More than 30 students have been suspended from Berkeley High School for breaking into the school’s attendance system and changing records. We begin with a look at the Berkeley High scandal, and then we’ll discuss cheating more generally with David Callahan, author of “The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead.”

Callahan explores cheating in academics, banking, medicine, real estate and beyond.

Pasquale Scuderi, principal of Berkeley High School
David Callahan, author and senior fellow at Demos, a multi-issue national organization
Quan Tran, student at Berkeley High School and chief of service of the Associated Student Body at Berkeley High

  • We see the rich getting away with major crimes like creating the housing bubble through mortgage fraud, as the Wall St banks did, or stealing $1 billion from their customers’ accounts, which MF Global did with impunity thanks to Obama’s and the SEC’s complicity, and yet we act surprised that kids think it’s OK to break the rules?

    • Correction it was $1.6 billion that MF Global stole from small investors. MF Global are exempt from the law because their head Jon Corzine is ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs, and Goldman Sachs was the main funder of Obama’s campaign. Goldman Sachs is the company that helped Greece conceal huge debts in order to get entry into the EU, which then led to the Greek financial crisis.




      Kids who are reading this will know there is nothing they can do, short of murder, that will make them bigger criminals than the crooks on Wall St.

  • dorcom

    Cheating is an American cultural value. Honesty is punished or one looses out.
    “Fake it ’til you make it!”
    The more reckless the more one gets ahead.
    The cultivated results of the Western default dogma and ideology: “Fast and Easy”.

    Robert Dorner

  • Ayn Marx 666

    A winner-take-all culture will inevitably become a cheating culture.  For those able to cheat (or think they are) and feeling the need to do, and the alternative were the secular damnation that poverty (and/or soul-killing alienated labour) has turned into….

  • Paravieja

    Went to college in Hawaii, where there is a large european population at the private colleges, they all made fun of me for not cheating.  One italian friend just copied an italian thesis to english.  I was told not cheating is an american value.

  • Doug

    There’s a connection between the cult of celebrity and increased cheating. As society values flash in the pan notoriety, nothing matters except “getting there”.

  • OldFogey?

    Cheating is not just limited to students. I’ve taken many college courses as an adult student & have seen many cases of cheating … one gal next to me copied another’ person’s homework right in front of the professor — when I told her that I would turn her in if she turned the homework in, she was incredulous that I would do this and asked me what was wrong with me… the same university, I was struggling through a calculus course…on the day before the final exam, I knew I had not grasped the material…the professor told me that he would pass me if I got at least a very small percentage & it just didn’t seem right to me…I withdrew before the exam. The next semester I ran into him & he told me he was going to pass me but I told him I couldn’t accept a grade that I didn’t deserve. I retook the course, different professor, struggled but got an well-earned B…In several other classes, grades were “curved” so ridiculously that all you had to do was show up…

    My point is this: all of this devalues the whole education — the cheating as well as the grade curving…we’ve become a nation of pulling everyone up to the detriment of real knowledge.

    • JenK

      Yes.  I have a friend who used to teach middle school math in an inner-city district.  She was instructed to give all students at least a 50% on their midterm grade cards–even if the students hadn’t turned in a single bit of work.  The administration reasoned that a student cannot bring up a 0% to a passing grade, but they might be able to bring a 50% up to a D-.  She wasn’t “allowed” to fail an entire class, and she had to follow ridiculous rules like letting students turn in any assignment for the entire year or giving students credit for trying.  These were middle school kids who couldn’t count without using their fingers–it’s no wonder how they got that far with so few skills.   Much of this was in the interest of protecting the students’ self-esteem; some of it was in the interest of getting the “bad kids” out of the building as quickly as possible.   What motivation do those kids have for learning when they know they will be passed anyway?  What’s going to happen when they enter the workforce or try to go to college?  These will be the students who tell me that they deserve an A because they turned something in for the final paper, even if they copied from Wikipedia.

  • thmazing


    The school I teach at is working on this problem. How helpful are techniques such as signed honor codes, the teaching of ethics, etc? What sort of punishments result in cultural change?

  • Best

    What is the rate of cheating in other countries viewed as highly competitive such as India, China, Israel 

  • Vishali

    I also think that another piece of this is our denial about being cheaters.  The fact that we take the high ground when looking down at cultures like India and Pakistan where bribery is completely overt, and we can claim moral superiority by keeing it covert. To me its the same old double standard the west has toward any other culture we do not understand….. if we admit we are the same, just more invested in cover-ups, our whole culture is in question.

  • Marshall

    Do you think that there would have been more or less cheating in Germany under the NAZI regime? What might that say about the larger moral implications of cheating?

  • Another form of cheating is cheating in relationships.  Did your guest do any studies on this sort of cheating?

  • JenK

    I teach English online for a university.  It seems to me that some students who cheat don’t register the act as dishonest; they simply see it as a means to an end.  They think that the goal of going to college is to get an A in all or most classes so they can get a degree and get a good job.  How they get that A is irrelevant.  They think that I want to see a perfect persuasive essay, and if that means they get it from a paper mill online, they feel like they’ve fulfilled the requirements.  It doesn’t register with some of these folks that what I want to see is how well they can present their own ideas in their own writing; they are disconnected from the skills I’m looking for and are focused only on the end product.

    Another factor could be the consumer mentality.  Students think that they should get a certain grade because they have paid tuition to the university.  I have actually had students say something to the effect of, “I didn’t pay for this class to fail it, so I want you to raise my grade because I am a paying customer.”  This wasn’t just limited to the online environment, either–students in face-to-face classes expressed the same “customer-is-right” attitude.  There is no value for learning itself; they just want a degree to get a job with as little effort as possible.

  • Bozo_de_niro

    When I attended Berkeley, I resold the belts i used for crib notes in physics and chemistry. Admittedly they were always a little large, but that was necessary to accommodate the inflation on a number of fronts. 

  • Srdjanab

    this is showing that the educational system is wrong. it is driven by mediocrities, there is no selection in public school system because you go to school per location where you live instead having schools ranked per performance: for instance one school is for the top ranked students from middle school – there should be entrance test and middle school needs to be more selective in grading, there should be more grades not only A, B and C. If there are multiple selective steps to get to the right college and when educational system becomes more selective, also teachers should know their students after few months teaching  and be able to modify grades based on oral exams. cheating in few tests will not play any role in that case. there are many changes to the systemm that can be inplemented that will make cheating absolete. just as this can be done on all levels as in economy and politics etc.

  • GoldmanSachsScammers

    If we narcissistic, phoney, money-grubbing Americans were all such superhuman over-performing winners as we collectively claim to be, we would not need to cheat.

  • Shac

     Shariff, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, co-published a
    study recently that found that students who see God as vengeful or
    punishing were less likely to cheat than those who saw God as more
    loving or forgiving.

  • Ian

    I wonder whether what you’re describing reflects an evolving attitude toward information.  I went to school not too long ago, but it feels like a different era.  I felt that, as a student in the university, I was gaining access to proprietary information, organized in a thoughtful way and whatever I thought of the professors personally, I thought of them as more or less exclusive curators of this information.  I am now on the faculty at the medical school at UCSF, and modern educational philosophy seems more geared toward learning how to tap into freely accessible information than toward mastering this information personally.  When I am lecturing, most of the students have their laptops out and are presumably reading corroborative sources.  They seem no longer to view the information as exclusive or proprietary, and their professors are one source among many equal sources of information.

  • Anne

    BERKELEY CHEATS – One of may ways Berkeley students have been TAUGHT to cheat is that parents WHO DO NOT LIVE IN BERKELEY are registering their children into Berkeley schools, specifically instructing their children to lie to other students, teachers, and administrators.

    • Ian

       That adds an interesting wrinkle to the discussion.

      • Particularly given that at least one of the students suspended for fraud is also fraudulently enrolled.  So the message in Berkeley schools is that it’s OK to cheat your way in for 13 years of education, but it’s not OK to cheat your way out for a single period.

        Moral troubles aside, there’s also an economic rationale:  attendance fraud can cost the district money (state funds are tied to enrollment).  Enrollment fraud can earn the district money (higher enrollment == more state funds).

    • Garth

       OK, so demand that the school require that parents provide proof of residence? If each of the people posting messages to this comment area were to make a call to Berkeley city council about this, it could be solved.

      • Anonymous

         The district has no interest curbing enrollment fraud.

      • It’s the Board’s action, not the city council.  And they (the board) have ignored my repeated requests to have an agenda item about enrollment fraud, even though the state education code requires them to grant such requests.  We have a petition with solutions for tackling the problem, which the school board members have openly and repeatedly acknowledged, but they are non-responsive.

        And just about every school district requires parents to provide proof of residence, even districts that few would bother to lie their way into.

        The problem in Berkeley is that the standard of proof is very low and cheaters take full advantage of that.  

        • Romulus

           Sounds like the state attorney general should get involved. I mean, it’s racketeering isn’t it?

          • I don’t have the expertise to say re: racketeering. The Civil Grand Jury has jurisdiction over bodies like the school board, however.

  • Garth

    In some cases, minorities cheat using the justification that majority whites have a special advantage. And yet, tell that to the tens of millions of whites who are dirt poor, under-educated and working multiple part-time jobs, who are more numerous than minorities.

  • Randy Kunkee

    What about sports? Often we see a replay that shows a player is really cheating (football, basketball, etc.). I’m picturing some player who traps the ball under him, hoping the referee will get the call wrong. In pro basketball, players pretend they didn’t touch the ball when they know they did. Obvious cheaters like this should be penalized thousands of dollars  after the game. Doesn’t the lack of punishment here teach children that cheating works?

  • jenn

    I don’t think that cheating is necessarily due to a lack of morals.  A lot of rules and laws may not mesh with a person’s morals.   While I’m not saying that cheating is always a good thing, I think it can lead to beneficial thing (civil disobedience, etc).  I’m not sure if I hears correctly earlier, but is I did, and some students hacked a computer system at their school to change attendance records, I see NOTHING wrong with that.  If they’re bright enough to hack into the school’s records, they’re probably not going to have issues passing their final exams.  Who cares about attendance?  Why does that even matter?  This is an example of a rule that makes no sense, and in my mind is NOT immoral to break/cheat about.

    • jenn


    • Randy Kunkee

      Then you should see NOTHING wrong when they hack your bank account either.

      Hacking the school records may seem cute, and does show a certain skill, even brightness. I don’t think it necessarily proves an inclination towards future criminal behavior, but it does make me wonder about how they will execute judgement / self management in the future.

  • Brian

    Cheating is found in every competitive environment by those who are powerless to make or change the rules. People who make the rules can never cheat, by definition, because it is a simple matter of changing or making new rules before any rules are broken.  The idea of “cheating” applies only to the powerless who live under the rules created by the powerful.

  • JennyK

    I believe a large part of the problem is that we praise our kids so much for their success, and not their effort. Kids get money for good grades. “You’re so smart. You’re so fast. You’re so good at spelling, you didn’t even have to study!” What we need to start doing is recognizing our kid for their actions. Praise them for persevering through a difficult assignment. I recently told my daughter, “I love how you always ask the teacher to explain the parts that don’t make sense to you.” I tell my son, “I know you don’t care for writing, and I noticed how you took your time to do a good job instead of rushing it to get it done quickly.” Studies have shown that kids who have always come by success easily are the first to give up when there is a challenge. Are they also the first to cheat?

  • Garth

    Example of a cheat: Shoe company shuts down production in the USA and shifts production to China or India, where costs are one tenth, but never passes on any savings to the customer.

