Sue Scheff: Keeping Teens from Cheating

“You see it everywhere, you see it on the websites, all of these paper mills - places where you can buy papers, [there are] a variety of ways you can cheat, huge variety of ways. [And many teens think] ‘Well, if it’s so widespread, how could it be so wrong?’”

– Hal Thorsrud, Ph.D, assistant professor of philosophy, Agnes Scott College

“Hi YouTube, it’s me Kiki,” says a young teenage girl staring into her web camera. “Today I’m going to show you guys how to cheat on a test … the effective way.”

This video on YouTube, that had over 100,000 hits in the first week after it was posted, is a tutorial for cheating.

“I know it’s not a good thing to cheat,” Kiki continues, “it’s like academic dishonesty blah, blah, blah … but you know, everyone, I think everyone has at least done it once.”

Kids know cheating is wrong, but still they do it. Why?

“Sometimes the teacher doesn’t give us enough time on our work and we run out of time,” says one girl, “and we have no where else to go.”

“Students do it because they, like, don’t really care and they just want to get it done,” says another girl, “so they can go play and stuff.”

17-year-old Pat Foster says he cheated on a class assignment. “It was almost like second nature,” he says. “Not that I do it all the time, but you got to get it done. You don’t want to get a bad grade, you’re missing a couple of answers - here, scribble it down real quick.”

The problem was his teacher saw the whole thing.

“She looked down at my papers and asked me what I was doing. I looked up - I mean, I knew I was caught.”

He got detention, a one-day suspension and a zero on the assignment.

Did he learn a valuable lesson?

“You kind of learn to work the system,” Pat says. “Basically, by the time you’re a sophomore or junior you know the system and how to get around it. I mean, I know - I do try and do my homework. But if I’m going to cheat – quote-unquote cheat - I’ll do that before I get into class, instead of sitting right there in class where it’s very noticeable.”

Experts say parents need to teach their children that grades are simply one measure of learning – and that a good grade means nothing if you cheated.

“You’re ignoring that fact that you’re not really achieving anything,” says Hal Thorsrud, an assistant professor of philosophy. “It’s not an achievement to get a paper off of an Internet website. So, the best, I suppose the best way to confront the plagiarism problem in the long run is to really focus on the value of education. Just remove the desire to cheat, because you’re not going to remove the means.”

12-year-old Jessica Maledy says her parents have taught her the difference. “I think that you cheat yourself and you cheat everyone else when you cheat,” she says. “You’re using someone else’s credit, so you cheat both that person and yourself - cause it’s not your own work.”

Back in her bedroom, looking into her webcam, Kiki acknowledges that what she’s posting online is probably wrong and may get her in some trouble, “Hopefully my teachers do not see this video, cause that would be very awkward.”

Tips for Parents

A recent edition of the “Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth,” a comprehensive national survey on the ethics of young people administered by The Josephson Institute of Ethics showed the following concerning high school students:

Nearly two-thirds (71 percent) admit they cheated on an exam at least once in the past 12 months (45 percent said they did so two or more times)

Almost all (92 percent) lied to their parents in the past 12 months (79 percent said they did so two or more times)

Over two-thirds (78 percent) lied to a teacher (58 percent two or more times)
Over one-quarter (27 percent) said they would lie to get a job

Forty percent of males and 30 percent of females say they stole something from a store in the past 12 months

These statistics seem to be indicative of a drift away from the morals and values that parents traditionally associate with society in the United States. In the press release accompanying the preliminary result of the survey, Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and CHARACTER COUNTS!, called on politicians to recognize the vital importance of dealing with “shocking levels of moral illiteracy” as part of any educational reform package. Saying the survey data reveals “a hole in the moral ozone,” Josephson added: “Being sure children can read is certainly essential, but it is no less important that we deal with the alarming rate of cheating, lying and violence that threatens the very fabric of our society.”

