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Quite along the lines of @Tim B. 's very popular question, but generalizing stuff a bit here.

A teacher can be a cheater, after all, it's there in the name.

Why would a teacher, a fountain of knowledge, guidance, truth and ethics, be exactly what they try to counsel us from not being, which is a con, trickster and a "cheat" (not that that needs any explanation)?

Plausible answers will be preferred, and extra preference will be given to those answers which actually allow the teacher to ethically get away with it. Instances of such cases are most welcome.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you very much for the accepted answer, but I believe it's good practice to let the question stay "open" for at least a few days, so people are encouraged to answer it -- feel free to un-accept my answer and wait to see what others come up with! $\endgroup$ – Wingman4l7 Dec 29 '15 at 7:48
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    $\begingroup$ The simple answer is, of course, that they're a bad teacher who does not uphold the ideals of the profession -- just like a bad doctor might not respect the Hippocratic Oath. That's a boring answer, though. ;) $\endgroup$ – Wingman4l7 Dec 29 '15 at 7:56
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    $\begingroup$ Would you consider teaching Newtonian mechanics instead of general relativity to high-school kids a cheat? In that same vein, is approximating/simpifiying concepts (to keep a student focused on the core lesson) trickery and a con? If so, I'd wager that those are just part of the tools a teacher has available in service of the entire knowledge transfer challenge $\endgroup$ – tanantish Dec 29 '15 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ We need a tag specifically for this type of question, if only to be able to find them all in one place. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Dec 29 '15 at 11:28
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    $\begingroup$ Person / group is (a) anagram of person / group, but why? $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Dec 29 '15 at 11:37
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To teach us skepticism, critical thinking, unfairness, and humility.

A teacher who cons us could then teach us how to avoid being conned in the future. Their students would develop valuable critical thinking skills, learning how to evaluate scenarios that are "too good to be true", or are otherwise suspicious. They would develop a healthy sense of humility in the process, realizing that even the most clever of them can be fooled, if they are unprepared to face a seasoned trickster.

A teacher who is a cheat could also foster an ongoing discussion of the subjectivity of fairness and how it relates to real-world situations that the students would face in the future, be it in a workplace, government bureaucracy, relationships, etc.

There would be no ethical violations if such cons, tricking, and cheating were done within the scope of the classroom and did not cause any more undue emotional stress than important exams do today. It would be important that the whole process be done with a healthy dose of good humor and no vindictiveness.

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    $\begingroup$ When I taught my daughter about logical fallacies, her quizzes involved identifying them in reproduced arguments I'd used on her in previous weeks. I'll never get away with skipping the dentist again. $\endgroup$ – SudoSedWinifred Dec 29 '15 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ @SudoSedWinifred You should have never used your own parenting as a case study! ;P $\endgroup$ – Wingman4l7 Dec 29 '15 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ It was strictly pedagogical, no research depends on it. ;) $\endgroup$ – SudoSedWinifred Dec 29 '15 at 7:53
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Lies to Children

"A lie-to-children is a statement that is false, but which nevertheless leads the child's mind towards a more accurate explanation, one that the child will only be able to appreciate if it has been primed with the lie". The authors acknowledge that some people might dispute the applicability of the term lie, while defending it on the grounds that "it is for the best possible reasons, but it is still a lie" - The Science of the Discworld - Tery Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen.

A teacher doesn't have to tell the truth to lead the student to truth, and, often, telling the truth will obstruct the student from the path to truth. You tell lies-to-children to help them arrive at the truth in a way that they can process.

There are many examples of things which are very helpful, aside from the minor issue of being wrong in every respect. "The internet is a series of tubes" would be a good one.

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  • $\begingroup$ I hate these. +1. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Dec 29 '15 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ An example of this is the classic high school chemistry course where the teacher teaches various models of the atom starting with the Bohr model and working up to more and more complex models, each time telling the students "I lied" only once the students finally think they understand how atoms work. $\endgroup$ – Daniel Dec 29 '15 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ This is framing the concept in not the nicest terms, admittedly; in many cases young minds simply haven't had enough time to learn and commit to memory all the related necessary knowledge. You can't learn about physics before you learn about basic math, for example, but you should probably know that an object thrown into an air by a child will always come back down by the time that you're, say, 10. These educational summaries are always given with the promise of future explanations and contexts that provide a more accurate description of reality. $\endgroup$ – TylerH Dec 29 '15 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ I know it's not the nicest framing, but the question was asking about teachers being cheaters. And I wouldn't say that they "always" come with the proviso that they'll be refined later. Many teachers teach a certain method or viewpoint as the "correct" one, and make no mention that further down the line they'll be told different. Prime example is the Chemistry example above, where models are taught under the guise of "this is how things are", only to reveal later that that's not how things are at all, it's just a useful way of looking at it. $\endgroup$ – Jozef Woods Dec 30 '15 at 5:47
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There are several reasons why teachers might (and sometimes do) cheat.
One is funding. With standardized testing came the practice of linking test results to money for the school. The reason is that if a teacher is a good teacher, more of their students should pass the tests, and so the school should get more money. Bad teachers will have poor students, and so schools with bad teachers should get less money.

