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Why Kids Cheat at Harvard

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The article “Why kids cheat at Harvard” by Howard Gardner appeared in the Tribune-Review on Monday, September 10, 2012. The writer – a former Harvard student, researcher, and currently a professor – reflects on the recent cheating scandal at Harvard and its ramifications for ethics and professionalism in education. Howards begins with expressing both surprise and disappointment with those excellent undergraduates he had known and communicated with so well. He had been delighted by their intellectual ability and capacity for hard work, compassion, and learning from others. However, to writer’s disappointment, the hard, honest work and the drive for success in these young people did not appear to coincide. The writer noticed one major evil in many modern students, including those at Harvard, that is, they were often willing to cut corners in order to be successful and outdo their peers. In conclusion, Howard expressed hope that educators would learn the Harvard lesson and change the goal messages they send to students.

Howard presents his readership with a very knowledgeable piece of writing, filled with his inside experiences as Harvard former graduate and current professor. He pursues an idea that he was famous for in one of his previous works, that is, the problems of ethics and professionalism in education. Howard claims that, along with good work, perseverance, and other valuable academic talents, it is also important to adhere to certain ethical principles in the pursuit of success. The author implies that it is not the same to be a good student and an ethical student. To support his claim, Howard uses several vivid examples about widely recognized professionals who, in their want of success, were lying about their qualifications or inflating their resumes.

Howards’ article is a response to the September scandal involving over 100 Harvard’s students in the “Introduction to Congress” class, who were alleged in cheating on their final exam. This story also serves as a vivid example of how the best and the brightest could get reduced to questionable practices in their drive for success. Thereby, the author finds an outlet to his idea that “market ways of thinking” have an adverse effect on the goals of the growing generation (Howard TP4). For example, Howard complains that the traditional view of academic success, i.e., becoming a prominent scholar and educator, are being replaced by the craving for luxurious lifestyles of Hollywood movie stars or Wall Street traders (TP8). Since these goals are defeating the intended purpose of education in elite schools, Howard says, they are also laden with ethical concerns. He discovered the fear in many students that “their peers were cutting corners and that if they themselves behaved ethically, they would be bested” (TP5). Howard skillfully used those examples to back his claim that, nowadays, hard work does not necessarily lead to success, whereas many believe it does.

Howard also comes up with convincing examples of how the problem should and should not be addressed. He rightfully defends the idea that the punishments for such academic malpractices as plagiarism or cheating should be applied to both students and professors in equal measure (TP9). He makes a reservation that although such wide publicity may tarnish the reputation of Harvard and the famous people associated with it, such stories usually teach good lessons (TP10).

The article by Howard is compelling for two reasons. First, he is a recognized authority as a professor of the world’s top university and co-author of the book Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet. Thus, his ideas merit attention, as they are well researched and extensively backed by examples, including the author’s own. Second, Howard makes the points which instantly grasp the mind of a wide audience, including students and scholars. He opens up the veil from inside the finest university in the world and suggests that it also has issues to deal with. I think it is the depth and significance of Howard’s message that propelled me to pick his article for analysis, an article which also gave me some food for thought and new perspectives on my own goals.

In response to the writer, I would say that the problems of ethics and professionalism in education, indeed, require immediate attention. In the age of consumerism and unequal distribution of resources, people would always try to do what it takes to rise above others in career, education, or influence. I totally concur with the author on the idea that ethics should form the core of “good work” and that there is nothing wrong with a lavish lifestyle, unless the path to it builds up on lie and neglect of other people’s needs. On this occasion, I would also like to elaborate on the writer rebutting that, as long as the person is a hard worker, cheating or lying about his or her credentials can be excused (TP7). While being good enough at things can give you an advantage over honest people, this advantage is not permanent. There always comes a time when past misdeeds come to the light and the guilty are punished. In such a way, the writer conveys a powerful image that, without due punishment, the conversation on morale loses any sense. Therefore, I agree with the writer that it takes not only revealing the unethical act, but also punishing it appropriately in order for others to learn the lesson and stay away from deceiving others in pursuit of success.

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