NPF: CHEATING

Posted in No Politics Friday on January 22nd, 2010 by Ed

You don't need experience teaching at the college level to figure out that students don't go to office hours until immediately before (as in, the day of) and after exams. This phenomenon gives rise to one of my favorite awkward/terrible moments in academia. In the last hour before an exam a parade of frenetic students pass through the office to deliver unintelligible bursts of words at a mile-a-minute, pupils unnaturally dilated and extremities restlessly twitching. Let's just say the studying to Exam Day Adderall Abuse ratio is lopsided in favor of the latter.

Adderall is amphetamine combined with Dexedrine, the wonder drug that brought you such hits as Charles Whitman in a bell tower. That its effects are so similar to methamphetamine should not be surprising. As any high school or college student can tell you, it's a pretty potent performance enhancer that makes focus and concentration easier (at low doses). Not only is it readily available from peers but doctors give it out like candy irrespective of the fact that it's basically speed. There isn't a lot of careful drug-seeking behavior necessary; I'm pretty sure people between the ages of 13 and 21 just have to say "I have trouble concentrating in school" and they'll be full of uppers in no time.

Is taking Adderall or Ritalin or whatever before an exam cheating? Well, it's performance enhancing. It's not "natural." So inasmuch as you think Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, or Floyd Landis are cheaters, I guess the students are too. We get a lot of mileage out of belittling high-profile steroid cheaters like Mark McGwire, but we have little trouble ignoring other kinds of drug-related cheating.

Admit it, when the Atlantic blew the lid off the drug-addled world of classical music (seriously, your average violinist or cellist pops beta blockers like Pez before auditions and performances) you didn't get indignant and label them all cheaters. It seemed kinda funny, right? The idea of performance-enhancement for playing the tuba was just too silly to serve as the basis for moral outrage. Don't hold your breath waiting for Congress to grill the Boston Pops in the name of fairness and setting a good example for our youngsters.

We really do have a problem in this society with the win-at-all-costs mentality and subjective morality; like all drugs, Americans are willing to do some significant rationalization for the ones upper-middle class people use. Mr. McGwire's media moment last week cast our hypocrisy in high relief. Like many Americans I believe he and the other glandular freaks of baseball are cheaters, but perhaps we should enforce a little consistency in applying that label.

(Recommended reading/viewing: The Cheating Culture by David Callahan and the 2008 documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster*)