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In Defense of Sunny Hills High

April 20, 1997

* Re "Cheating Episode Roils Elite O.C. School," April 10, "O.C. Cheating Illustrates Ethics Tangle," April 11:

Twenty students cheating on a homework assignment is obviously wrong, but is it world news? Does it deserve two days of front-page coverage by The Times? Hardly, but this is the type of special attention that The Times seems to reserve for Sunny Hills High School. We wonder if this incident had occurred elsewhere, if it would have merited first-page notoriety.

The Times reported that 13 students were removed from the school's National Honor Society following this incident. The accomplishments of every student in this group are impressive. Dedication to both school and community activities is in no way limited to NHS members, but rather is a school norm and standard behavior for most of the student body at Sunny Hills. In a time lacking in positive role models for our youth, it is especially disheartening that the first time NHS has received mention in your paper is in this negative context. Apparently articles about Sunny Hills High School students' heart, talent, energy and spirit don't sell papers the way scandal does.

We were particularly upset that the article ended with mention of incidents, years old, that bear no relationship to an article ostensibly about cheating. The inclusion of those incidents served only to sensationalize, and is the type of journalism we would expect from the tabloids, not from The Times. It was also in very poor taste and incredibly insensitive to include a recent and tragic car accident involving the death of two young students "with a string of . . . notorious events."

As subscribers of your paper for 20 years, we have read many negative and alarming articles about Sunny Hills High School. As a result, we almost enrolled our daughter in a different high school. Fortunately for us, we checked the school out for ourselves--something that you should consider doing. We think they will find a remarkable high school with terrific kids, an outstanding faculty and caring administrators. It's not perfect, but it's close.



* It appears to me that if those Sunny Hills honor students indeed intended to cheat on their cooperative homework, they would not have sent in identical papers.

It is also curious why their teacher, Patrick Lampson, would [fault] them for a cooperative effort since this is essentially what is required for most projects in the real world. After all, unless they also cheat in the final examination, it should be of little concern to anyone how they gained their knowledge.

I still remember the summer cramming for a physical chemistry course at Harvard. Even with four of us studying together, we often could not finish our homework assignment until 2 a.m. We never thought that we might have been cheating since our professor and teaching assistant were fully aware of our efforts.

Besides, if the homework involves a science course, it would have been nearly impossible to detect cooperative efforts since the answers usually require little verbal communication. Instead of publicly dishonoring these students for "cheating," their school should heed the admonition by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping that "It does not matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice."


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