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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Column: Everyone Cheats, the Poor get Caught

Several years ago, a Chicago-based scandal surfaced to the headlines. The news that high school teacher Dr. Jerry Placki helped seven students from a low-income neighborhood school cheat to win an academic decathlon shook the nation. Angry white men and academics cried “cheaters,” and a movie was made.

All the while, the press severely punished these seven bright students on national television. Academics shunned the teacher for his conduct, claiming that he committed an ethical crime. But was this teacher really the man to blame? Or was it us?

As Americans, we teach corruption everyday. We know that most wealth does not come from honest living, though we fear recognizing this truth. The rich lie to the poor so that the poor stay poor. The powerful lie to the weak so that weak stay weak. It is the American way. Then we use the “moral” argument to judge those living beyond their means-those who are struggling. But when do we start judging those who are not?

We watch men in expensive suits commit countless acts against humanity. Think of the 1200 people who die each day from cigarette smoking. We still can’t hold tobacco companies accountable. They profit from the lives of the poor. The poor provide the labor, while the rich charge them for it. Why? Because the wealthy have the money to kill, and the poor don’t have enough money to lie.

Let’s imagine if these bright Chicago students came from privileged families, families that could provide everything they ever wanted, including the best schooling. Would this scandal surface? Would these students attempt to cheat? No. Why? Because wealthy students don’t need to cheat. They’re taught in the most ideal conditions, and their future does not depend on success of such activities. The odds are in their favor.

That’s the problem: we use utopian standards to judge people who not only don’t, but can’t, have the privileges of the wealthy-as if wealth meant honesty. It is unrealistic to believe that students coming from poor neighborhoods and schools can make it to the top without unbelievable and unreasonable efforts. Why shouldn’t all children have equal privileges? Why should poor students from poor schools have to be a shining star to make it, while the rich need only to be average?

In Massachusetts, the more income a family makes, the better the schooling. Look at our neighborhoods. Weston public schools, for example, are of the best in the county. Is that a surprise? No. Why? Because Weston is the wealthiest town in Massachusetts. Brockton public schools are not so good. Why? Look at its residents. So is it a surprise that the poor do not have the best education available to them? No. Does that mean they are not as bright as the wealthy? NO.

So the real question is: if these children were from upper class families-in schools where success is a norm-would they face these challenges? We all know the answer: these “moral” dilemmas would not have surfaced. Why? Wealthy families are not fighting for privileges-they already have them. But the poor are fighting. They’re fighting to make it in a world that’s stacked against them.

So the next time we pull the “moral” card on the poor, let us remember our privileged or unprivileged lives. Were we lucky? Were we not? How much money is in your pocket?