The magnificent Josephson Institute released the results of its bi-annual survey on the ethicsÂ of high school students.Â An exemplary study that has helped guide us since 1992, Josephson’s work has been tireless and helpful.Â However, this year’s results are puzzling.Â According to the data, the number of high schools students who self-report cheating,Â a figure that has hovered at between 59% and 65% since 1992, has dropped to 49%. TheÂ Barometer hopes the figureÂ accurately reflects what is happeningÂ and that, as Mr. Josephson notes, “this is the beginning of a downward trend.”Â Indeed, the Barometer hopes that it is indeed the work of the “Character Counts” program that is brining these stunning results.Â That ethics training helps is music to the Barometer’s ears. However, there are several questions thatÂ bring uneasiness:
1.Â This past year we had criminal charges in New York involving high school students who hired a brainiac to take their college entrance exams for them.Â The scandal came to light when the testing folks noted a significant difference between test scores and past records.Â The brainiac did a little too well for the abilities of those who hired him.
2. There is the problem of self-definition that is rampant.Â It all depends on the meaning of the word “cheating.”Â Copying others’ homework to many students is not cheating.Â It is team work, and very helpful. Working together to find answers for online questions, quizzes, and exams is not cheating — it is collaboration. Flat-out lie is different from total fabrication. And there are versions of the truth.
3. Finally, there are the puzzling incosistencies in the students’ surveyÂ answers.Â 49% of them confess to cheating, yet 93% are satisifed with their character and ethics.Â 81% believe that they are better than most people when it comes to character and ethics.Â 99% believe that it is important to be a person with good ethics and character, but 49% are cheating and 45% of the boys believe that you have to cheat sometimes to get ahead.Â 93% say their parents want them to be ethical, but 80% lied to their parents in the past year and 55% lied to their teachers. Oh, and one more, 30% of them lied on 1 to 10 of their responses to the questions.Â That’s up from 25.7% in 2010.
The Josephson survey has always been well done and documented as valid.Â As noted, the Barometer hopes ’tis all true.Â Â Nonetheless, proceed with caution.Â Thirty-five yeras of teaching experience, with the last few years being full of ethical lapses by college students, finds anecdotal evidence, something that measures conduct rather than self-perception, at odds with the data.