Richard Wilkinson, professor emeritus of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, indeed found that
… trust levels were highest—between 50 and 60 percent—in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Utah, and Wisconsin where the gap between the top and bottom income levels was the lowest. In states where income inequality was highest, like Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia, trust levels were lowest, below 30 percent.
The Chronicle of Higher Education also points out that people in countries with greater income inequality (Australia, Portugal, the United States) trust each other far less than those from the social democracies of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.
Neville’s research does shed a different light on cheating. He suggests that, if cheating and income inequality are connected, honor codes could help solve the problem as such would “help foster trust in our colleges and classrooms.” His study focuses on cheating as a practice of students seeking to get ahead of other students.
But shouldn’t we also address the deeper issue of income disparity and address the pressures on lower-income students — needing to complete schoolwork and maintain their GPA while having to work and take care of family members while wanting to act like everything is ok — that may lead them to cheat?
Students, Teachers and the Classroom Social Contract
A final note. Cheating is also about student-teacher interactions. As a professor who, like many college teachers, not only has to have a plagiarism policy but has to explain and enforce it, I have felt a violation of trust — a breach in the social contract of the classroom — when a student plagiarizes written work. I’ve tried to create written assignments that can’t simply be copied from internet sources and to require more in-class essays and oral presentations. With the latter, students are assessed on skills such as public speaking and their use of visual materials.
In an age when companies are suing each other over patent infringements and intellectual property is a hot topic, students need, more than ever, to understand that plagiarizing doesn’t pay. But we also need to be aware of underlying reasons for why a student feels compelled to cheat.
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