It happened finally. Cheating, in front of my very eyes. I was giving a test and saw a kid toss a paper to the desk behind him. When I asked him for the paper, he tried to tear it and crumple it. But he gave it to me, and when I opened it I saw the answers for two of the test questions. Not that they were correct, but there they were.
Our conversation after class left me shaken. I could tell he was a good student and had done this just to goof off, not out of any real intensity to share answers. Still, it was wrong, and I told him his teacher would be finding out. "Look," I said. "I know you're going to have consequences from this and they might be tough, but if you live through that now I can almost guarantee you'll never do it again." The student begged me not to tell. He asked and asked with a shy intensity. Finally I said, "I have a teenage boy and as much as I want to protect him, I would want him to learn this lesson now."
The boy turned away from me. His teeth were gritted tight together and the tears were beginning to form. "But would you beat your son?"
"Never." The word fell truthfully and blithely from my lips.
"In my culture they do it differently," he said bitterly and his words hit me in the gut.
Already the next class was waiting at the door, but I wanted to be clear about what I was understanding. "Who are you more afraid of, the school or your parents?"
He answered without hesitation. "My parents."
I knew I had to report him to the teacher. I also knew that when his parents found out, they would beat him. It was no good pretending otherwise. I felt trapped, but knew I couldn't just let this go now that it was out there. And the truth was, their method of punishment, although culturally acceptable, was one that required reporting to child protective services. I called the teacher, a lovely woman, who was so matter-of-fact and clear about what had to happen and the process she would go through to report the incident, that she gave me confidence the right thing would happen for this boy I was feeling so badly for.
And I think it has. At least I hope it's the right thing. After the counseling office met with the student, they did bring the state into it. Apparently they are working with the family to help them find more appropriate (and legal) methods of keeping their kid on the straight and narrow. In the process the school discovered that corporal punishment was indeed a practice among this cultural group. So what really gave me hope was finding out the school principal would be talking to the PTA club for that group and suggesting some parent training for those families. Maybe one boy's courage in speaking up about his culture's practice can make a difference for many students. I hope it will be a lesson well-learned.