Adventures in Ethics and Science

A bonus sprog blog! Somehow, this has become cheating week, and this conversation feels like it fits in with our discussions of how do-gooders do bad and of how freshman engineering students think about cheating.

* * * * *

Dr. Free-Ride: (arriving to pick up the sprogs from the afterschool program) Hey, gather up your stuff! It’s time to go home.

Younger offspring: OK. I just need to get my homework back from [a first grade classmate].

Dr. Free-Ride: What is [the classmate] doing with your homework paper?

Younger offspring: Copying the answers.

Dr. Free-Ride: Wait a minute. Why would you give [the classmate] your answers to copy?

Younger offspring: Because [the classmate] said if I didn’t, we wouldn’t be friends.

Dr. Free-Ride: Oh dear. There are so many ways that’s wrong.

Younger offspring: I don’t have that many friends!* I didn’t have a choice!

Dr. Free-Ride: I’m pretty sure you did have a choice, even if you didn’t like some of the options. Let’s think about this from the point of view of friendship. Should a friend boss around another friend like that, and threaten not to be friends if you don’t do something like share your homework?

Younger offspring: No. That’s making a demand, and that’s not nice.

Dr. Free-Ride: Mmm-hmm. Also, it’s kind of treating you like the only thing that makes you valuable as a friend is that you know the answers and let [the classmate] copy them. I’d hope that a real friend would value you even if you didn’t know the answers.

Younger offspring: Yeah. I’m not friends with people only if they give me stuff.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK, so the first thing here is that if [the classmate] threatens not to be your friend if you don’t give up the homework answers, [the classmate] isn’t being a very good friend in the first place.

Younger offspring: I think [the classmate] tries to be a good friend, but sometimes gets bossy.

Dr. Free-Ride: I think you’re probably right. Anyway, there are also good reasons not to share your homework with [the classmate] if you’re trying to be a good friend.

Younger offspring: Oh?

Dr. Free-Ride: What are you supposed to be learning by doing the homework assignment you had for today?

Younger offspring: How to answer questions about the book we read.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK, so you’re learning how to read, and how to understand what you read, and how to write good sentences?

Younger offspring: Yeah.

Dr. Free-Ride: Did [the classmate] learn any of that by copying your paper?

Younger offspring: No, [the classmate] just practiced handwriting.

Dr. Free-Ride: So, if [the classmate] keeps copying people’s homework all year, is [the classmate] going to be good at reading and writing by the end of first grade?

Younger offspring: No.

Dr. Free-Ride: And a friend probably would want a friend to learn what he or she should learn from first grade, right?

Younger offspring: Yeah, ’cause second grade will be really hard if [the classmate] doesn’t learn the first grade stuff.

Dr. Free-Ride: So, what could you say as a friend to [the classmate] if you’re asked to share your homework again?

Younger offspring: I could say, “I bet you can do the homework if you try.” Or, “I don’t want you to have a hard time in second grade if you don’t learn this stuff.”

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s a good idea. You could also help [the classmate] without just giving [the classmate] the answers.

Younger offspring: Maybe I could say, “Let’s read the questions together.” Then we could look at the part of the book that the question is asking about and I can help [the classmate] read it.

Dr. Free-Ride: That’s a good idea, too.

Younger offspring: [The classmate] might think that’s too much work, though.

Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah, but sometimes you’re a better friend by offering help that really helps rather than the “help” someone is asking for.

*The child’s perception of what would constitute “that many” friends differs wildly from mine. Suffice it to say that some days it takes more than five minutes to wish all the friends a good evening before we can extract ourselves from the afterschool program — and there are plenty of additional friends who don’t even go to the afterschool program.


  1. #1 Latitude Rider Nut
    November 30, 2007

    Wow 🙂 “Younger Offspring” is really articulate! Good work!

    Really enjoying your blog by the way!

  2. #2 J-Dog
    November 30, 2007

    Cool. We had to teach all our kids about this aspect of being friends too, and my wife and I still recall all the How Do I Do My Math calls our youngest son would get.

    I think our daughter in Chem engineering responded to an earlier post you had on this subject – @ June or July?

    ps: She likes your Sprog Posts too!

  3. #3 Elf Eye
    November 30, 2007

    It’s cheating season here, too. The end of the semester draws near, and panicked students are making bad choices. The week before Thanksgiving break I served on one conduct panel, I served on one this week, and I will serve on one next week. On top of that, I’ve filed charges against one of my one students, so sometime soon I will be attending a conduct panel as a plaintiff, so to speak. I haven’t had a case in awhile, and this is an egregious one.

  4. #4 Yttrai
    November 30, 2007

    Are you suggesting that LOGIC works on children?


    I adore Offspring Fridays 🙂

  5. #5 unbalanced reaction
    November 30, 2007

    Do you think you could come give the same “cheating is bad” talk to some of the LargeU undergrads? 🙂

  6. #6 pelf
    November 30, 2007

    Aww… What a conversation 😀 If only all children talk to their parents (and vice versa) that way 😀

  7. #7 Mrs Whatsit
    December 1, 2007

    In 2nd grade, I told a “friend” she couldn’t copy her math answers from me. That was the end of our “friendship.” The girl went on to be one of the most popular girls in school while I….didn’t. In junior high (when popularity was everything) I would look back at that decision and wonder if I hadn’t made some sort of grave mistake. Of course in later years I realized how silly it is to worry about such things but at the time it did seem devastating.

  8. #8 Liz D.
    December 1, 2007

    Excellent parenting skills displayed here! I really like the way you kept asking open-ended questions.

  9. #9 bryan
    December 3, 2007

    if that is actually the way the conversation progressed, i am very impressed by Dr.Free-Ride’s parenting skills(or genetic material). i taught first graders for some time and the children i taught could never have come up with those answers.

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