CTV.ca | U.S. students cheat and steal, but say they're good
NEW YORK -- In the last year, 30 per cent of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64 per cent have cheated on a test, said a new, large-scale survey suggesting Americans are too apathetic about ethical standards.
Educators reacting to the findings questioned any suggestion today's young people are less honest than previous generations but several agreed 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 U.S. high schools, 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 35 per cent of boys and 26 per cent of girls -- 30 per cent overall -- acknowledged stealing from a store within the last year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 per cent 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:
Despite such responses, 93 per cent of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character and 77 per cent affirmed: "When it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."
- Cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four per cent of students cheated on a test in the last year and 38 per cent did so two or more times, up from 60 per cent and 35 per cent in a 2006 survey.
- Thirty-six per cent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 per cent in 2004.
- Forty-two per cent said they sometimes lie to save money -- 49 per cent of the boys and 36 per cent of the girls.
Nijmie Dzurinko, executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union, said the findings are 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 more pressure could lead to more cheating, yet spoke in defence 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, N.Y., an alliance of school superintendents and college presidents recently embarked on a campaign to draw attention to academic integrity problems and 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 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."