Wishing That Golf’s Values Applied Off The Course

I have in recent weeks found myself engaged in a covert war with my students over their clandestine use of cell phones and texting to cheat on tests.

Students apparently are using their phones to record test questions, and then texting them to students taking the exams in later classes. I have suspected this for some time, but have not been able to actually catch one in the act. Young people are extraordinarily clever with those little devices, and can operate them with one hand, without looking at the keyboard. Phones are banned at school and carry a three day suspension for possession, but huge numbers of students conceal them in their clothing—in their waistbands, under sweaters and shirts, and for the girls—in their huge faux-designer handbags. It’s impossible to know whether a kid is scratching his armpit, or texting under the shirt.

A recent email from a concerned parent has, however, confirmed my suspicions of their actions, and I now am preparing for a full scale assault. The problem is how to stop the practice without without being overt, or resorting to more secure, but less equitable and educationally sound procedures.

Every teacher has their students clear the desks before a test and put their material under their chairs. But that doesn’t’ stop the hidden phones. Moreover, simply demanding that they stop and spending my time trying to catch them is just silly. The students will win that war, and a primary strategic rule is never to get engaged in a battle that you can’t win. If I become the cell phone gestapo, they still will manage to sneak them under my nose. And every student that gets away with using their phone just makes me look weak and ineffective—not a good position when you’re in a tank filled with sharks.

Administering different tests to different classes doesn’t strike me as fair. No matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to equalize the difficulty or focus of the material. Even if the material is the same, rewording a question can have an effect on the outcome. Parents these days come with lawyers attached, and if one gets the idea that her kid’s test was more difficult than her neighbors’, I will hear about it from administration.

I’m therefore left with offering different versions of the same test—mixing up the order of the questions, and the answer choices (In this age of high-stakes testing, data collection and disaggregation, all tests now are multiple choice). While that doesn’t solve the problem of question leakage, it at least prevents someone from texting out answer letters for others to memorize. On the next test day therefore, I will have four different versions in play.

I’m saddened that I have to spend such time working on such counter-measures. There always has been cheating in schools but it was for the most part confined to the truly desperate. Moreover, the available methods were well-known and relatively easy to police: crib sheets, writing on forearms, stolen tests and so on. Technology has made it so much easier and thus more widespread.

While the willingness of large numbers of my students to lie, cheat and steal is appalling, it is in no way surprising. After all, they have learned to do so from adults who lie, cheat and steal with impunity. Everyone is looking to cut corners, and cheating is only wrong if you get caught. Our entire culture seems based on the notion of success without effort. Public figures seem to lie instinctively. And our culture is rotten with the notion that—if you want or need something—you have the right to take it from someone else. At any given moment the US Congress and the current occupant of the White House are engaged in wholesale intergenerational theft, borrowing trillions to pay for current desires and effectively taking money from the pockets of children before they have even had a chance to earn it.

The whole affair really makes me appreciate the values of the game of golf. There is nothing easy about golf, and there are no shortcuts to success. Golfers work hard not to take anything away form other players, avoiding putting lines, staying silent when shots are made, and helping “opponents” find their balls. Honesty is at the core of the game. Professionals will call a penalty on themselves, even though it may cost them tens of thousands of dollars—or even their very livelihood, as in the case of JP Hayes, who called a penalty that cost him his Tour card.

How different from today’s populace was the attitude of Bobby Jones, who, having been praised for calling a penalty on himself said “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.” Golfers who subscribe to the values of the game realize that in cheating, they are their own victims.

If only I could get my students to understand that. So many of them believe that it’s acceptable to cheat to get good grades, because that will get them into a good college with scholarships. But with a horizon that extends only as far as the next hour, they don’t understand the future costs. At some point, they will be unable to lie, cheat and steal their way through a class or job and will hit a wall, having few actual skills or knowledge to fall back on.

For my own children, my hope is that they absorb more of the values of golf than of American Idol, Wall Street, government entitlement leeches and our political class. Like the game, it won’t always be easy, but it will be rewarding.


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5 thoughts on “Wishing That Golf’s Values Applied Off The Course”

  1. OK I feel your pain.  I also teach school, and for the life of me, can’t figure out a way to teach values and curriculum.  Every time I start one of my rants about how technology isn’t helping us but hurting my wife brings up the fact that my best friend and brother lives over 100 miles away.  Yet, we compete in running via the Nike+ technology, we play chess online, we even compete on different golf courses because of Yahoo’s golf page.  We do not have outrages phone bills, and we talk all the time.  I no longer walk off the distance to the 150 yard maker and then guess the angle. Anyway she is quick to put me in my place and deservedly so.

    I think the problem is deeper than the technology.  My students, much younger than yours, do not even see a problem with cheating.  Someone has told them that what their neighbor knows and has worked hard to learn is fair game, and the ones working hard are willing to share what they have learned.

    I think it all started when we quit keeping score in T-ball.  We would never do that in golf either.

  2. Generally, a really great post.  But why inject your political bias.  I stopped reading after that.  I come here for your unique and insightful take on the game of golf, not on your political bent or particular persuasion for or against the “occupant of the White House”.  Just when I thought I could escape opinionated rants…

  3. Wow that was some post there. You just about covered everything that goes on in our school system. We let them get away with it. Golf is a different animal I personally feel guilty if I do something wrong on the course. Today’s children should be taught values. They just don’t get it or they just don’t care. I thought your post was great just thought it really has nothing to do with golf. Well I will still keep reading for you are very insightful with your post and I learn. Thanks

  4. I wrote “current occupant” rather than mention a name because it really doesn’t matter who the “current occupant” is. The inter-generational theft has been going on for fifty years by every administration. So whoever the current occupant is, they’re guilty as charged.

    And it does all get back to golf. You should have read on. The whole thought process brought on for me by the difference between the game I love and the world at large.


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