This has lead to cheating in several ways:

  1. Teaching to the test. This is a minor cheat; teaching the students what is on the test, and sometimes ignoring other equally important things that aren't on the test. This is bad for the students, since it causes them to pass the testing without getting a full education.
  2. Changing grades. There are teachers that have been caught changing their students grades from failing to passing. This mostly is because enough students failed the test that it would have put the teacher below a certain threshold. By changing a few answers of a few students, or maybe filling in answers that students left blank, a teacher can very subtlety go from a failing teacher to a passing teacher, all while "helping" a few kids.
    Teachers and faculty at schools in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta have been caught doing this, and there are very likely others.

Other reasons teachers might cheat? The usual ones: money, politics, sex, favoritism, etc.

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  1. A teacher teaches, and this involves the imparting of "knowledge". Knowledge of the world is always tentative at best, and sometimes downright wrong. At various point in history, children were taught by teachers that the Earth was flat, and that the Earth was the centre of the Universe. Generations were cheated of cosmological truth. Even in the physical sciences and in mathematics, which are supposed to be exact, there are many misleading things taught to young children. Gross simplifications abound. First example: Newtonian Physics is taught to all school children like it is gospel truth, only to later be demolished by the revelations of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, which can lead to a feeling of disillusionment amongst some students. Second example: teaching younger students that you can't take the square root of a negative number, only to cheat them of this early assumption with the introduction of complex numbers. "Simplification" is a euphemism - it's basically tantamount to cheating the students of a deeper truth. It's even worse when you consider humanities subjects like History, which necessarily involve subjective interpretations of events in the past. It's quite safe to say that the many students who end up rejecting "accepted" historical narratives to embrace "alternative" ones feel thoroughly cheated by their original mainstream teachers.

  2. If we accept as an axiom that ignorance is bliss, then surely anything that dispels ignorance to banish bliss is the basest form of cheating. Bliss is a divine state, why would anyone stoop so low as to cheat us of that? The best of teachers are the worst of cheaters.

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The teacher wants to make a living.

He or she might be in the business to make money, not for altruistic reasons. One way is to honestly teach what you think the students need, and hope that that will get you paying customers. Another way is to teach them what they say they want to learn, even if that is harmful, and hope that that will get you paying customers.

  • Teach the students only what they need to pass a test, without giving them true competency.
  • Sell them degrees which make them a laughingstock for genuine academics (diploma mills).

This becomes a con or cheat from the viewpoint of the students if the teacher misrepresents what the diploma is worth.

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Teachers, especially supply (substitute) teachers may give lessons in subjects where they have little knowledge. So long as they remain one lesson ahead of the students they can con the pupils that they are an expert. This is ethically sound so long as they stick to facts since the students still benefit from the (limited) research the teacher has done.

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Having taught for quite a few years, I must attest that teachers often are cheats. Very rarely do you see teachers actually do what they preach. In fact quite many times a teacher couldn't pass their own examination with flying colors (this is especially true in higher education). Many times the teacher can not even solve their own homework problems, instead they copy the ready made solution from a different source. While this sounds bad, its actually a boon because this way you get less mistakes falling through.

Secondly, teachers tell white lies all the time. Sometimes a very definitive explanation holds much more water than a very well worded "maybe". The thing is not much of our knowledge is as definitive as we might want to think. Often the truth is so complicated that in order for to begin to explain a subject:

  1. One needs to get a simplified run through.
  2. Once you attain a specific level, we can tear down the previous knowledge and replace it with a new one.
  3. and repeat the process.

All explanations are thus some kind of lies. For this to work we need specially adaptive minds. Lots of half mastered people walk out of the classrooms all the time. So maybe most destructive of all, we let people keep their misconceptions as to not show that they were lied to from the beginning. And this is one of the big lies.

Third, there is also some globally accepted self perpetuating lie. Where people assume that having attended A. taught by B. and graded by C. is somehow accurate. Grading is terribly inaccurate, and not at all objective. So be careful when categorizing people by their education or scores. Errors happen a lot, much more than generally accepted. Many societies would in fact collapse with more scrutiny on this matter.

In defense for all good teachers out there. There is little choice, all communication is corrupted in transit and affected by previous misunderstandings. So there's no way to reach the goal. But one thing is certain: no pain, no gain. If it felt easy you didn't learn a thing.

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In a school system where teachers are rated (and paid) based on how well their students perform, it can make (dishonest) tactical sense for teachers to lie about how well their students are doing.

There have been plenty of real-world cases of teachers cheating on standardized tests in the U.S. The most notable cases was when 11 Atlanta teachers were convicted in 2015 of modifying students' standardized tests. The piece When Teachers Cheat from The Atlantic offers some possible reasons:

Perhaps these things happen because of negligence. Maybe the teacher is just a rogue offender—an educator attempting to boost test scores for self-serving reasons. Or it could be the result of intimidation from top-down management. Regardless, the growing prevalence in recent years of dishonest practices such as these suggests that something is amiss within America's schools. [...] School districts are increasingly tying teacher pay to performance, and there's no consensus on the best way to measure student proficiency, so high test scores are starting to look a lot like money.

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