A nation of cheaters?

Wow. What a great morning to run. Full moon. Temperature in the low 50s. No garbage trucks on the prowl. Just a great fall morning. And even the fact that the Browns somehow managed to beat the Giants last night couldn’t diminish my spirit.

So why was I thinking about us being a nation of cheaters? Well, as I wrote about yesterday, I believe many (most?) of the problems we face as a nation are linked directly to the decline in ethical conduct — and civility. We look at the greedy douche bags that run (or used to run until the firms went belly up) organizations like AIG and Lehman Brothers, and about all you can do is shake your head. They have no shame.

But the reality is that they didn’t just develop this fatal character flaw as they were promoted to the rank of Captain of Industry. And they aren’t alone. It seems that unethical conduct — cheating in the form of plagiarism, copying homework, taking answers from someone else’s exam — is widespread in high school and college. Here’s from an opinion article in The New York Times yesterday, “Digging Out Roots of Cheating in High School“:

Surveys show that cheating in school — plagiarism, forbidden collaboration on assignments, copying homework and cheating on exams — has soared since researchers first measured the phenomenon on a broad scale at 99 colleges in the mid-1960s.

The percentage of students who copied from another student during tests grew from 26 percent in 1963 to 52 percent in 1993, and the use of crib notes during exams went from 6 percent to 27 percent, according to a study conducted by Dr. Donald McCabe of Rutgers. By the mid-1990s, only a small minority said they had never cheated, meaning that cheating had become part of the acceptable status quo.

Dr. McCabe’s later national survey of 25,000 high school students from 2001 to 2008 yielded equally depressing results: more than 90 percent said they had cheated in one way or another.

Dr. Jason Stephens of the University of Connecticut has now embarked on a three-year pilot program to reduce cheating. His premise is that honesty and integrity are not only values but habits — habits that can be encouraged in school settings, with positive benefits later in life.

And the article concludes:

But there’s hope. The 1993 study suggested that cheating dropped in schools that encouraged a culture of integrity — either by formally instituting an honor code or by stressing at every turn the importance of honesty and integrity.

Gee, a culture of integrity. Wouldn’t that be something.

And again, I take from the remarks of John Ong to graduates of the Ohio State University, “On Civility“:

I urge each of you to reflect on what I have said and to try to practice in your lives an increased level of civility. Remember as well that civility, like most important things, must be learned early in life and must be reflected first in little things before it can go on to be reflected in the great social issues of the day.

We certainly are facing a host of social issues and problems these days. Maybe civility — and ethics — do matter after all.

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