COMMENTARY | When I was a teenager I seriously considered applying to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Unfortunately, I was not always honest with my parents. Like many teens, I would try to lie to avoid getting in trouble. Once, after being caught in a lie, my parents asked if I thought I was still West Point material. Could I handle going to an elite university with a strict honor code? At the time, the general belief among us prospective applicants was that any lie or academic dishonesty could get you expelled.
According to the Associated Press, 40 freshman cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy are being investigated for allegedly cheating on a chemistry lab assignment. This is particularly damaging news for the military after the recent cheating scandals among the Air Force nuclear command officer corps and the continuing rash of sexual misconduct scandals afflicting all branches and multiple service academies. The U.S. military has been suffering from bad PR as of late, which certainly does it no favors as severe budget cuts loom.
What is especially alarming, and rather sad, is that the strict honor code at U.S. Service Academies may no longer be so strict. Reports indicate that freshmen cheaters and other first-time offenders are likely to receive remediation instead of expulsion. As a high school teacher, this weakening of the vaunted U.S. Service Academies’ honor code is worrisome. How am I supposed to encourage my students to respect the concept of academic integrity and honesty if even the strictest of universities now allow second chances?
I never did apply to any of the service academies, with one factor in my decision being that I was afraid of a strict honor code where any dishonesty whatsoever might mean expulsion. Despite my fear of speaking a lie, one thing I am proud of is that I have never cheated. I may have lied about my high school grades to my parents, sure, but I never cheated to get them. I have long held academic honesty in the highest regard. Sadly, it appears that I am a rarity. Cheating among high schoolers is rampant, with relatively few seeing anything wrong with copying a friend’s paper. What am I to think now that even the service academies are growing lax on cheating?
Cheating is wrong. Lazy. Irresponsible. Is this what we want to tolerate among our military’s office corps?