ying and cheating in a classroom environment are behaviors often viewed as characteristic of a class’s worst-performing students: those who are irresponsible and inattentive and just trying to get by. But interestingly, a survey conducted by The Oracle demonstrated that the average cheater at Gunn strives for much more than a passing grade. When surveyed students were asked to describe all of the reasons that they cheat, the most popular answer was, of course, “I want to improve my grades.” A closer look at other popular responses, however, helps reveal a common theme among them: 14.7 percent of students said that they decide to cheat because they want to look intelligent, 18.8 percent said that they cheat because their peers cheat and 38.6 percent said that they would not have time to finish their schoolwork without cheating. Though the survey focused mainly on academic dishonesty, its results expose Gunn students’ strong preoccupation with academic performance as it relates to self-image.
The pressure to be an academic genius penetrates both the social and academic life of the modern student. Many students want to receive good grades without studying, but since they know that they do not have the brainpower to do so, they cheat, lie or do both. They may cheat to display to their peers that the course material is a breeze for them, or lie to further develop their image of being a star student. They may hide the fact that they have studied hours for a test they performed well on, or even feign inattention during lectures to indicate that they could not care less about the subject they perform so well in. In this way, even teachers are affected by their students’ insecurities. Under the more pernicious stages of this behavior, students fall to insulting the very people who help to cultivate their so-valued intelligence. These students often have such a perfect social image that it proves difficult for their teachers or peers to imagine that academics do not come easily to them, and that they in fact work the hardest to keep up—work that includes both studying and manipulation of social image. In The Oracle’s survey, nearly half of the students surveyed said that they “most of the time” or “always” feel academically inferior to their peers at Gunn.
Natural intelligence is revered by some students to a point at which one can believe that they would enjoy schools in which pupils enter, take an IQ test, and then leave to seek employment. Ironically, though these students strive for an image of sophistication and intelligence, their behavior is similar to how teenagers on social media sites misrepresent their physical looks in an effort to appear attractive. Both of these behaviors appear neurotic within a larger perspective; both stem from the rising pressure within young adults to perfect their social image.
By far the most ridiculous aspect of this behavior is that it has only one purpose: to bolster the student’s image within a single learning institution, which furthermore instills in the student not only a shallow sense of satisfaction—for the student knows his or her true mental abilities — but also a stronger desire to continue putting forth this image. It appears that this phenomenon could result in a cycle of deteriorating self-confidence and further lying. Additionally, by expending effort to make themselves appear more intelligent, students waste time that could have been spent in pursuit of true understanding of course material, on extracurricular activities enjoyed not for the sake of their placement on college applications, or simply on sleep. And the declining respect for teachers that also results from this behavior could lead to future problems in the workplace, where high regard for authority is key.
It is truly unfortunate that this obsession with academic image has pushed students to go to class to show their teachers that they do not care about learning, to cheat on tests to show their peers that they are geniuses, to study only in secret, to take the greatest pains to put down those who do care about learning—in short, to waste their time in an endeavor that is not only pointless but, ironically, stupid.