Student Achievement

An Ethically Questionable Generation

By Katie Ash — December 01, 2008 1 min read
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This AP article about a survey on American students’ ethics paints a grim picture of what kids think is right and wrong.

According to the survey, 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls admitted to stealing merchandise from a store within the past year, up from 32 percent of boys and 23 percent of girls in 2006. Sixty-four percent of students admitted to cheating on a test within the past year, and 36 percent said they had used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment for school within the past year, says the survey, which gathered responses from almost 30,000 public and private high school students.

In light of the other findings, perhaps most troublesome was the finding that 77 percent of students believed that “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”

The AP article cites increased academic pressure and greater access to ways to cheat as two reasons why cheating rates are rising.

The article and survey reminded me of a story I just read on about technology’s role in student ethics. In the video embedded in that article, Howard Gardner, a psychologist with the Harvard Graduate School of Education says, “we began to look at the sense of ethics of young Americans, and we found that they all knew what it meant to be ethical, and some of them were and some of them admired ethics, but many young Americans feel that ethics is a luxury. It’s something that they can afford to do when they’re wealthy and successful and famous, but in the meantime they want to pass.”

The two articles dovetail nicely, and both project a troubling picture of the ethics of this upcoming generation.

What do you think? Are students today less honest than students five or ten years ago? Or are students just more likely to admit it? What might be contributing to the increase in students who admit to dishonest behavior? What might be done to curb that dishonest behavior?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.