What's with the air in New Hampshire - especially in towns with names that begin with the letter "H"?
First there was the matter of the Hooksett Four, fired from their town jobs for gossiping. Now it's nine kids from Hanover High in trouble with the law for breaking into the hallowed halls of HHS to steal advanced math and chemistry exams.
The cheating scandal that Hanover (home of Dartmouth) is embroiled in was chronicled in Wednesday's Boston Globe by Sarah Schweitzer.
Out of a Hanover High population of 750, "some 50 students are suspected of participating in the thefts, either helping to plan them or receiving answers from stolen exams." Of these 50, criminal charges are being lodged against nine - and these nine (including the mere lookouts) have been informed that if they elect to go to trial, the prosecutor may up what are now misdemeanor charges to felonies. Possible prison terms under that scenario: 3 1/2 to seven years in the slammer. Talk about the school of hard knocks.
Parents - predictably, and somewhat justifiably - are howling about the criminalization of these acts. The school is already planning on meting out reasonable punishments. The cheaters will be suspended for 3 days, receive zero grades on their exams, and have a notation placed on their college applications. This seems plenty harsh enough - especially in what can only be the very hyper-intensive atmosphere at Hanover High, where half the kids are no doubt competing to get into the Ivies or equivalent.
Instead of just treating this as a school incident, however, administrators chose to introduce the criminal element by reporting it as a B&E. Okay, literally it was. But the kids - rotten and amoral as they are - did not steal equipment or vandalize. Nor did they break into someone's house and steal things or vandalize. Which would, reasonably, have been treated as criminal activities (although not felonious ones).
I'm sure the felony threat is just so that the prosecutors can clear this one up without going to court. Still, the criminal overlay is distracting enough to draw attention and discussion from what are the real issues.
So, instead of focusing on why smart kids do dumb things, and why good kids do bad things, and why not so good and not so smart kids do dumb things - and the Notorious Nine likely contain a mix of the above - the conversation starts revolving in large part around town-gown tensions, haves vs. have nots, children of privilege vs. children of unprivileged. (Not bad conversations to have, of course, but the very rancid act of cheating may get lost in the 'don't do the crime if you can't do the time' legal shuffle.)
Instead of lawyering-up, the parents of the Notorious Nine ought to be spending their time and energies calling the wrath of God down on their kids for cheating, pointing out to their kids that they have shamed themselves and their families; that they have betrayed the trust of their fellow students; and and that they have, indeed, seriously damaged their shots at the top schools. This is, indeed, a change of life event.
It may be the difference between Princeton and Poison Ivy. Between Georgetown and St. Elsewhere. Between UNH and Unheardof State College. But it shouldn't - as in the old joke about where Jens Jensen had spent the last few years - bet the difference between Yale and jail.
I suspect, of course, that some of those children of privilege are already working with high paid academic consultants who are deciding just what note of contrition to strike in the all-important college essay. They're sitting there with fingers crossed while their parents start working their alumni networks to see if this one little flaw in junior's transcript - and character - can get overlooked. They're hoping that Granddaddy Warbucks will succeed in attaching a string to his mega-donation to the endowment.
Let's face it. Some people get away with "it" - whatever "it" is.
Maybe they learn something, maybe they don't.
But for those members of the Notorious Nine who don't have the pull to get pulled out of the little quagmire they've put themselves in, here's a little moment of truth. Assuming - quite reasonably - that no one goes to jail and ends up with a felony rap, this is NOT going to ruin your tender young lives unless you let it. So you end up at St. Elsewhere with the sons and daughters of traffic court judges, rather than with the offspring of Supreme Court justices at Yale. BFD. Make the most of the smart, nice, funny kids you meet there - and, I assure you, there will be plenty of them.
As for the parents, a little self-examination may be in order. Sure, no one "has" to cheat, but if you're giving your son or daughter the message that they're only worthy of love if they get thick envelopes from the Ivies on April 15th. Well.....
Meanwhile, whatever pressures these kids are under, they ought to be plenty embarrassed and plenty ashamed. Yes, we can cut them some young-impetuous-peer/parent-pressure slack here. And they shouldn't go to jail.
This isn't a trivial matter, but it shouldn't be a criminal one. You think our prisons are bursting now? Imagine if everyone who cheated in high school had to do time - and there were no statute of limitations. (Now there's a thought.)
As it happens, I have two friends who are Hanover High grads, so I know that it's possible to get into top schools without cheating because they managed to do it, as did their brothers and sister. For the record, this crew went to Dartmouth, Smith, Harvard, Harvard, Harvard - and that's just for undergrad starters. And they did it the hard way - on their own merits. Their father was a carpenter: no fancy consultants, no alumni network, no big donations. Just good, old-fashioned plugging away.
Note to Rob: You didn't think I was going to get through a post on Hanover High without mentioning you guys, did you?