March 6, 2007

Enron and the social meaning of cheating

Kevin Carey's entry today at The Quick and the Ed references a comment I made yesterday to Enron and Worldcom, in a discussion about test preparation. I'm not sure if he realized he was taking my reference out of context, but he makes an important argument, even if it's only half of the picture.

  • Taking my comment out of context: This is a relatively minor point: I was arguing that not all judgments are amenable to representative data collection or require such data before being concerned about something (in this, test prep; in 2001, corporate fraud). Carey took my mention of Enron and Worldcom and went off in a different direction...
  • An important argument that Carey makes is that the popular demand after the corporate accounting scandals a half decade ago was to insist on more accountability. That's true. However,...
  • It's only half of the picture: The "corporate accountability" rhetoric since 2001 has not been about making corporations more in tune with short-term investor demands but address the gaming-the-system issue. Sarbanes-Oxley does not change the requirement that corporations have to report revenues and other financial information truthfully and transparently, but it adds additional teeth.  Sarbanes-Oxley also does not intensify any of the investor-corporation dynamics that Enron and Worldcom were responding to. So while the rhetoric was more accountability, it didn't change the larger picture and wasn't the same type as what we think of in education. (For the record, I'm all in favor of accuracy and transparency in whatever data is made available publicly.)

As far as I'm aware, apart from the different argument I made, the only reference to Enron and Worldcom fitting Carey's description is in Collateral Damage, and it's in a passage where Nichols and Berliner are discussing the difference between acknowledging a social phenomenon and excusing it. A Google search on several terms brings up exactly two pages, though maybe different keyword configurations might bring up others. 

And without the detritus of the trope, the question remains: apart from investigating specific incidents, what is the social meaning of cheating and gaming the system?

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on March 6, 2007 10:41 PM |