A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Winners NEVER cheat (or at least they never get caught)

Sadly, for those of us who work with kids, this really isn't a surprise.
In the past year, 30 percent of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64 percent have cheated on a test, according to a new, large-scale survey suggesting that Americans are too apathetic about ethical standards. Educators reacting to the findings questioned any suggestion that today's young people are less honest than previous generations, but several agreed that intensified pressures are prompting many students to cut corners.

"The competition is greater, the pressures on kids have increased dramatically," said Mel Riddle of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "They have opportunities their predecessors didn't have (to cheat). The temptation is greater."

The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. All students in the selected schools were given the survey in class; their anonymity was assured.

Michael Josephson, the institute's founder and president, said he was most dismayed by the findings about theft. The survey found that 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls — 30 percent overall — acknowledged stealing from a store within the past year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative. "What is the social cost of that — not to mention the implication for the next generation of mortgage brokers?" Josephson remarked in an interview. "In a society drenched with cynicism, young people can look at it and say 'Why shouldn't we? Everyone else does it.'"

Other findings from the survey:

_Cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year and 38 percent did so two or more times, up from 60 percent and 35 percent in a 2006 survey.

_Thirty-six percent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent in 2004.

_Forty-two percent said they sometimes lie to save money — 49 percent of the boys and 36 percent of the girls.

Despite such responses, 93 percent of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 percent affirmed that "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."

Nijmie Dzurinko, executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union, said the findings were not at all reflective of the inner-city students she works with as an advocate for better curriculum and school funding. "A lot of people like to blame society's problems on young people, without recognizing that young people aren't making the decisions about what's happening in society," said Dzurinko, 32. "They're very easy to scapegoat."

Peter Anderson, principal of Andover High School in Andover, Mass., said he and his colleagues had detected very little cheating on tests or Internet-based plagiarism. He has, however, noticed an uptick in students sharing homework in unauthorized ways. "This generation is leading incredibly busy lives — involved in athletics, clubs, so many with part-time jobs, and — for seniors — an incredibly demanding and anxiety-producing college search," he offered as an explanation.

Riddle, who for four decades was a high school teacher and principal in northern Virginia, agreed that more pressure could lead to more cheating, yet spoke in defense of today's students. "I would take these students over other generations," he said. "I found them to be more responsive, more rewarding to work with, more appreciative of support that adults give them. We have to create situations where it's easy for kids to do the right things," he added. "We need to create classrooms where learning takes on more importance than having the right answer."

On Long Island, an alliance of school superintendents and college presidents recently embarked on a campaign to draw attention to academic integrity problems and to crack down on plagiarism and cheating. Roberta Gerold, superintendent of the Middle Country School District and a leader of the campaign, said parents and school officials need to be more diligent — for example, emphasizing to students the distinctions between original and borrowed work.

"You can reinforce the character trait of integrity," she said. "We overload kids these days, and they look for ways to survive. ... It's a flaw in our system that whatever we are doing as educators allows this to continue."

Josephson contended that most Americans are too blase about ethical shortcomings among young people and in society at large. "Adults are not taking this very seriously," he said. "The schools are not doing even the most moderate thing. ... They don't want to know. There's a pervasive apathy." Josephson also addressed the argument that today's youth are no less honest than their predecessors.

"In the end, the question is not whether things are worse, but whether they are bad enough to mobilize concern and concerted action," he said.

"What we need to learn from these survey results is that our moral infrastructure is unsound and in serious need of repair. This is not a time to lament and whine but to take thoughtful, positive actions."

Although even St. Augustine complained about the behavior and morality of his students in his Confessions, the need to reinforce moral behavior is more pressing than ever in a world in which torture is justified, in which lying and obscuring the truth is considered being smart and in which being honest when not forced to be is considered to be foolish and naive. Witness Marion Jones asking President Bush for a pardon, as just a small example.

Cheating and stealing are all too easy today, and making excuses based upon how busy young people are is, to put it bluntly, a crock of crap.

My most frustrating experiences as a teacher have been when parents have justified or even been complicit in encouraging their children to avail themselves of these kind of morally indefensible practices. Thankfully, it hasn't happened very often. Most parents have reacted very supportively when contacted about their children's occasional unethical choices.

But schools cannot teach morality and character development alone, especially in a world in which every instructional moment is often focused on passing a standardized test at the end of the year. However, schools can and should practice absolute vigilance and enforce no tolerance for these kinds of behaviors, regardless of what reaction parents have. If we want our students to develop backbones, we need to grow them first for ourselves.

Standing up for what is right is never expedient.

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At 11/30/08, 9:41 PM, Blogger Kim said...

Last year I had a parent take a cheating issue all the way to the principal because I called what his son did cheating. The student emailed a copy of his paper to another student, who printed it out and submitted it as her own. The parent insisted, "He didn't intend for her to copy his work!" Um, what did he think was going to happen when he emailed a copy to another student?

OTOH, every other time I've caught students cheating (and there have been too many occasions), the parents have ultimately been supportive of my actions.

It's sad that these kids have no qualms about cheating, copying, and plagiarizing. They get indignant if I take away work they're copying. "Hey, that's not mine! I have to give it back!" Not any more!

At 12/1/08, 5:47 AM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

What amazes me is the shock they express when they learn that they get NO credit for the work they cheated on. I can't tell you how many times I've been met with indignation that I won't give them at least SOMETHING for their efforts.

At 12/2/08, 10:49 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

I have a zero tolerance policy for cheating. Students caught cheating (most often, copying someone else's work or allowing another student to copy their work), get no credit/zero points for that assignment/activity and they get a letter to take home informing their parental person that they were caught cheating. Oh, and the said letter is due back the next day with a parent signiture. There is a place at the bottom of the page for parents to comment if they wish to. Sadly, the vast majority do not say anything. A few have asked that I let them know if such behavior happens again. One or two have ever said "THANK YOU" for letting them know.

Our students reflect the society and environment of today. THAT being said, it is almost a wonder more of them turn out ok.

At 12/3/08, 6:30 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

And on Tuesday, I caught four kids in two separate incidents copying another teacher's assignment.....


At 12/4/08, 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to defend cheating, but I have had the opposite experience when my kids were in elementary school. Other kids would copy off their work. My kids would complain. The teachers told my kids they had to allow the other kids to copy. I protested, the teachers (and there were three) told me that the other kids didn't have confidence in there own work. And that allowing the other kids to copy would help them.

I worked with my kids on strategies to deal with cheaters (e.g. writing down the wrong answers, and then changing them at the last minute).

I am still not certain my oldest knows that she doesn't have to allow others to take her work.

It would be helpful to have some backup against cheating in the elementary schools.


At 12/4/08, 4:45 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Dear Jane,

All I can say is, WHAT???!!!

But here's the point: there have to be teachers who are either, to be kind, oblivious, or to be honest, uncaring about this issue. Of course, cheaters are everywhere in every profession. And that means in education, too.

Maybe I'm just too stubborn to know better, but there is no way to tolerate cheating.

At 12/5/08, 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms. Cornelius,

Thanks for your stance. I agree there is no way to tolerate cheating.
Maybe things are different in middle/high school but the elementary school culture is one I find incomprehensible most of the time.


At 3/11/12, 5:31 AM, Anonymous muebles barcelona baratos said...

It will not succeed in reality, that's exactly what I think.


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