When discussing issues of morality and values, how can a parent illustrate what it means to be a person of character? The Center for the 4th and 5th R’s provides the following examples of characteristics of an individual with a positive character. For example, a person of character …
Is trustworthy:

Honesty – Tell the truth. Be sincere. Don’t deceive, mislead or be devious or tricky. Don’t betray a trust. Don’t withhold important information in relationships of trust. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat.

Integrity – Stand up for your beliefs about right and wrong. Be your best self. Resist social pressures to do things you think are wrong. Walk your talk. Show commitment, courage and self-discipline.

Promise-keeping – Keep your word. Honor your commitments. Pay your debts. Return what you borrow.

Loyalty – Stand by, support, and protect your family, friends, employers, community and country. Don’t talk behind people’s backs, spread rumors, or engage in harmful gossip. Don’t violate other ethical principles to keep or win a friendship or gain approval. Don’t ask a friend to do something wrong.

Treats all people with respect:

Respect – Be courteous and polite. Judge all people on their merits. Be tolerant, appreciative and accepting of individual differences. Don’t abuse, demean or mistreat anyone. Don’t use, manipulate, exploit or take advantage of others. Respect the right of individuals to make decisions about their own lives.
Acts responsibly:

Accountability – Think before you act. Consider the possible consequences on all people affected by actions. Think for the long-term. Be reliable. Be accountable. Accept responsibility for the consequences of your choices. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame others for your mistakes or take credit for others’ achievements. Set a good example for those who look up to you.
Pursue excellence – Do your best with what you have. Keep trying. Don’t quit or give up easily. Be diligent and industrious.

Self-control – Exercise self-control. Be disciplined.

Is fair and just:

Fairness – Treat all people fairly. Be open-minded. Listen to others and try to understand what they are saying and feeling. Make decisions which affect others only on appropriate considerations. Don’t take unfair advantage of others’ mistakes. Don’t take more than your fair share.
Is caring:

Caring and kindness – Show you care about others through kindness, caring, sharing and compassion. Live by the Golden Rule. Help others. Don’t be selfish. Don’t be mean, cruel or insensitive to other’s feelings. Be charitable.
Is a good citizen:

Citizenship – Play by the rules. Obey laws. Do your share. Respect authority. Stay informed. Vote. Protect your neighbors and community. Pay your taxes. Be charitable and altruistic. Help your community or school by volunteering service. Protect the environment. Conserve natural resources.

According to experts at CHARACTER COUNTS!, character building is most effective when you regularly see and seize opportunities to …

Strengthen awareness of moral obligations and the moral significance of choices (ethical consciousness).

Enhance the desire to do the right thing (ethical commitment).

Improve the ability to foresee potential consequences, devise options and implement principled choices (ethical competency).

When trying to instill morals and values to your child, experts at CHARACTER COUNTS! say it is important to …

Be consistent – The moral messages you send must be clear, consistent and repetitive. Children will judge your values not by what you say but by what you do and what you permit them to do. They will judge you not by your best moments but by your last worst act.
Thus, everything you say and do, and all that you allow to be said and done in your presence, either reinforces or undermines the credibility of your messages about the importance of good character. Over and over, use the specific language of the core virtues – trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship – and be as firm and consistent as you can be about teaching, advocating, modeling and enforcing these “Six Pillars of Character.” When you are tired, rushed or under pressure you are most tempted to rationalize. It may help to remember that the most powerful and lasting lessons about character are taught by making tough choices when the cost of doing the right thing is high.

Be concrete – Messages about good attitudes, character traits and conduct should be explicit, direct and specific. Building character and teaching ethics is not an academic undertaking; it must be relevant to the lives and experiences of your children. Talk about character and choices in situations that your children have been in. Comment on and discuss things their friends and teachers have done in terms of the “Six Pillars of Character.”

Be creative – Effective character development should be creative. It should be active and involve the child in real decision-making that has real consequences (such as teaching responsibility through allocating money from an allowance or taking care of a pet). Games and role-playing are also effective. Look for “teaching moments,” using good and bad examples from television, movies and the news.

The Josephson Institute of Ethics
Center for the 4th and 5th R’s
“Turn It In” Plagiarism Prevention Program
National Education Association

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