Ken Burns Classroom

Artful Deceptions

Lesson Overview

Getting an edge is paramount in the highly competitive and lucrative world of professional sports and baseball is no exception. The game has a long, and some would say dubious, history of cheating. Examples include pitchers “doctoring” the ball, teams stealing signs, hitters corking bats, groundskeepers soaking the baseline with water to “discourage base stealing” by opposing teams.

In this lesson, students will examine the act of cheating on a personal level and analyze its character and consequences. Students will view short video clips about the cheating scandal in Major League Baseball and address issues such as whether there are different degrees of cheating, who gains and who loses when cheating occurs, and the nature of cheating in highly competitive sports. Students will then complete a survey that explores their opinions of what cheating is.

Lesson Objectives

Students will

  • Debate and discuss cheating scandals in major league sports
  • Rank examples of cheating in sports from most to least severe
  • Compare and contrast people’s attitudes on cheating
  • Anonymously share opinions about cheating
  • Estimated time for the lesson: 1 class period

Lesson Procedure

Opening Activity

This activity was adapted from a New York Times Learning Network lesson entitled “Let’s be Honest” be-honest/

  1. Begin the activity by exploring with students the act of cheating. Ask students if they’ve ever been tempted to cheat on a test or school assignment. Then ask if they would report someone whom they knew was cheating. Why or why not? Do they think most people abstain from cheating because they are afraid of getting caught and punished or because they think cheating is wrong?
  2. Review the examples of deception described in the first, short video clip on cheating with Tom Verducci. Rank them in order from most-to-least-severe. Then watch the clips on the historic home run chase of 1998 and Howard
    Bryant’s short discussion on role models. Discuss as a class the following questions:

    1. In your opinion, did the performance-enhancing drug scandal that shadowed the 1998 home run race take away from the achievements of McGuire and Sosa?
    2. Are sports players role models? Do they have a responsibility to fans to uphold a certain behavior?
    3. How do you feel about players who have been caught using performance- enhancing drugs in any sport? How should they be treated?
  3. Tell students they’re going to take a class survey to help them define cheating. Remind students that their responses are anonymous and there will be no personal follow-up on their answers.
  4. Distribute the student handout “Cheating Survey” to each student. Ask students to respond to the questions by placing a “Y” or “N” (for yes and no) next to the questions. Give students five minutes to complete the survey then return them to you. Tally the results for each question on the front board and hold a discussion on the following questions:
    • Are there varying opinions from the survey on what constitutes cheating?
      If so, explain.
    • What factors need to be considered to determine if cheating has occurred?
    • Will “human nature” always compel people to cheat if they are given the chance?
    • Why are rules needed? Are they created to protect honest people or just catch those people who do wrong?
    • What role does any governing body (government, school, rules committee) play in upholding the rules against cheating?
    • What rights does a governing body have in enforcing the rules? What rights to people have regarding their privacy? Do you think the school has the authority to check your locker or possessions to enforce its rules? Explain why.

Extension Activities

  • One of the more common definitions for cheating is where an unfair advantage is created, usually in one’s own interest, and often at the expense of others. Ask students to consider the question is it really wrong to cheat if no one enforces the rule or administers punishment for breaking a rule? Have them explore some recent scandals where this mindset seemed to prevail: the issuing of mortgage derivatives by banks and investment houses, weak government oversight enforcing deep water oil drilling procedures, college recruiting of athletes using gifts and cash incentives, sports referees calling fouls to influence the outcome of games, or use others. Have students write a commentary article on this and how it reflects on our society today.
  • Have students explore performance enhancing drug use in professional sports from the perspectives of the governing body trying to enforce the rules and the athlete trying to get a competitive edge. Have them research the sport’s official policy on these drugs and any one of the players suspected of using steroids and the arguments presented by both sides. Is there any room for compromise here? Should the rules be changed to allow performance enhancing drugs, especially if they were deemed safe and administered by a licensed physician appointed by the sport’s governing body? Have students present their findings in a debate, a dramatic presentation, or as mini-documentary.
  • Conduct an anonymous survey of cheating at your school. This can be aimed at cheating in sports or in any aspect of school life. Assure participants that the survey results will be anonymous. Focus not so much on whether cheating exists at your school, but more on attitudes about cheating and reporting people who cheat as well as students’ understanding of the consequences of cheating for both cheaters and others. Publish your results.

Academic Standards

This lesson fits the following academic standards as set by the Mid- Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)

Historical Understanding

Standard 2: Understands the historical perspective

Level III (Grades 6-8)

  • Understands that historical accounts are subject to change based on newly uncovered records and interpretations

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

  • Analyzes the values held by specific people who influenced history and the role their values played in influencing history
  • Understands how past events are affected by the irrational and the accidental
  • Understands that change and continuity are equally probable and natural
  • Understands how the past affects our private lives and society in general
  • Knows how to perceive past events with historical empathy
  • Evaluates the validity and credibility of different historical interpretations

Behavioral Studies

Standard 1: Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

  • Understands that heredity, culture, and personal experience interact in shaping human behavior, and that the relative importance of these influences is not clear in most circumstances
  • Understands that family, gender, ethnicity, nationality, institutional affiliations, socioeconomic status, and other group and cultural influences contribute to the shaping of a person’s identity

Standard 4: Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions

Level III (Grades 6-8)

  • Understands that being a member of a group can increase an individual’s social power and also can increase hostile actions toward or from other groups or individuals
  • Understands how various institutions influence people, events, and elements of culture and how people interact with different institutions
  • Understands how tensions might arise between expressions of individuality and group or institutional efforts to promote social conformity

Level IV: (Grades 9-12)

  • Understands that intergroup conflict does not necessarily end when one segment of society gets a decision in its favor because the “losers” then may work even harder to reverse, modify, or circumvent the change
  • Understands that the decisions of one generation both provide and limit the range of possibilities open to the next generation

About The Authors

Greg Timmons

Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, and various Ken Burns’s productions including The War, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea Baseball, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.” He resides in Montana and Washington state.

Handout: Cheating Survey

For each question, circle either “Y” for yes or “N” for no. There are no “maybes.”

Is it cheating if –

  1. a friend lets you copy his/her homework because you left yours at home, even if you finished it?
    • Y         N
  2. you use a blank copy of an upcoming test to study for the exam?
    • Y         N
  3. you turn in a paper you wrote for one class after you had turned in the same paper for a different class?
    • Y         N
  4. you copy a few sentences verbatim from a textbook or other copyrighted resource for a paper you are writing?
    • Y         N
  5. there is no monitor during a test and everyone else is sharing answers?
    • Y         N
  6. Would you feel compelled to share answers in situation number 5?
    • Y         N