Cheating. It can be made to sound ugly: "It's stealing answers." "It's destroying a trust." Or it can be made to sound mock heroic: "It's a team effort." "It's distribution of knowledge to the poor and needy."
There are a lot of problems in our world today, and taking a peek at your neighbor's test paper for a second or two or conspiring to copy one another's homework hardly seem like crimes of the century.
Students at Brea-Olinda High School had a lot to say about cheating in a survey last spring in sophomore history classes.
"If you refuse to provide a person with your answers, that person rejects you and might tell everyone about what you refused to do," one student said. "That's not considered 'cool.' "
Added another: "In today's society, popularity is a big thing, and sometimes people will go to any lengths to get it."
A number of students and teachers agreed that pressure--of various types--may sometimes force a student's hand.
"Some students have a lot of pressure from home to get into a college with high standards," a teacher said.
"Students may also have older sisters and brothers who are smarter, and they feel they have to keep up," said an honors student.
Junior Jennifer Waier said, "It is very hard to be a student these days. It's so frustrating that there are only 24 hours in a day--eight in school, eight to sleep and eight for sports, relaxation and studying.
"But what is more frustrating is to sit in front of a test and not know what the heck they are talking about. To get into a college, you may need to occasionally cheat."
And another student reasoned: "Trying to keep on top in my school work becomes difficult because of all my activities. Yes, I do resort to cheating when the pressure is on and the work becomes too much. Many times, I feel as if I don't have much of a choice."
After being told this, Gene Sullivan, a co-principal at Brea-Olinda, simply shook her head. "It is just a rationalization," she said. "A student can handle those (activities and school) if they give them the proper time and attention."
While many teachers and administrators may feel sympathetic to students because of the pressures they face, none believes that makes cheating right.
"If you're late, it doesn't give you the right to speed. If you need something, it doesn't give you the right to shoplift," said Gary Goff, Brea-Olinda's other co-principal.
Student respondents to the poll appeared to have mixed feelings.
Some said they cheated merely for the challenge.
"They (students) brag about it," one teacher said. "They even tell you how they or others did it. It's a game to outwit the teacher."
Said one student: "Cheating is brilliant if you don't get caught. Your grades do wonderfully."
Still others think copying homework is a fairly innocent activity.
"I'll admit that I have lent people answers for homework," a student confessed. "I do it mostly because it really doesn't affect me. I don't feel any pressure to give answers. It's just out of the kindness of my heart."
Reasoned another: "Copying one or two answers on a test is not that bad, but if you live on cheating, it's bad."
Senior Julie Suscardo was more passionate in her beliefs: "I hate it when people cheat! It gets me so mad when I study hard and get a bad grade, and then the other person cheats and gets a good grade."
Consequences of being caught cheating vary from school to school. At Brea-Olinda, the policy is very clear. It states: "First offense: The teacher gives failing grades for assignments and has a parent conference. Second offense: For grades seven through 12, the student shall automatically lose credits and receive an F grade for the course."
"To pick up a test (for cheating) takes a lot of fortitude on the part of the teacher," Goff said. "They know that the kid is going to be mad, and the parents will demand a chance for the child to prove his or her honesty. Some teachers simply turn their backs."
A teacher confirmed Goff's statement, adding: "They (parents) accuse you of 'setting up the situation that made my daughter look like she was cheating.' A lot of teachers don't go nuts on this issue due to the hassle of going through the process of making our policy stick."
Thus cheating goes on, often unabated. And it may grow into a habit that is nearly impossible to break.
"If today's generation makes cheating a standard practice that spills over to the rest of their lives," one teacher said, "it will affect the quality of everyone's lives. If we all become cheaters, we will also be becoming victims of cheaters."