  • Arsine8701

    Why wouldn’t students want to cheat. It seems no one can get ahead legitimately and if you do it will be in a field where you make less money than cheaters. It’s sad but CEOs and sports athletes thatcheat and live by being selfish make millions of dollars a year but teachers who educate the youth of the country are barely scrapping by 🙁

  • Tim

    I don’t want this remark to be taken as an excuse for the perpetrators, but as a Berkeley High parent I can tell you that the attendance system there has serious legitimacy problems. I’ve been very frustrated with the incompetence of attendance taking at the school, & feel strongly that it needs to come clean about its own failings. The very day this event came out in the news we had a robocall from the school reporting that my kid was absent from class for several periods that day. She was—because she was taking part in a school event which she’d been invited to take part in. She’d followed carefully the directions about checking in so that her attendance would be properly recorded, but still the school failed to record her attendance. She has also repeatedly had teachers fail to record her attendance or correct excused absences. She’s had “f” grades show up on her records because of attendance taking mistakes. They were corrected by the school because they were such obvious mistakes and easy to prove. Nonetheless the incompetence goes on. Does all this undermine respect for the school? You bet. This is no excuse for kids hacking the system, but the less legitimacy the system has, the harder it is to blame the kids.

    On top of this, the school has had an overly punitive “high-stakes” approach that has back-fired and forced it to change the penalties just last month.

    In light of this, I’m afraid Principal Scuderi’s complaints about integrity rang hollow. Integrity is also a function of competence. Students might respect their teachers and administrators more if those “models” knew how to count—and were more honest and forthcoming about their own responsibility for a very flawed system.

    • Ayn Marx 666

      In the eyes of people who want all (at least) local power for themselves, the exercise of power by anyone else is considered ‘cheating’.

      Similarly, poisoning, a method of murder available to men and women, master and servant, has always been considered somehow more dastardly than being able to lift a dirty great sword and use it well.

      It has long seemed to me that anarchists and fascists both live in a world where there is fundamentally nothing but power—but that the fascists make the mistake of taking that to be normative, and also ignore most of the sorts of power available in favour of only the very butchest sorts.  Anarchists know that powers of persuasion, of a good example set before people, and the basic primate decency almost all of us possess are forces to be reckoned-with.

  • Tim

    Once again schools are a conduit for all of our anxieties about the world. Let’s keep a sense of proportion here and not forget that these are kids. They are not, in all likelihood, brain-damaged career sociopaths. They are learning; they are growing up. And that process—which is, after all, the business of schools— REQUIRES kids to make mistakes. One thing we could use incidents like this to teach them is that everyone messes up; what matters is whether you learn from your mistakes and what you do to rectify the damage you’ve done.

    While I agree with the guest’s critique—yes, we’re a dog-eat-dog society; unethical behavior is too often rewarded—that doesn’t mean every moral error reflects some massive problem that endemic to the entire society, especially when we’re dealing with children. Kids make ethical mistakes. That’s why we don’t hand them the responsibilities adults have. If the kids who did this interpreted it the way we’re framing it, as part of a whole huge, pervasive and hopelessly daunting “culture of cheating”, they couldn’t be blamed for coming to the conclusion NOT that they need to learn to check their personal behavior but that the problem is way bigger than anything a kid can possibly be expected to take responsibility for—and in any case it’s a problem created by adults.

    Once again in education the way we frame the problems and the “fixes” that framing leads us to threaten to make things even worse. Once again schools, and all the power they have to shape our future, are a conduit for all of our fears and doubts as a society. Once again, in approaching the problems of education we’re terrified of mistakes and think we need to figure out a way for EVERY child to have PERFECT grades and never make a single mistake. (NCLB mandated 100% proficiency by 2014? What are the grown-ups smoking?, any healthy kid would ask.) As adults, we need to check our behavior in how we frame, and address, this issue.

  • Matt

    The college I attended had a zero tolerance policy for cheating – you got caught, you got an F.  Cheating was, therefore, non-existent.  We could fix the problem tomorrow by instituting the same type of policy, and making an example of those who insist on trying to cheat.  But we won’t.  We’d rather wring our hands and blame Wall St.  Feels better, doesn’t it?

  • sy2502

    The problem is also that parents focus only on grades, not on learning. And especially some parents (tiger moms, parents who get their self esteem from their kids, etc) can put enormous pressure on the kids about grades. No wonder that the kids resort to shortcuts to produce them!

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