Cheating, fraud, charlatanism, and my favorite would of all skullduggery--a buggering of the truth—or in Turkish, dolandırıcılık, hile, copya çekme, dolavere. I’ve never felt it was such a part of daily life as I have felt in Turkey—not that we don’t have it in the United States, but, in view of all the cheating, lying, political charlatans now trying to justify every vile action that spews out of their wretched administration—just because something happens somewhere else does not make it okay.
Today, one of my students screamed at me that nothing at our school was fair. In other schools, he ranted, it doesn’t matter if you do your work or not, if you fail or not, other schools give you a 100 so that you can get accepted into good high schools like Robert College and Koç. All of this a justification for why he was trying to sleep on his desk. His parents have been relentlessly hastling all his teachers, badgering them with the same argument. The mother and father had a meeting with me a few months ago suggesting that, while they knew what they were asking wasn’t ethical, couldn’t I just give their child a 100? I felt dirty for weeks after that comment, and every time I look at their offspring now it is with a deep feeling of contempt and pity. And yet today, after his outburst, he seemed about to burst out crying and so I went to the counselor to report that he might be under some unusual stress at home. Her answer? Well he’s right of course. Schools in Istanbul like Doğa Kolej, Bilfen, and Uskudar American’s SEV reportedly have real tests that they give amongst themselves and only they know the scores, and then they have deliberately easy exams that the worst student is guaranteed an A on. And then they make all the other grades from homework to quizzes, 100 without a thing to base it on. (During an interview at SEV I was warned not to get my panties in a bind worrying about ‘ethics’ and ‘fairness’. We faked grades and if you don’t like it you can hit the road I asked) ‘Is it possible that Robert College and the other prestigious schools don’t know this? Why on earth would you accept anyone from any of these schools and risk your reputation?’ The answer was less than credulous—they don’t know, they only base their admissions on the scores coming out of the Ministry of Education. The inspectors for the government are the same—completely naive about the faking of grades. Of course, one wonders how in the world a person whose job is inspecting schools could be so blithely ignorant of what every 12 year old in Turkey knows.
Of course, what could they say since the government itself is built on lying, corruption and trickery. The elections this year were just one sad example—even the election observers of the party we support had to be told why cheating and coersion was inherently wrong and not just wrong when the other guy did it. And the other guy—bullying, sneaking into the polls and forcing elderly people’s hand to your candidate, bribery—and mostly all out in the open. Never mind the recounts in Ağrı, where the ruling party, unwilling to lose, forced 15 recounts and when they still didn’t win, declared the election null and void and called on a re-election.
And I still haven’t quite gotten over the engineer—a woman in charge of designing and building highways in Istanbul—told me that she had stopped speaking to her best friend for good because she would not let her copy her PhD thesis. She had copied from a more ‘loyal’ friend and when I told her that I thought she had been in the wrong—gently, carefully—she stormed out of class in a huff. She never came back, or I would have asked her for a list of designs and structures that her paws had touched so that I and anyone I cared about could be sure never to go remotely near them. She needed that thesis—fuck it if the rest of her career put countless lives in danger from her incompetence and boobery.
But what saddens me is the impact it has on my students—most of whom I care deeply about. What does it tell them if someone pads their grades? I don’t think you’re smart enough to make it on your own. So I’ll just give you this grade and you’ll never have to earn a thing in your life. Forget the look of glee on the face of the girl who has studied so diligently for the past 3 months that she pulled her grade up from an F to a C for the first time in her life! Never mind the smile of pride of the boy who, doing the same thing, went from a 26 on his exam at the beginning of the year to a 76. I’d rather have these two build me a bridge at the age they are now than that lunatic who copied her PhD thesis or any of the people who were stupid or dishonest enough to accept it. At least I could trust they would try to find out what to do.
And what hope does Turkey have of cleaning up its system when kids learn at a young age—supported by parents, that cheating is how you get where you’re going, that not only is it a secret passage to your success, it is your right. You deserve the special favor. My students in Turkey are every bit as brilliant, talent, curious, and creative as the kids I’ve taught elsewhere—why are their elders so hell-bent on telling them they’re not good enough and can only lie their way to the top? Thankfully, our school has not adopted this skulduggery—and I hope the rest is just rumor. But I’ve learned in Turkey that rumor is almost more reliable than the news sometimes. Because of course, the news takes part in the same lying and cheating as well.
And if you do work for Robert College or Koç or wherever else—why in the world do you accept these students? How long do you think your the hot air of your reputations will sustain you when you start sending lazy, skillless cheaters to the top schools of the world? Lazy skilless cheaters that came to you with potential, a potential which you helped ruin and deny?