Dave Tomar, an author, wrote a book called The Shadow Scholar: How I Made a Living Helping College Kids Cheat. In it, he tells about the thousands of pages he wrote – for a fee – to enable college undergraduates, Master’s candidates, and even PhD level students complete assignments in a wide variety of subjects. While the students themselves mostly hired him, their parents also engaged him. And why did Dave do this? Simply put, he needed the money, was an aspiring writer, and was disillusioned by the higher education system.
What Dave did was wrong, but not illegal. He did not feel guilty or morally ambivalent about satisfying the unethical needs of the students who solicited him. He didn’t care that he was helping them deceive teachers or parents. In my opinion, however, he behaved no differently than a “hit man” hired to kill someone or a prostitute hired to perform sex. He charged a fee and was paid for services rendered. No questions asked. No judgment decreed. His constant flow of clients – and steady stream of income – continued until he chose to retire. And who specifically sought out Dave’s services? Primarily the English-as-a-second-language student, the one with serious academic challenges, and the “lazy rich kid.”
It is this latter customer that most concerns me…the “lazy rich kid.” Unfortunately, we all know a few of those. So, it begs asking: are we producing, promoting, and pardoning a society of cheaters and liars? Do we, as parents, aid and abet by turning a blind eye – and even encourage this behavior – consciously or unconsciously?
When the Madoff scandal came to light in December of 2008, the Jewish community was embarrassed, mortified, and far less wealthy as a result of one of its own stealing BILLIONS from unassuming clients. After the fact, in a provocative analysis and discussion of what possibly drove Bernie to such heights of greed and corruption, a local rabbi suggested that parents – and society overall – care more about the attainment of results than the means or process required to reach them. So, people like Madoff become emboldened to do whatever is necessary to achieve the desired outcomes – even if it means cheating and lying. Like the clients who received incredible gains and returns from their investments with Madoff, parents rarely look into or question their children’s methods of success.
It’s normal for parents to want to help their children. Maybe we even are genetically programmed to do what it takes to ensure their “survival” in the world. But what do we communicate when we chide them for earning a “B” on a test instead of an “A”? What do we accomplish by working on their projects or writing their papers for them under the guise of “helping”? Do we actively encourage them to “pad” their resumes? Are we, in effect, telling them it’s okay to lie and cheat to get what they/we want? When and where should we draw the line?
Kids must make mistakes and learn from them. We must help them understand that a failed endeavor is part of life and does not imply that they are failures as human beings. We must teach them that actions or deeds based in virtues and principles – like honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness – are far preferable than those driven by jealousy, competition, and greed…all good lessons as we approach Yom Kippur.
May we strive to be and do better – for ourselves and our children – in the year to come. G’mar Hatimah Tovah.