Let me tell you about the time I got busted for cheating in school.
During my sophomore year in high school I got a big fat zero on an English assignment and, frankly, I deserved it. I suppose with pressure from juggling athletics, my social life, and academics I got tempted to take the easy way out. Or maybe I just loathed the book “The Scarlet Letter” so much that I didn’t care to put in the effort. Whatever the reason, I wrote a half-assed essay that took me a fraction of the time to complete because I thought it’d be a good idea to pass off some Cliff Note ideas as my own. It was plagiarism at its purest form.
When I got my paper handed back it had a sticky note from my English teacher. She wanted to see me in her office immediately. That day I got fierce lecture about how wrong it was to not quote another person’s work. She was not impressed with me, to say the least. Not being used to getting in trouble I was extremely embarrassed. But, I also knew I could do better so I asked for another chance. She stuck to her decision and wouldn’t offer any wiggle room for a re-do.
I had no choice but to swallow the massive chunk of humble pie and proceeded through the rest of the semester with laser focus, and motivation. In short, I had to work my tail off the rest of the semester just to counter-weigh my stupid mistake.
That same semester I had a classmate who was also caught cheating. She not only plagiarized, but actually went as far as submitting a former student’s entire report. This was not just any assignment, however. It was the mother of all reports — the infamous sophomore English report that determined if you passed on to junior year, or you had to spend precious summer time getting it right.
I was shocked to hear this student gloating about how she got a slap on the wrist and was let off the hook. That day, I marched into the English department demanding to know why two different punishments were handed out. The exact words from a teacher I really trusted were, “She [the English teacher] was in-between a rock and a hard spot.” I pried deeper to find out this classmate had parents that were high in the food chain of the school district. To be more clear, one of her parents was a big deciding force in the salaries of the teachers in the school.
That day I instantly got a true glimpse of how real inequalities were in my school, and it couldn’t have tasted more bitter. How could there be two different set of rules for basically the same crime? At the time I was upset my classmate had parents who had pull and I didn’t. It put us in different camps, and it was clear she was in the one where one didn’t have to pay for their mistakes. This incident also showed me how a certain level of cheating was an accepted part of success for some, and lastly how some teachers we admired were capable of turning a blind eye to the crime.
I definitely learned my lesson and then told myself it was an isolated case in our high school. There can’t really be different rules for the for the some folks in the real world, right? I was so naive. In the years that followed we all witnessed corruption on many levels in American society. Just to name a few: numerous banks got let off the hook after they falsified documents, Wall Street sold worthless housing securities which caused our entire economy to crumble, and most recently we saw a massive university acceptance scam that had mommies and daddies cheating the system to ensure their already privileged kids got into prestigious universities.
Call me cynical, but I’ve seen enough corruption over the years to know not to hold my breath in hopes of change or fairness. I know there will always be individuals who are willing to pay to play by different rules.
And as shameful and immoral as I think it all is, I’d rather be in the camp that does play by the rules, the one where social status or family connections won’t buy or help one cheat their way through life. Being one of the “rule followers” leaves no question as to who a person really is and what they’re really made of. In essence, it gives individuals a profound notion of self-worth, something that a person won’t ever truly know if they’ve got people in high places bending the rules for them.