Integrity and Character Education
A recent survey of youth values and ethics by the Josephson Institute found a disturbing gap between students’ beliefs and practices. 40,000 high school students responded to questions about how they feel about honesty and integrity and about whether or not they had recently cheated, lied, or stolen. While not surprisingly the overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that they thought it was important to be a “good person”; 59% admitted cheating on a test in the past year; 1 in 3 boys and 1 in 4 girls admitted stealing from a store in the past year; 80% admitted lying to a parent about something significant. But the disconnect really hits you when you read that 92% affirmed that they are satisfied with their own character and ethics. I want to be good. I’m not good. I’m satisfied. But then I suppose we do tend to rationalize our own transgressions while taking particular notice of others’.
The findings of this survey seem to beg the question; is this apparent crisis of integrity being addressed? The vast majority of schools embrace mission statements with some kind vague, positive-sounding language about promoting character development, civic responsibility, ethics, or character development. I wonder though if these schools are any more consistent in actively and deliberately pursuing their own admirable goals than the students in the survey.