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Cheating: Competition’s Great Equalizer? – OpEd


Back in the wild-and-woolly days of the American West – encompassing much of the second half of the nineteenth century – the Colt revolver was said to be the “great equalizer.” It promised to wipe out any gap between weak and strong, claiming to put every man at the same level of strength – beastly level, one need to add.

In a capitalist world where competitiveness appears to be the only “worthwhile” trait to have in order to survive and thrive, ethics be damned, we seem to have found a new version of the great equalizer; one which doesn’t shoot bullets but which narrows or makes go away the gap between the more gifted and the gifted-not. It’s called cheating, and it can operate in any field of endeavor. In Western societies, ours to be sure, we excel in its use in politics, economics, business, education… and the more obvious these days, in terms of press coverage, in sports – through the use of illegal drugs.

Cheating has achieved art form, particularly in business, politics and sports; and the public has come to accept this cheating behavior shrugging their shoulders. “They all do it” has become the rationalization to accept not just the fame and celebrity of major personalities (sports heroes), but also the detrimental acts so often perpetrated by those who yield power over us: business moguls and politicians. “They all do it” rationale has brought us all to the level of co-conspirators since this is a game we all must play; there’s no room for spectators since the outcome of those acts affect not just our well-being, but the dignity, or lack of it, in which we view ourselves.

If cheating is so endemic in our capitalist way of life, why do we act so surprised when it affects other areas of our society, such as religion, the judicial system, and now education? Aren’t some areas sacrosanct, immune to major scandals? Definitely not! Capitalism without appropriate rules and controls also implies competition without rules or controls. And in this environment of the survival of the fittest, fittest being people who possess the wealth and power, those who disagree with the politics and policies of the rules-imposers feel that they, too, need a great equalizer.

And that happens to be the problem we face these days in American education. The biggest cheating scandal to date, other than perhaps the cheating scandal by the midshipmen at Annapolis in 1993, has just been made public by the office of Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, via a released report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; a report that names 178 teachers, school principals and administrators in a conspiracy to fix answers on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), and also punish whistle-blowers.

The Atlanta public school system, where the cheating took place became a model to emulate by thousands of other school systems in the nation. It was also rewarded with additional funding from the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation. Yet, the rise in scores which took place during last decade in this large school district had to do solely with teachers and principals erasing and changing test answers.

And what has happened in Atlanta could turn out to be the prevalent theme throughout the nation, something we are not ready to admit. And why is this occurring? Are teachers as a group less ethical than members of other professions? A resounding no to that; it’s simply that teachers became the guinea pig, were marched against the execution wall by a capitalist system that sees competition, no matter how unjust or unreasonable, as the only answer to everything in society.

Against teachers’ reasoning that quantifying improvement was a monumental task at best, and something inoperable at worst, teachers were forced by the political system to reluctantly accept “improvement” as the one and only option. Not only were all variables hard to measure in order to establish a base in a society not just ethno-socially diversified, but economically growing more and more unequal. And with the economy playing havoc with those in the lower economic strata in these past four years, more and more people becoming poor and homeless, how are you going to account for a base that is deteriorating? No… don’t blame the politicians, just blame the teachers for our economic and social ills!

Unfortunately what happened in Atlanta, and most likely repeated in much of the country, has played into the hands of proponents of rapacious and heartless capitalism that see competition, often unhealthy competition, as the basis for a just society while, in effect, the opposite is true. Sadly, those teachers, principals and administrators who cheated did so out of selfishness and perhaps their own survival, instead of standing in solidarity with others in their profession.

The Colt revolver was the wrong kind of equalizer in the 1800’s and cheating is the wrong kind of equalizer in the 2000’s. Hopefully, a lesson has been learned.

Ben Tanosborn

Ben Tanosborn is a syndicated columnist. Over a decade ago he started writing a weekly sociopolitical column, 'Behind the Mirror,' hoping to bring new perspectives that would allow us to see ourselves with borrowed eyes. He can be reached at [email protected]

One thought on “Cheating: Competition’s Great Equalizer? – OpEd

  • July 8, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Such a view on cheating is only showing now because the results are showing up inside the dominant system. Others not inside the dominant structure have been pointing out problems for years. Most ‘cheating’ works to maintain a structure or certain way or privileges. If you look for those patterns, cheating is obviously widespread, normal, part of the culture.


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