- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2008

In the last year, by their own admission 64 percent of high school students have cheated on a test, 30 percent have stolen from a store, 36 percent used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, and 42 percent sometimes lied to save money.

These findings from a survey of 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected public and private high schools across the country are disheartening, but perhaps not surprising in today’s ethically challenged society. Just look at the adult behavior these days. It’s monkey see, monkey do.

It may well be that intensified pressures of achieving good grades and getting into quality colleges may prompt many students to cut corners, and that opportunities to cheat are greater than ever thanks to the Internet. It may well be that, as one educator said, “We overload kids these days, and they look for ways to survive.” But that doesn’t explain the most alarming statistic.

Michael Josephson, president of the Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics organization that conducted the survey, zeroed in on it: 30 percent acknowledged stealing from a store. “What is the social cost of that - not to mention the next generation of mortgage brokers?” Mr. Josephson remarked. “In a society drenched with cynicism, young people can look at it and say, ‘Why shouldn’t we? Everyone else does it.’ ”

Mr. Josephson contends that too many adults are blase about ethical shortcomings among young people and in society at large. One look at the world of sports, entertainment, business, government, and even religion, reinforces the latter part of his observation. He adds that “adults are not taking this very seriously. The schools are not doing even the most moderate thing. …They don’t want to know. There’s a pervasive apathy.”

His conclusion is that the results of this and other studies show “our moral infrastructure is unsound and in serious need of repair. This is not a time to lament and whine but to take thoughtful, positive actions.”

On Long Island, N.Y., an alliance of school superintendents and college presidents recently started a campaign drawing attention to academic integrity problems, cracking down on plagiarism and cheating, and emphasizing the distinctions between original and borrowed work.

Beyond that, the virtues of integrity - the sort of old-fashioned “Duty, Honor, Country” that the West Point motto embodies - need constant reiteration. Youth groups, adult groups, schools, colleges, universities, clergy, businesses, governmental groups, Hollywood, you name it - all can and should play a part. “Leave It to Beaver” may be history, but moral certitude regarding lying, stealing and cheating is a constant and should never, ever be rationalized as a relativism.

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