A Story about High School Cheating

When I was a Senior at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, Virginia during the 1961-62 school year, we had a mean and nasty teacher named A. J. Fielder, better known as "Happy Jack". Happy Jack Fielder taught hard courses in Chemistry and Physics. He gave low grades to his students. Many students needed high grades to get into the college of their choices. Students who were hoping to be at the top of their class or who needed a good mark to be admitted into college avoided taking classes taught by Happy Jack.

However, some students wanted to become physical sciences majors in college, so we felt obliged to take the risk of taking Happy Jack's classes. I was one of those who decided to take the risk. I took Chemistry as a junior in high school and Physics as a senior in high school.

A crisis developed while I was taking physics. Happy Jack gave very hard tests. Almost all of us got no better than 50 or 60 on these tests. In other words, we were failing. If we failed, we would not be able to go to college at all, much less into the college of our choice.

However, there was one kid in the class who always got 100 on every physics test. His name was Charles Pryor.
Charles Pryor
Charles Pryor

Charles Pryor was not regarded as one of the smartest kids in the school. Actually, I was regarded as the smartest kid in the school, although I knew that in reality I was not. There was a mousy little girl named Martha Sue Herley who always got test scores higher than I did. She also was the Virginia State Spelling Champion, but nobody believed that she was smart, although I knew that she really was. She was not taking Physics, but Charles Pryor was. Martha Sue Herley later died in a fire, I have been told.

I had close friends named Jimmy and Johnny Farrar, who were identical twins. They were also among the smartest kids in the school and were taking the same physics class from Happy Jack. I went over to their house many times to discuss this problem.

We knew that something had to be done about this. We were desperate. By getting 100 on every test while the rest of us were getting not more than 60, Charles Pryor was placing us all in a difficult situation. We were all studying hard. We did not think that he was very smart, so it could not have been that he knew the material better than we did.

We finally figured out how he did it.

There were three physics classes, taught in periods 4, 5 and 6. Charles Pryor was in sixth period. Happy Jack gave the same tests to all three periods. Therefore, during period 5 Charles Pryor could meet with a student from period 4 who had just taken the test, find out what the questions were and look up the answers before period 6. In addition, Happy Jack Fielder would sit in the back of the classroom while the tests were being taken and grade the tests handed in by the pervious students. Charles Pryor could go to the back of the room to ask the teacher a question, lean over Happy Jack's shoulder and see what answers the other students had given and whether Happy Jack had marked them right or wrong. We became convinced that this was what Charles Pryor was doing.

Now, what to do about this? Finally, we decided to write an anonymous letter to A. J. Fielder explaining what Charles Pryor was doing. However, we did not want to say that it was Charles Pryor who was doing it. We just said that some student was doing this. I wrote the letter, with editorial help from Jimmy and Johnny Farrar. In order to make sure that nobody would ever know who had written the letter, we put on gloves and bought a new pad of paper from Pearson's Drug Store, so that our fingerprints would not appear on the paper. We went through newspapers and found the words we wanted to write, cut them out with scissors and pasted them with glue from a new bottle of glue onto the paper. We got a new envelope and put the letter in the envelope. We put an obviously fake return address on the letter and put postage stamps on sideways in a distinctive manner. Then, we mailed the letter to Happy Jack.

A few days later, Happy Jack had an announcement to all the physics classes. He read the letter in class. He demanded to know immediately who had written the letter and who the cheating student was. I kept silent and did not raise my hand and neither did Jimmy or Johnny Farrar.

A few days later, Happy Jack Fielder gave us another test. However, departing from his usual practice, he did not give the same test to all three classes. Instead, he gave an easy test to the students in period four. Everybody in that class got 100 on that test. However, he gave an extremely difficult test to the students in periods 5 and 6. His message was clear: "If you do not reveal the name of the cheating student, all of you will flunk. You will not be able to go to college and your futures will be ruined."

I went over to Jimmy and Johnny Farrar's house again. Now, we were really worried. We decided that we had no choice. We wrote another letter.

In the second letter, we also cut out words from a newspaper, provided the same fake return address and glued the stamps on in the same way sideways, details which A. J. Fielder had never told the classes about. In this way, we could insure that he would know that the persons writing the first letter had also written the second.

The second letter contained only one sentence: "The person referred to in the previous letter is Charles Pryor."

A few days later, I was walking down the high school corridor and I happened to glance through the classroom door and see A. J. Fielder with my letter in his hand, having a heart-to-heart talk with Charles Pryor. I do not know what happened next and heard nothing more about this.

We all passed and went to college.

For 40 long years since 1961 I have been harboring this secret. In all these years, until today, I have never told anyone about this letter, that I wrote it or that Charles Pryor was the subject of the letter.

Today, after 40 years, I decided to look up Charles Pryor on the Internet, and here is what I found:

Charles W. Pryor has a Ph.D. degree in Physics and is the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Westinghouse Electric Corporation, the largest provider of nuclear power plants in the world. Charles W. Pryor won the Academy of Distinguished Alumni Award for 1998.


We must now realize that he was not cheating after all. He was simply better at physics than we were.

This is a true story.

Sam Sloan

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