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Competence Shame and Middleton Test Cheating

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Wisconsin State Journal on 1/20/14 and 12/21/13 ran stories about the Cross-Plains/Middleton cheating scandal where students were taking pictures of tests and distributing them. As a result, additional policies have been put into place to deter cheating such as taking cell phones during tests and changing questions on tests per class period.

In examining cheating, we need to look at the culture of school and how this behavior is established. Schools are institutions and large ones at that. As a result, the individuality of students is not highly valued. Unique talents and abilities are only relevant if one is a good athlete or good student.

Competence shame is described in The Secret Message of Shame: Pathways to Hope and Healing by Ronald and Patricia Potter-Efron. Competence shame comes about when a person feels compared to others in their abilities and intellect. Although a student may have other strengths, the pressure to perform and perform well become engrained. The student then lacks the ability to judge themselves based on his or her own merits but starts to base their worth based on how well they do in comparison to others.

Developing shame resilience is at the heart of decreasing cheating and competence shame. Shame resilience can be found by 1) having a close network of supportive friends and family to whom performance is less important than learning from mistakes, 2) letting go of perfectionism as an ideal and honoring Brene' Brown's mantra, "I am imperfect and I am enough, 3) a culture of honoring all strengths and abilities rather than on just a few subjects, and 4) offering a learning center or tutoring center as part of the school day where students can go to enhance their learning opportunities.

I am hopeful that students are not individually blamed for what happened at this school and that we look at how our culture perpetuates competence shame and allows for mistakes, growth, and most of all imperfection.

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