"We are trapped in the exam hall," said the text message. "Students are smashing things and trying to break in."
Clearly, the annual college entrance tests were not going as planned.
This year, 54 proctors from around China had been brought in to Zhongxiang with a mission: Prevent cheating. It was a reaction to the discovery last year that 99 students in that testing facility had turned in identical papers. Officials had decided that something needed to be done.
The proctors used metal detectors to find transmitters. Male and female students were frisked, and cell phones found in underwear were confiscated. During the test, patrols around the site uncovered groups trying to radio messages to students taking the test.
Proctors Earning Combat Pay
It all worked, until the parents arrived to pick up the students. Outraged to learn that their children were prevented from cheating, the parents turned on the proctors. A mob of 2,000 angry people cornered the proctors, throwing rocks, smashing cars, and chanting, "We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat."
That awkward-sounding protest frames the problem beautifully: Cheating has become so widespread and pervasive that the focus has shifted from how to stop it to how to become good at it. If that's the world our children are inheriting, the reasoning goes, then it's our job to make sure that they can succeed in it.
Let Mom Do It!
In France, this week, another parent stepped up (or in) to help during the college entrance exams. A 52-year-old mom dressed up as her 19-year-old daughter in Paris to take part of her test. The proctor, who had seen the daughter in a previous test, knew something was wrong and called the police. Police did not want to compromise the testing environment for the other students, so the mom was allowed to complete the hours-long exam, before she was escorted away.
Here in the U.S., as graduation season winds down, college professors are passing around a photo someone says was found on Facebook. In it, a college grad appears to be thanking the powers that made it possible for her to succeed: "Wiki n Copy/Paste."
Worldwide, the choice is clear, if not easy: Does it make more sense to accept that the system has become so perverted that success requires cheating? Or is there a point to fighting the trend and doing something to make cheating be the unacceptable exception, rather than the norm?