To succeed without cheating

A Christian Science perspective: In academia or elsewhere, how can we pray about the pressure to cheat?

“She got into her first-choice college,” my student told me, “but it’s bogus, because she totally cheated her way through high school.”

It’s a refrain I’ve heard from many of my students in my work as a college coach and writing tutor: High school students cheat. So do college students – a fact that came to light again recently, as yet another elite school faced public allegations of a cheating scandal.

Here’s something my students have wondered: When the competition is so intense, and the workload so overwhelming, can anyone blame the kids who cave?

It’s a pressure many of us have faced at one point or another: the suggestion that our own capacities aren’t enough to accomplish whatever needs doing. But each time I’ve had a conversation with a student about cheating, something within me has rebelled against the notion that academic dishonesty is the new norm. As I’ve been taught in Christian Science, I pray daily to see the true, unlimited nature of each one of us, made in the perfect image of infinite God, and this has brought me the conviction that dishonesty is not a trait belonging to the man of God’s creating. If we think of God as Truth, it becomes clear that truthfulness must be inherent in everyone’s God-given individuality.

In addition to dishonesty, another misconception about everyone’s real identity and nature that I’ve had to put down through my prayers is the lie that we have limited capabilities. This belief flies in the face of the fundamental fact of our existence, as explained in the biblical book of Genesis: that we are made in God’s own likeness (see Genesis 1:26, 27). I love the way Psalms 8 expands on that idea when it says, of the man God made: “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” (verses 5, 6).

Because matter is limited and flawed, it could never express the glory and honor of the perfect and divine. But if we start with the premise that God, Spirit, conceived man in His likeness, then man’s true nature is spiritual, not material. And this spiritual identity is the radiant reflection of all the goodness, intelligence, and expansiveness of God’s own nature. God originates these qualities and expresses them in each of us. Knowing ourselves and others as He made us, we find dominion over whatever is set before us to accomplish. We find freedom from limitation – whether that limitation presents itself as inadequacy, or the belief of pressure from time.

As I’ve prayed about academic dishonesty, one other idea that I’ve found helpful to understand is that we are not independent actors. We’re not cut off from God, having to work everything out on our own. The Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, explained this fact of our being so beautifully when she wrote: “Immortal man was and is God’s image or idea, even the infinite expression of infinite Mind, and immortal man is coexistent and coeternal with that Mind” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 336).

This idea was particularly helpful for me as I prayed about how best to work with one student, who was struggling with an essay. She felt incapable of articulating certain points in a way that felt compelling. And several times during our sessions, she hinted that she would rather I write portions of the essay for her.

My heart went out to her. Although it would be dishonest to do her work for her, I yearned for her to feel that she did have something to lean on – not another person, but the infinitely intelligent Mind in whom we each have our being. Each time she implied that she would rather someone “more capable” write her essay, I prayed to reassure myself that no one was alone or struggling, and that everyone coexisted with the divine source. I understood that the creation of Mind could never be kept from expressing the intelligence, creativity, and individuality that I knew everyone possessed as God’s reflection.

Soon, the student returned with a draft of the essay that marked a breakthrough. Even more exciting was that the insights she’d articulated in her essay were even better than the ideas we’d initially discussed in our meeting.

This experience reinforced for me the supportive influence we can be as we pray to see others the way God does. Through spiritual insight and inspiration, each of us – student or not – can feel our unity with Mind, which assures us of our infinite capacities for good.

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