Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | January 29, 2005

On street trees and cheating

Let me see if I’ve got this straight. If understand the very end of reporter Serdar Tumgoren’s recent article correctly, Gilroy homeowners who planted street trees that the city insisted they plant are also stuck with the bill to fix the sidewalks those same trees damaged?

Of course, that’s not all. Those homeowners are also stuck with maintaining the trees in the strip between sidewalk and street that they don’t even own,

And, if that’s not bad enough, the city of Gilroy is considering shifting liability for trip and fall injuries to homeowners who fail to maintain sidewalks in front of their homes. Wow, homeowners would be stuck yet again.

Anyone else noticing a pattern?

I don’t know how city officials can propose or seriously consider this patently unfair plan. Now, let’s be clear, I’m only talking about those homeowners whose sidewalk problems are caused by the city-required street trees. Homeowners whose sidewalks are damaged due to other causes are another matter entirely.

If I were a Gilroyan with sidewalks damaged by a city-required street tree in front of my home, I’d be talking to a lawyer. I’d also be talking to my neighbors with the same city-required trees and cracked concrete and convincing them to to talk to a lawyer too.

After all, there’s strength in numbers.

I’m not fond of litigation. I’ve never sued anybody in my life. But I do believe our courts serve an important purpose in righting injustices.

I were looking at a bill of $3,000 to $30,000 to fix damage caused by obeying a city directive, I’d have thousands of reasons to overcome my litigious reservations and find a lawyer.

***

As I read Katie Niekerk’s recent article on high- and low-tech cheating schemes at Gilroy High School, I was reminded of one of the benefits of my sheltered upbringing. I never cheated, and although I’m sure some cheating must have happened in my classrooms, I was completely unaware of it.

Yeah, I was a goody-two-shoes. And to all you sneering cynics, that’s a good thing. But clearly, if I were in high school today, I’d be in a slim minority.

According to a 2002 CNN report, 75 percent of high school students in one survey admitted to “serious cheating.” More than half admit to plagiarizing data they found on the Internet, and roughly the same number don’t see anything wrong with cheating.

Those are some sobering statistics.

Some of the schemes in use at GHS were simply not available to me during my high school years. I attended high school in the long-ago days before cell phones and pagers. The dress code of my school banned short skirts, so even that low-tech method wouldn’t have been an option. In the strict fundamentalist Christian schools I attended, a girl flashing her thighs would have been noticed right away. Other than a Janet Jackson-like wardrobe malfunction, I can’t think of a less subtle way to cheat in that environment.

I think there were two reasons that I did not cheat. On the less noble side, the penalty would have been severe. The shame, my teachers’ disappointment, my classmates’ scorn, the failing grade, and the prospect of facing my parents all combined to make a potent disincentive to cheating.

But I also know that I never cheated because of my conscience. I was taught right from wrong, and taught that it was important to do the right thing. Had I cheated, caught or not, guilt would have haunted me and I would have been unable to sleep or eat. Who wants to live like that? If you value honor, there’s no appeal in the trade of personal integrity for a few points on an exam.

We can ask teachers to do a better job patrolling their classrooms and staying up-to-speed on high- and low-tech cheating methods. That will reduce the negative impact of cheating on honest students.

But stepped-up enforcement won’t fix the root of the problem: not valuing integrity.

It’s up to parents to instill in their children the principles of honesty and honor required to make cheating an option they would never consider. In today’s win-at-any-cost society, that’s a difficult but utterly necessary task.

Somehow, parents must teach their children to adopt Greek playwright Sophocles’ philosophy: “I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.”

When an honest failure is regarded as infinitely better than a dishonest win, then we will make progress toward reducing cheating that begins in school and moves smoothly into politics, trading floors, newsrooms and corporate boardrooms.

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Responses

  1. Street trees are valuable, however, in cleaning up stormwater runoff.


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