Saturday, September 7, 2013

Michael Josephson: You’re only cheating yourself

  It’s in the news all the time – kids are cheating in school in new ways and at unprecedented rates.

  One of the reasons is the way schools and parents deal with or ignore the underlying issues of integrity and character. For instance, a popular thing adults say to discourage kids from cheating is, “You’re only cheating yourself.”

  Of course cheating damages credibility and character, but it’s also dishonest and unfair. Cheaters don’t just cheat themselves. They cheat everyone affected by their cheating including honest students who are put at a competitive disadvantage and college admission officers and employers who think a student’s grade accurately reflects his or her competence. What’s more, cheaters dishonor their families, teachers, and schools.

  When we tell kids they’re cheating themselves because they aren’t learning the material, we have to remember that most kids who cheat think what they’re asked to learn is unimportant. They’re quite comfortable not knowing the value of X or the capital of Zimbabwe. As to mastering skills, cynical and coldly pragmatic students believe that learning to cheat is more useful than learning the material.

  Finally, it’s dangerous to promote self-centered, cost-benefit calculations about cheating in a way that ignores or minimizes the crucial moral issues of honesty and honor. Nearly two-thirds of high school students cheat on exams because they’re not afraid of getting caught and they get better grades.

  To address the problem, we must promote integrity, not self-interest, and we must tell kids that whether they get away with it or not, cheating’s wrong.

  Of course, it helps if we really believe that.

  About the author: Michael Josephson is one of the nation’s most sought-after and quoted ethicists. Founder and president of Josephson Institute and its CHARACTER COUNTS! project, he has conducted programs for more than 100,000 leaders in government, business, education, sports, law enforcement, journalism, law, and the military. Mr. Josephson is also an award-winning radio commentator.

  This article was published by the Josephson Institute.

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