Ron once more mounts his soapbox to focus on a range of topics.
Lying and Cheating
Some thirty or more years ago, in a different life in a different world, I had dealings with students studying for degrees in engineering. There was always the small percentage that failed to make the grade at the end of the first or second year. This was an unhappy experience for student and staff. In most cases it led to an interview with the student to discuss future options. These interviews were usually constructive with the student facing up to the situation, accepting that it was a situation of his own making and taking a realistic approach. During the seventies a change was detectable. A few students started to come to the interview unwilling to face up to their position. They would blame anything and everyone except themselves. Some would blame the college staff for their failure or, more often, they would have a whole range of explanations and excuses as to why they had failed, excuses ranging from a death of a close relative to accidents and burglaries along with many others. They then pleaded for special concessions to enable them to proceed to the next year. Usually it was possible to establish that the excuses were complete fabrications. At about the same time we also began to discover some evidence of plagiarism, which we had not noticed before.
Also at that time there was an increase in the requests for help from the college hardship fund. This was a small fund that we could access to provide limited financial help to students in genuine financial difficulty. The fund had worked well until then with only limited demands made upon it for genuine cases of hardship. The demands that were being made now were associated with some amazing tales of hardship, but most of these sad tales were also subsequently found to be complete fiction. We found that one student who applied for assistance with a tale of woe was, in fact, very wealthy and had a flat and a new Mercedes provided by his parents.
Sadly I have to report that the majority of these instances of plagiarism and lying were attributable to overseas students that were appearing in increasing numbers. It took a time before we realised that, for many overseas students, it was part of their culture to employ devious means to achieve their objectives. For some it seemed that to lie and cheat successfully was regarded as clever even praiseworthy.
Nowadays, however, plagiarism appears to be widespread, I understand that there are websites where it is possible to buy essays to submit as part of school coursework, even for work that goes towards obtaining a degree. This must be a major problem for those assessing students in some subject areas. Fortunately, in mathematics and science based subjects there is less of a problem; unseen examinations offer the best means of assessing a student's level of knowledge and understanding. Naturally, for this to provide a reliable assessment it is necessary to ensure the appropriate weighting is placed on the examination result. Of course that still leaves the question of security during the examination and of examination papers. Can money buy a preview of the exam papers? Not in my day - but now? I read recently that concern over cheating in examinations is such that there is a proposal in some quarters to install CCTV cameras in examination halls!
These days cheating is by no means restricted to students. Teachers cheat trying to improve their school's position in the league tables. Benefit fraud is widespread. Corruption occurs in football matches, even in cricket matches. Cricket matches! We never heard of anything like that in the past. Athletes cheat. TV bosses cheat with phone ins - even Blue Peter! There is dishonesty in the police force. Company directors reward themselves more than they deserve. Of course there has always been corruption but it seems to me that our culture has become more amoral than it has ever been. Once upon a time professional people were respected for their integrity but now it seems as though dishonesty has become institutionalised. For many the attitude is "It's ok so long as you can get away with it". People of my generation watch all this with mounting horror.
Why has this happened? Is it due to the "look after number one" attitude of the Thatcher years? Is it because foreign cultures have infiltrated our own? Does the behaviour of society and its institutions tend to reflect attitudes within government? We have been subjected to increasing amounts of government spin and lies. We have had the 'cash for honours' scandal. MPs fiddle their expenses. There is nepotism. Once upon a time "An Englishman's word was his bond." British public figures used to be upright and honourable and were so regarded around the world, a politician responsible for some misdemeanour was quick to resign.
Corruption and nepotism were things for third world and communist countries.
Have I exaggerated the situation? Probably yes, probably most people are honest and truthful still, but there can be no doubt that our culture is on a slippery slope. Where will the slide end? We have already seen attempts to cheat the electoral system. Will we see rigged election results?
When Easter comes very early it disrupts school terms to some extent. So much so that in some counties the winter term carried on for two weeks after Easter with only the public holidays at Easter time. After this year's experience with the weather isn't it time to reconsider the question of holidays at Easter? I think I understand the way in which the Church fixes the date for Easter, what I don't understand is why they insist on doing it that way. They are happy to have Christmas at a fixed time, why not Easter? We could then have the Easter break fixed at, say, the second Sunday in April when the risk of having such awful weather would be reduced and we would be sure that we would be into British Summer Time. I believe that in 1928 there was a Bill passed in Parliament that proposed a fixed date but it required the agreement of the Churches. No chance!
Obtaining an agreement by the world's Christian Churches seems no more likely today than it was in 1928. In the absence of any such agreement, perhaps it is time for us to reconsider the State's attitude towards Easter and scrap the notion that it should be a time for a public holiday and, at the same time, reconsider the dates for national holidays.
At the moment we have the Easter holiday, usually early April, but sometimes late April, followed within two or three weeks by the May Day holiday. The Spring holiday follows two or three weeks after that, usually in late May. Thus, in a period of about five weeks we have three public holidays totalling four days. We then have only one more public holiday, the August bank holiday, for the rest of the year up to Christmas. Wouldn't it be preferable to scrap the Easter holiday, have the 'May Day' holiday in late April, just one day, the 'Spring Holiday' in early June, two days, preferably a Monday and Tuesday to make it easier for working people to take a week off, and another one day 'Summer Holiday' in early July. Leaving the August Holiday where it is. Such a proposal would not involve an increase in the number of public holidays. With only five public holidays from New Year to Christmas, however, we have fewer than most western countries, perhaps it is time to introduce an additional day, possibly in early October?
THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
"You have not converted a man because you have silenced him."
John Morley, Liberal politician (1838 - 1923)