Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Thursday, January 08, 2009

liars, cheaters, and thieves

PC Magazine columnist and self-professed "cranky geek" John C. Dvorak points to survey results released by the Josephson Institute's Center for Youth Ethics. The survey paints a bleak picture:

STEALING. In bad news for business, more than one in three boys (35 percent) and one-fourth of the girls (26 percent) — a total of 30 percent overall — admitted stealing from a store within the past year…

CHEATING. Cheating in school continues to be rampant, and it's getting worse. A substantial majority (64 percent) cheated on a test during the past year (38 percent did so two or more times)… Students attending non-religious independent schools reported the lowest cheating rate (47 percent) while 63 percent of students from religious schools cheated…

As bad as these numbers are, they almost certainly understate the magnitude of the problem:

IT'S WORSE THAN IT APPEARS. As bad as these numbers are, it appears they understate the level of dishonesty exhibited by America's youth. More than one in four (26 percent) confessed they lied on at least one or two questions on the survey.

One of the reasons cheating is so rampant, Dvorak argues, is that schools encourage it:

In fact, children in school are trained to cheat better and better over time. Want to stop cheating in classroom testing? Put the kids in a supervised room of cubicles where they cannot see each other—and put a cell-phone jammer in the room. There would be no cheating. If there were any concern whatsoever about rampant cheating (as there should be), then every school in the country would have one of these rooms for testing.

While this sounds like a good idea, it's not feasible. Most American schools barely have enough money to cover their current costs. American taxpayerss would not be willing to fund a cheat-proof testing room for every school in the nation.

Dvorak's next suggestion sounds a lot more practical:

Plagiarism is also being handled incorrectly. The Internet should be a tool for helping students write papers. Children should be encouraged to rip text from sources and put it into their papers. But it should all be accounted for with simple citations. Lift whatever you want and tell the teacher where it came from, then comment on it—just as a blog post would.

This sounds like a great way to turn the Internet into a tool for building critical thinking skills — and job skills. The ability to critically evaluate information — particularly that which can be found online — is only going to grow more important as we move more fully into the information age.

Dvorak continues:

And let's take modern education to the next level. Why are today's students forced to perform with 19th-century methodologies? Why do they have to write essays at all? Why can't they produce a PowerPoint presentation? Or create a video? Or a podcast?

I don't know about this. Writing is still one of the most basic skills for surviving in the modern world. Nonetheless, it's worth considering whether one of these other formats might sometimes be an adequate replacement for a written report.

Regardless of the merits of Dvorak's ideas, the Josephson Institute's survey results make it clear that something needs to change.

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