Cheating on your math homework

The student I caught cheating, having copied answers from an old solution sheet, asked to speak with me after class. He came to my office to explain himself, saying he’d found the solutions by “looking around on Google.” “I didn’t know they were yours.”

Interesting logic. It would be ok to copy somebody else’s solutions, just not mine?

He went on, “I didn’t mean to copy. I was just looking for inspiration.”

More interesting logic. If he didn’t mean to copy, why did he copy? (Word-for-word, in fact, apart from a few errors of sloppy transcription.)

The most interesting bit of logic was the apology he repeated over and over again (it was hard to get this young man out of my office),

“I’m sorry.”

This is the subtle one. To say “I’m sorry” wasn’t completely beside the point, I suppose, since his cheating annoyed me, but then again, it didn’t feel right. It’s not me who was the main victim of his breaking the rules. Society is a machine that depends upon people staying more or less in line. As we struggle to keep it running smoothly, we must remember that it’s human nature to make things personal, to seek absolution from the professor.

[24 September 2015]

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