The Consequences of Cheating

Do you remember doing SRA in grade school? You would select a numbered card from the box, read a story, and answer some questions. The stories and activities progressively increased in difficulty from 1 through 100.

I have such fond memories of SRA, I was excited to get a box when we were still young homeschoolers.

There is an answer booklet in the box. At first, I did all the correcting myself, but over time I’ve allowed the children to self-correct. They come to me if they have questions as they read or if they don’t understand the follow-up activities. I always check their work and go over anything they’ve gotten wrong. We do this not only with SRA but also with math textbooks, for which we also have answer books.

Today, for the first time in…how many years of homeschooling?…our first instance of “cheating” was brought to my attention. One of the children caught a sibling in the bedroom with the SRA answer book.

In deciding how to address this issue, I realized that I don’t think this child has ever been told that it’s wrong to copy answers out of the answer book. We’ve talked about lying and other forms of deception, but not directly about cheating as it pertains to schoolwork. So she got off with a very gentle rebuke and explanation about why her behavior was wrong. What did she do? She cried. But not because she felt bad for cheating. Instead, she was overwhelmed because…”it’s so hard!” That’s why she chose to copy answers in the first place–and it had been going on for some time before she actually got caught.

I consoled her with the fact that SRA isn’t about getting all the right answers–it’s about learning. And I would have been happy with her progressive learning, even if she got some wrong in the process. And in fact, by cheating she was making it harder for herself, not easier. Because now when she was on a certain number and difficulty level with her SRA, she really wasn’t equipped to do it on her own because she’d been cheating for so long. No wonder she was upset!

So I tried to determine how long this had been going on, and we went back. Back to a much simpler lesson, one that she and I worked through together. She did the next one on her own. And next time, she’ll continue from there. She’ll learn what she was supposed to learn the first time around.

It struck me that we sometimes do the same thing in our spiritual walk. How often do we try to get out of doing hard work, struggling through, and learning lessons that are, in the end, of great value to us? Sometimes we can claim ignorance, but other times we’re just lazy. Or it may be that the standard of perfection scares us. And yes, that is our standard (see Matthew 5:48), but God is infinitely gracious in getting us to that point. Our goal is to grow, not necessarily to get everything right the first time through. God expects us to make mistakes, He frequently gives us second chances, and sometimes we have to go back to a place we thought we’d never see again, just to learn lessons that we ignored the first time around.

I don’t ever want to presume upon God’s grace, or make excuses for my sin. Still, I am thankful for second chances and for a Father who is gentle in teaching me. I hope that as I resolved this issue with my daughter, and re-started those SRAs, she learned something–even if she didn’t get all the right answers.


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