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The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead


The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead

A show of hands, please: How many out there will be fudging on
their taxes this year?

What makes otherwise honest and upstanding citizens cheaters? What
does it take to push them "over the edge?" And how do they justify
their actions?

David Callahan examines these and other questions in THE CHEATING

Cheating begins from the cradle and goes beyond the grave. It has
practically become the norm, and those who don't adhere to its
"bizzaro" precepts are scoffed at as naïve or teased as a

People cheat to get into the "proper" preschool. They cheat to get
into the proper college. They cheat to gain advancement on the job.
And at the end of days, they cheat to avoid various "death"

Blame it on the yuppie mentality, Callahan bemoans. Although it's
well within the realm of acceptable behavior to try to get an edge
by legitimate means whether at work, in school or on the ball
field, he claims such moral dilemmas have been more prevalent since
the Reagan years and the movie Wall Street told viewers
"Greed is good."

Take as an example the parents of a little leaguer. "Bobby" might
be a star shortstop, head and shoulders above the rest of his
teammates. But the coach's philosophy, in a proper display of
sportsmanship, is that everyone gets a chance. The parents decide
that this misguided altruism might deprive little Bobby of a
college scholarship or even professional opportunities. So what are
their options? Dad might decide to become a coach himself, using
his position of authority to advance his own child. Or even worse,
they might decide to sue the coach, the league, the town ...

Callahan, co-founder of the public policy center Demos, discusses
the phenomena of "law abiding lawbreakers," those who steal cable
TV signals or download music without proper compensation. Their
justification is that "everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn't
I?" This attitude perpetuates itself through the generations since
it's difficult to teach "the right thing to do" in a society in
which pressures to succeed, almost at any cost, are so

Cheating starts young, and like many other characteristics, kids
learn from their parents. Students reflect on ways to get around
the system, perhaps by taking their tougher classes later in the
day so they can discuss the exams with others who have taken them
in an earlier hour. Many see the whole process as a game. "New
technological gadgets have introduced fresh legends into . . .
cheating folklore," the author observes. "Handheld text-messaging
devices allow students to shoot answers across the school, or even
across a class, in seconds. Calculators, which students can often
bring into math tests, are programmed in advance to contain
answers." And don't forget the Internet, which makes plagiarism
easier than ever. Ain't progress wonderful?

Callahan returns to his criticism of those in the "winning class,"
the financially well-to-do who think nothing of donating millions
of dollars to a university to influence admission for their
children who would otherwise not make the grade academically. But
what is a conscientious parent to do? Should they instruct their
kids to follow these examples, knowing that to do otherwise might
put them at a disadvantage? Unfortunately, the author doesn't offer
convincing answers. He concludes his contemplative treatise with
simplistic suggestions (like "don't cheat") that could be
considered Pollyanna-ish by many cynical readers.

THE CHEATING CULTURE is certainly food for thought. One would hope
that enough readers find it palatable enough to change their
personal philosophies and ultimately improve the human

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan ( on January 21, 2011

The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead
by David Callahan

  • Publication Date: January 26, 2004
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0151010188
  • ISBN-13: 9781402576508