CheatingThe pressure on young people to be high achievers is immense. Only the smallest fraction gain access to the keys to success in academia and sport. When a substantial proportion making “the cut” have done so through cheating, the fabric of our society is in danger.

When acceptance to the most prestigeous colleges is dependent upon test scores, and many of the applicants have subverted the process, then truly deserving exemplary performers are denied access unless they also cheat. When ethical applicants are excluded because their honest performance in testing cannot match those who have the answers, we are selecting cheaters for the leadership positions in our society.

When our popular heroes in sports regularly are caught in using steroids, packed red blood cells and other prohibited substances to enhance their performance, this sends a message to our youth that not only is it OK to cheat, but it is necessary to do so to succeed.

When our school administrators and teachers design systems to stack the deck in standardized tests as part of the No Child Left Behind program they set a standard which condones similar actions on the part of their students.

There are several obvious methods to decrease the likelihood of successful cheating: Major League Baseball could institute drug testing for all players before each game. Standardized testing can work using randomized large question pools where each individual test is unique.

Draconian penalties for cheating might also help – Steroid use means disqualification for the season, cheating on a test means failure of the course, etc. Unfortunately, those who would cheat are ingenious, and nearly any methods to limit cheating will eventually be subverted.

The greatest danger in abiding cheating is the contagion that it presents. When it is required for high achievers to cheat to get through the gates of success, then all who have made it through those gates to high positions are cheaters, capable or not.

This bodes ill for society. The cheating ethic then becomes the norm for all of business – all entrepreneurs must seek to become “Robber Barons” or else they are bound to fail, because their competitors will cheat. All polititians will use unethical means to get elected and become enriched.

What can we do to change this trend in society?