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article imageRecent survey shows majority of high school students lie, cheat

By Nate Smith     Dec 4, 2008 in World
Los Angeles based ethics firm Josephson Institute conducted a survey of over 29,000 students at 100 randomly chosen public and private high schools nationwide and the results were somewhat disturbing.
The survey found that in the past year alone 30% of all U.S. high school students stole at least one item from a store, while 64% of students have cheated on a test. All students in the schools chosen were given the survey and their anonymity was promised. The survey also found students weren't content just stealing from department stores, either. 23% of all students surveyed claimed they had stolen something from a parent or relative; one-fifth claimed to have stolen something from a friend.
The survey also found that 42% of students claim they sometimes lie to save money and 36% claim to have plagiarized from the Internet while writing a paper.
Even still, students seem reasonably content with the people they are as 93% of all students said they were comfortable with their own personal ethics and 77% of students claim that, "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."
Michael Josephson, the institute's founder and president remarked to the Associated Press, "What is the social cost of that — not to mention the implication for the next generation of mortgage brokers? In a society drenched with cynicism, young people can look at it and say 'Why shouldn't we? Everyone else does it.'"
Of course, everyone has an opinion on this issue. Many experts blame the parents for not teaching their children what is right, while others blame the schools for not appropriately disciplining those who are caught cheating, while still others blame the pressures placed on students from their peers and the media.
The thing is, all of these people have a point. The problem with people like Michael Josephson isn't that he tried to shed light on an, admittedly, alarming trend. But, rather the problem with people like Michael Josephson is that his ethical critique is misguided.
We live in a society in which politicians hoard money (and prostitutes!), athletes illegally improve their performance and from the time children begin school they are bombarded with messages about their future and the importance of growing up.
Many of these kids are, quite literally, just trying to get by.
Some of the kids interviewed are responsible for trying to pay the rent at home and taking care of their siblings. Some of the kids are victims of physical and emotional abuse. And some of these kids just don't take tests well but are constantly being told by their parents that if they don't get good grades, they won't get into a good college, which means they're doomed for a pedestrian existence complete with food stamps and rusted out Ford Pinto.
Look, you and I both know this is a results oriented society. No one cares how hard you try, rather were you able to get the job done? Because of this, the purpose of school and learning is completely and utterly misguided. Students don't view high school as a place where they go to learn stuff. Rather, they view high school as a means to an end. It's just something they have to do for four years until they can go and what they really want to do.
If Michael Josephson was really concerned with the ethical well-being of today's pimple-faced, socially awkward high school student he'd stop handing out surveys and start finding out why kids feel the pressures to do the things they do.
I cheated in high school. I've cheated in college, too. Generally speaking, I try and do the right thing but sometimes what is right isn't always what is better. Mom always told me that 'cheaters never prosper.' But, I guess I had a hard time believing that while living in a world in which OJ Mayo is on an NBA roster, Barry Bonds is the all-time home run king and Dick Cheney is the Vice-President of the United States.
A shift in focus is in order. It's not about the fact that kids cheat; instead it's about helping them understand the true meaning of an education and relieving them of the pressures that push them to take such drastic measures to begin with.
I'm keenly aware this stance won't resonate with the right-wing "personal responsibility" crowd who get their jollies from judging others. I don't mean to suggest those caught stealing or cheating shouldn't be punished to the fullest extent. However, I am suggesting that broad, sweeping generalizations about all high school students are extremely unfair given the current ethical standards of most adults in this country.
More about Lie, Cheat, Steal, High school, Students
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