Jim Liebelt Christian Blog and Commentary

Lie, Cheat and Steal: High School Ethics Surveyed

More than the lapse in ethical behavior indicated in the study, two areas cause me greater concern from this survey: 1) That students are playing the comparison game in terms of how they rate ethically with their peers ("I'm better than most people I know,") and 2) Some educators' take on the situation, namely that "We have to create situations where it's easy for kids to do the right things."

In my opinion, kids whose ethical standards are set based on others' behaviors will always set the bar too low, so cheating, lying and stealing can be okay if they do it less than their peers. And adults tasked with helping our kids grow into responsible adults aren't helping them by trying to make it easier to do the right things. The adult world is one where people face many difficult choices in order to do the right thing. Trying to make it easier for students to make ethical choices doesn't reflect the reality of the real world, and will make it all the easier for young people to cut corners when they enter into adulthood.

Like so many other areas, building an ethical value system within kids begins at home, with parents who set standards and serve as role models for strong ethical behaviors.

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.

"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.

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.

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."

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.

"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."

Source: Associated Press

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