. Rules were followed in all games. Our parents never cheated to let us win, as we sometimes did with our own children when they were little. Our parents were honest in their business dealings. And yet, perhaps because of their Depression era childhoods, there were gray areas that permitted cheating. They were selective about the ways in which they cheated and never harmed other individuals by their actions, but cheat they did.
It’s hard to explain to my grandkids what honesty looks like. And I certainly can’t tell them that cheaters never prosper.
When I was young, the basement of our modest home often flooded. Once, I caught my parents tossing a set of luggage into the flood waters. My parents’ response to my shocked reaction was to explain that they needed new luggage and insurance would pay for it. After all, they had faithfully made their insurance payments to a company that was charging too much and thus were entitled to cheat a bit. My mother, who taught me always to leave a note if I damaged a car, was happy to con the insurance company out of money for new luggage. My father, who was scrupulously honest as a CPA, never worried about cheating the anonymous “big guys.” Who knows what else they tossed into those flood waters over the years?
My mother-in-law also had a bit of larceny in her when it came to things she felt should be less expensive, or even free. In her younger days, Nana, who was honest in her dealings with people, would switch price tags on clothing for her children so she could afford the items. She felt no guilt about cheating the department store that she felt was making enough of a profit overall. She wasn’t shoplifting, just paying what she could afford and what she thought the item was really worth. Like many members of the Greatest Generation, she believed items provided for the table in restaurants were fair game. I don’t think she ever bought packets of artificial sweetener. Rolls or bread were often wrapped in a napkin and slipped in her purse. She especially loved the porcelain soup spoons in Chinese restaurants, and occasionally one of those joined the rolls and sweetener in her stash. When my youngest daughter noticed this habit and asked Nana why she took the spoon, my MIL explained that the food was too expensive and we had paid good money for the dinner.
Coming from families that thought it was fine to cheat under certain circumstances made me even more obsessively honest as part of the overall generation gap over values. Having worked as a cashier in high school and college, I would never keep the money if someone made an error in my favor. I knew what it felt like to have my drawer come up short and have to pay the difference out of my meager wages. I never used Cliffs Notes and scrupulously did my own research as an English major in college. Plagiarism was cheating, and I always gave credit to my sources. I did give my notes from Sociology 101 to my husband, who was a friend back then, because he often missed this 8:00 am class. I suppose that was a form of cheating, but I did end up marrying the guy.
The Internet has changed everything, blurring the lines between research and cheating. I try to explain to my granddaughter, who is a freshman in high school struggling with Romeo and Juliet, that when I taught this play over 50 years ago, we studied the text in class and I based my writing assignments and exams on the material we covered together. Now, teachers obtain exams and assignments from the Internet and students spend more time trolling sites like Wikipedia, Spark Notes, Cliffs Notes, and No Sweat Shakespeare than studying the text. They can find many papers written on almost any topic related to the play. Conversely, teachers have programs that can easily spot a plagiarized paper.
When my granddaughter learned that I taught Romeo and Juliet to freshman honors English students in my first career, she reached out to me. I reread the play (50 years is a long time) and felt ready to help her. I was shocked by how different things were. The essay assignments and study guides were focused on small details rather than the overall meaning of the play. Her first drafts were full of ideas plagiarized from online research. A friend who took the exam first period sent a screen shot of the question to her and several others. I explained that this was cheating and she should delete it from her phone, but she explained that at least 25 other students received the same text, so why should she be the only one not to use the information?
I guess growing up in an era of fake news with a former president whose entire career was based on cheating and deception has taken its toll. It’s hard to explain to my grandkids what honesty looks like. And I certainly can’t tell them that cheaters never prosper.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.