American high school students surveyed on moral standards appear to have been remarkably frank about their shortcomings. Some 64 per cent admitted to cheating in a test in the past year and 38 per cent did so two or more times; 36 per cent said they used the internet to plagiarise material for an assignment; and 42 per cent said they sometimes lie to save money — 49 per cent of the boys and 36 per cent of the girls.

On top of that, 35 per cent of boys and 26 per cent of girls said they had stolen from a store within the past year; one-fifth had stolen from a friend and 23 per cent from a parent or other relative.

Despite such responses, 93 per cent of students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77 per cent affirmed that “when it comes to doing right, I am better than most people I know”.

The survey was conducted by the Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles based ethics institute, and covered 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. Michael Josephson, the founder and president of the institute, is dismayed by the results and asks what the results about theft mean “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.’”

There has been a mixed response from educators, some rejecting the evidence that the current crop of young people is less honest than previous generations, others blaming environmental factors, and one experienced principal saying: “We have to create situations where it’s easy for kids to do the right things. We need to create classrooms where learning takes on more importance than having the right answer.”

Josephson says teachers and other adults have to take the problem of dishonesty more seriously. “In the end, it’s not about whether things are worse, but whether they are bad enough to mobilise concern and concerted action… [O]ur 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.” ~ Washington Post, Dec 1

 

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet