Contented Reader

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The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty

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The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty

Dan Ariely


Every once in a while, I see an article in the newspaper about some teacher (or, more usually, a large group of teachers in a school or district) cheating on standardized tests.  The tone of the article is invariably one of shock and dismay that teachers would do such a terrible thing.

I usually roll my eyes.  State tests are very high-stakes.  Teachers are under huge pressure to perform well on these tests (and in the many hours of meetings I attend in a typical year, it is always clear that test scores are a measure of teacher performance, not student performance).  Teachers whose students fail to score well enough will find themselves publicly humiliated in front of their colleagues.  And when the tests are actually administered, the teachers are in a room alone with their own students.

Of course teachers cheat.  The impressive thing is how many teachers don’t cheat, with so many reasons to cheat and so few reasons not to.  I don’t cheat on the test, but at my school, the names of the teachers who do is a subject alluded to with much eyerolling.  Nothing seems to happen to them.  In fact, they are lauded for their high success rates on tests.  It makes me angry.  Knowing that other people cheat and are rewarded for it makes me more tempted to cheat, too.  I don’t.  But in a few years, when the test results directly affect my salary, that’ll be an even greater temptation.  I would like to think I’m the kind of person who will remain honest no matter what, but while I’m a pretty honest person, I’m a pragmatist, not a saint.

One thing I liked about this book is how readable it is.  Ariely tells stories about research he conducted on the psychology of dishonesty in a very personal, relaxed style, with humor.  Some of the results of his research were not a bit surprising, some were very surprising indeed.  There are places where he seems to repeat himself more than is strictly necessary, but since the book was a quick read, I didn’t resent it.  I learned a few things about the psychology of cheating that might help me to discourage students from cheating on tests in class, so that’s useful.  And I learned that (a) a lot of people will cheat a little bit, given the opportunity, but (b) most people won’t cheat a lot.  I guess that’s good news.


Written by Contented Reader

September 1, 2012 at 7:31 am

Posted in Reviews


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