In fifth grade, I was sitting next to a kid, who was looking around frantically. In his hands was a completely blank worksheet. In only a couple minutes, the teacher was going to ask us to pass them forward, so he turned to me and asked if he could copy off of me.
Being the gentleman that I am, I obliged and let him copy my answers. Sadly, my teacher caught us in the act, and we both got in trouble.
It was that day that I was taught the lesson that not only are people who copy others’ work labeled cheaters, but the people who let them copy are also labeled cheaters.
Skip to today, and I now realize that this was one of the worst life lessons I have ever been given.
While I understand that the kid did plagiarize my work, I question whether it’s correct to punish him for what he did. After all, it was consensual plagiarism.
He didn’t take it from me without my knowledge. I let him have my answers, and I knew full well that he was turning in my work.
Plus, given the amount of stress we often put on consent in deciding the morality of something, it feels odd that schools condemn students for giving other students answers.
This same idea can be applied to tests or projects. If I willingly give someone my answers to a test, then what is wrong with that? Especially in a college setting, the consent is most likely being given by rational adults.
However, it can be said that since the other students aren’t doing this, cheating gives both of the cheating students an unfair advantage. I’d argue this claim is unsound.
For one, the practical end goal of our educational careers is oftentimes to get a job.
In other words, our college careers are leading us to enter the workforce, which means that our time in school should prepare us for what it’s like outside of school, and the last time I checked, the real world is full of copycats.
The worst part? It’s not even consensual like it might be in school.
Do you think Instagram asked Snapchat if they could borrow the idea for social media stories?
Do you think Alando asked eBay if they could mimic their auction-style website, especially before eBay decided to just buy them up for $43 million?
How about Thomas Edison’s light bulb? Or what about all those social trends like memes, fashion, music, etc.?
There was someone who came up with the idea first, but I doubt many of them are getting the full credit they deserve.
I wrote in a previous article that ideas are cheap, so before you claim that copying answers in school is an unfair, immoral advantage, you can realize the hypocrisy of your statement by simply analyzing the great successes of human history.
Furthermore, it is because ideas are cheap that we should teach people to use the resources around them as much as they can.
What’s the point of having useful friendships if we don’t maximize their uses? If someone is willing to exchange answers for social validation, then why shouldn’t they be allowed to do that?
This kind of virtue signaling is something we do all the time, and we never bat an eye.
Giving gifts, defending a friend, complimenting someone, they’re all different ways we earn social validation.
For the person having their answers copied, giving a piece of themselves is a positive.
For the copier, they are, if they went to the right person, going to get a better grade, which is another positive.
In turn, both cheaters are benefiting from each other and using their resources wisely, something that would oftentimes be seen as admirable, but if they were caught, they would be punished.
This double standard is unfair for those who recognize the value in their relationships.
Thus, because copying can bring about a plethora of advantages and lessons to learn from, I find it difficult to accept that all schools should demote it.
If anything, it might help us perfect our crafts.
When we copy answers, there is an opportunity to point out mistakes, correct them, and refine the end product, which in the end, is all anyone cares about.