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Is It Still Cheating if Students Learn?

The Washington Post's Jay Mathews has received more than a few heated comments after his Christmas Eve post about the apparent fine line between cheating and learning in schools. In the post, he relates that his daughter was allowed to use notes on her law school exams, while her boyfriend at a neighboring law school was not. Mathews writes:

What are we to make of the uneven nature of such rules, just as unpredictable as those found in our public K-12 schools? Open-book exams are okay some places, not in others. Cooperating with friends on homework is encouraged by some teachers, denounced elsewhere as a sign of declining American moral fiber.

One commenter notes that, in general, closed-book exams measure retention and open-book exams measure application of skills. It's not a matter of arbitrary rules, but deliberate design.

In the post, Mathews goes on to push for "eliminating rules and practices"—such as those prohibiting collaboration on homework—"that frustrate learning."

Several commenters also counter that group work encourages bad habits and allows some students to get away with contributing very little. A high school teacher adds that work with classmates has its place, but that "too often we are driven by ideal visions of 14- and 15-year-olds conferencing in a manner typical of graduate students."

Do you agree with Mathews? Do schools that put too many rules in place to prevent cheating stifle learning opportunities? Or do you agree with Mathews' readers, who say he is misconstruing the reasons for such rules?

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