Today’s National Post reported another story, this time from Newfoundland and Labrador, about an appalling tolerance for cheating sanctioned by a school board justifying its policy with vague, positive-sounding language. Students caught cheating may have a detention or suspension, but they are not to suffer academically. In other words, a student who cheats can compete for university on equal footing as a student who has studied and actually knows something.

In its justification, buzzwords abound like “alternate appropriate assessment,” a term which fails to communicate what is actually being done because it is only slippery language crackpots use to sound benevolent.  If a policy is actually good, it should be described for what it actually is. Indeed, if I had a great idea the last thing I’d want is to communicate it poorly.  But you don’t get that language here.

The board’s spokeswoman explained, “we are a district that believes in hope and second chances.”  Is she on a parole board? I agree students shouldn’t be summarily executed for plagiarism, but cheaters can still live adult lives after a forfeited assignment or test, and might learn not to cheat again. Forgotten are the honest students who should feel validated for studying and working hard for their grade. They must not be made to feel like suckers.

A test is only reliable if it, you know, tests their knowledge.  That’s why it’s shocking to hear that: “this policy change was designed to separate student’s behaviour from learning ‘to give us a true picture of what the student knows.'” As if cheating is an innocent behaviour students can’t help.  Finding out the “true picture of what student know” is the point of the test and it’s only obscured when students cheat.  That’s why cheating is bad and the onus must be on students not to abuse this trust.  Does this really need to be said? Where are the responsible adults?  A policy on cheating that would be endorsed by the most disinterested, dishonest student must be a bad policy.

It’s not a coincidence that such an inadequate policy is implemented by people who describe it in such empty terms.  The two are related.  No clear thinking person uses this language (unless they’re being consciously dishonest) or fights cheating by enabling it.  The National Post loves these stories, and you can feel the editor’s glee upon getting word of another story like this.  Still, it’s a shame these stories are too readily available and it’s a scary trend.

This policy “against” cheating is hopelessly misguided and we must learn to reflexively perceive and discredit the hollow “language” of its justification for what it is before it poisons our discourse.