When Cheating is (Reluctantly) OK

There are times when Jeffrey Tucker can be brilliant and insightful.  Then there are other times.  The ratio of the former to the latter seems to have diminished significantly and markedly beginning around the time he left the Mises Institute.  A search of this site will lead to a few posts regarding the “other times.”

Tucker is out with a piece on the cheating by the teachers and administrators in the Atlanta schools regarding the test scores for students, entitled “A (Reluctant) Defense of the Cheating Atlanta Teachers.”

…the Atlanta public school scandal, in which investigators identified 178 teachers and principals in 44 of the system’s 100 schools involved in cheating on student tests.

After collecting all the students’ tests, a group of teachers nicknamed “the chosen” would meet behind closed doors. They sat in a big room and went over each test, erasers in hand, looking for incorrect answers to fix.

The scores showed that 86 percent of eighth graders passed math compared with 24 percent the year before. The same was true for reading: 78 percent passed versus 35 percent the year before.

Tucker identifies, properly, the root cause of the cheating:

Every government plan gives rise to cheating and manipulation. This is true for the smallest cases or the biggest.

If only he stopped here; instead, he decided to compare this situation to another example:

This is easier to understand if you consider more famously epic cases.

Consider an example. It is 1935 Russia. Grain crops keep failing, despite the Five-Year Plan Stalin imposed. He’s sick of it. It’s embarrassing. So this year, he decides to crack some skulls. Already tens of thousands have died, and everyone knows he means business. It’s the same in every industry actually, from steel to cars to railways.

What happens? The new farmer or plant manager faces either professional or real death or he fudges the records. He figures out a way to survive. And the difference between Soviet five-year plans and public school five-year plans seem to me to be mostly a difference of degree.

Look, I understand using extreme examples to make a point; Walter Block is so good at doing this.  But Stalin’s murder of tens of millions used to make a point about teachers cheating to keep their jobs?  In a land where losing your job results in a middle-class income from the state?

The teacher is stealing; the poor farmer in Stalin’s Ukraine stole from no-one when his crop fell short of Stalin’s plan.  Stealing from an employer – you lose your job.  Not meeting a government mandated grain quota – you lose your life.

This is bad enough.  Worse, his logic is completely wrong.  The teacher has no right to the job, and no right to have his students (superficially) excel at the tests.  The teacher takes a salary to do a job.  The cheating teacher has cheated both his employer and his employer’s customers.

The farmer, on the other hand, has a right to his life and a right to defend it by appropriate means.  Cheating, to the extent it occurred in this scenario, is a perfectly acceptable form of self-defense.

To be fair, Tucker identified his defense as “reluctant.”  Sometimes reluctant thoughts are better left unsaid.

This should have been one of those times.