Unit Eight:Honesty：Is It Going out of Style?
Ever thought about cheating on a test? Of course not. But some students are not quite so honest …
Honesty: Is It Going Out of Style?
According to a recent poll, 61 percent of American high school students have admitted to cheating on exams at least once. It can be argued such a response my not mean much. After all, most students have been faced with the temptation to peek at a neighbor's test paper. And students can be hard on themselves in judging such behavior. However, there are other indications that high school cheating may be on the rise.
More and more states are requiring students to pass competency tests in order to receive their high school diplomas. And many educators fear that an increase in the use of state exams will lead to a corresponding rise in cheating. A case in point is students in New York State who faced criminal misdemeanor charges for possessing and selling advance copies of state Regents examinations.
Cheating is considered to be a major problem in colleges and universities. Several professors say they've dropped the traditional term paper requirement because many students buy prewritten term papers, and they can't track down all the cheaters anymore.
Colleges and universities across the nation have decided to do more than talk about the rise in student cheating. For instance, the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland launched a campaign to stop one form of cheating. As 409 students filed out of their exam, they found all but one exit blocked. Proctors asked each student to produce an ID card with an attached photo. Students who said they'd left theirs in the dorm or at home had a mug shot taken. The purpose of the campaign was to catch "ringers," students who take tests for other students.
The majority of students at the University of Maryland applauded the campaign. The campus newspaper editorial said, "Like police arresting speeders, the intent is not to catch everyone but rather to catch enough to spread the word."
We frequently hear about "the good old days", when Americans were better, happier, and more honest. But were they more honest? Maybe yes, a long time ago when life was very different from what it is today.
School children used to know the story of how Abraham Lincoln walked five miles to return a penny he'd overcharged a customer. It's the kind of story we think of as myth. But in the case of Lincoln, the story is true … unlike the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. Washington's first biographer invented the tale of little George saying to his father, "I cannot tell a lie. I did it with my ax." What is important in both stories, however, is that honesty was seen as an important part of the American character.
And these are just two stories out of many. Students in the last century usually didn't read "fun" stories. They read stories that taught moral values. Such stories pointed out quite clearly that children who lied, cheated, or stole came to bad ends.
Parents may have further reinforced those values. It's difficult to know. We do know that children didn't hear their parents talk of cheating the government on income taxes - there weren't any.
A clue as to why Americans may have been more honest in the past lies in the Abe Lincoln story. Lincoln knew his customer. They both lived in a small town. Would a check-out person at a large supermarket return money a customer? It's less likely. On the other hand, would overnight guests at an inn run by a husband and wife, steal towels? It's less likely.
Perhaps this tells us that people need to know one another to be at their honest best.
The vast majority of Americans still believe that honesty as an important part of the American Character. For that reason, there are numerous watch-dog committees at all levels of society. Although signs of dishonesty in school, business, and government seem much more numerous in recent years than in the past, could it be that we are getting better at revealing such dishonesty?
There is some evidence that dishonesty may ebb and flow. When times are hard, incidents of theft and cheating usually go up. And when times get better such incidents tend to go down.
Cheating in school also tends to ebb and flow. But it doesn't seem linked to the economy.
Many educators feel that as students gain confidence in themselves and their abilities, they are less likely to cheat. Surprisingly, some efforts to prevent cheating may actually encourage cheating - a person may feel "they don't trust me anyway," and be tempted to "beat the system." Distrust can be contagious. But, so can trust!
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