27 December 2007

Must one be a Scrooge?

The article below appeared yesterday via the AP wire in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The next generation to enter the work force may be more likely to cheat and lie than their more senior colleagues, according to a recent survey.

Three-quarters of teenagers believe they are fully prepared to make ethical decisions, yet nearly 40 percent also believe that lying, cheating or violence are necessary to succeed, according to the survey conducted by Junior Achievement Worldwide.

More than half of those teens said their personal desire to succeed is the rationale. There were 23 percent who said violence toward another person is acceptable on some level.

The number of teens willing to bend the rules has more than doubled since the survey was conducted in 2003, according to Ainar Aijala, chairman of Junior Achievement Worldwide.

"Kids are seeing evidence of successful politicians, professional athletes, religious leaders, lawyers and business professionals being dishonest -- people they also see as their role models," Aijala said.

The results could be an indication of problems future employers may face.

"I think what this says is that employers will over time need to be more diligent in background checking," Aijala said.

The survey was conducted online with a sample of 725 teens ages 13 to 18.

We don't really get much of an indication about the quality of the sampling or research methods. I'm not one to poo-poo on-line surveys---some of the educational research I've been combing through for my doctoral work suggests that if properly constructed, web surveys are just as valid and reliable and paper ones. The organization (Junior Achievement Worldwide) appears to be legit...so I'll give them a big benefit of a doubt here on their methodology.

What I'm not so sure about is their conclusion that employers may need to be more diligent with background checks. Will this solve a gap in the ethics of potential employees? If nearly one-quarter of potential hires believes that violence toward someone else may be acceptable, how will hiring or not hiring these kids change their beliefs? What do we as educators do knowing that 40% of our students believe that lying and cheating are acceptable ways to "get ahead"?

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about character education programs. Some say that it is not the province of the public schools to take this on---it is something which belongs within a family. Others say that since so many children are not being taught general expectations for societal behavior at home that the schools must step up to the plate. Either way, kids are going to be provided with both good and bad role models. Teachers can't stop celebrities or pro athletes from making some very public and very poor choices anymore than we can keep some of our peers from engaging in some questionable practices. While this doesn't absolve us of a responsibility to help educate and prepare students---what more should we be doing?


Jennifer said...

But the article doesn't say that 40% of teens think it's acceptable to lie or cheat, it says they think it's necessary to succeed. I sometimes think that there are arenas where that's true (and since it's not acceptable to me to lie or cheat, I would not succeed there.

As for the physical violence, although I think it must be a last resort, don't you think it can be acceptable in self-defense situations? Like you said, it's hard to be sure of the quality of the methods, and even harder to be sure of their conclusions.

The Science Goddess said...

This is definitely one of those times when I wish I could see the survey instrument---the wording of the questions would make a very big difference in how they were answered.

Will it make a difference to kids, I wonder, to know that because the majority of people don't think that it's okay to lie/cheat in order to succeed that they can then easily take advantage? What reason can we provide them to do the "right thing"?

Jenna said...

It's interesting that you have this posted today... I was listening to a call-in NPR program about Bhutto's assisination. There was a significant discussion about Pakistan's younger generation and the impact of violence upon their development of ethics. The speakers believed that this was an example of how the younger generation believes that violence does justify the means - an extreme in comparison to this study, but is it really all that far off?

The Science Goddess said...

Maybe not so far off. In the continuing globalization of local events, wouldn't "youth" worldwide be influenced by the same kinds of general beliefs about the world they're growing up in?

Clix said...

The Cheating Culture was an intriguing read. I don't know that I agree with all the conclusions or even trust all the data (it seems I, too, am a product of the Cheating Culture!) but it was interesting.

The Science Goddess said...

I'll have to take a look. Thanks for the recommendation.

Tom Brandt said...

Here is the link on the Junior Achievement site with their info on this survey:


If you read down below the Methodology heading you can see a lot of hedging.

With that said, I tend to agree with all you have said, Science Goddess, about this survey. The family is the first line for ethics education. I can't help quoting Paul Barton's title from his ETS report: The Family: America's Smallest School. Each family is a place of learning and, if the adults of a family abdicate their responsibilities to properly educate and raise their children, then we will be seeing results expressed in this survey.

The Science Goddess said...

Excellent points. Thank you for the link!

Toritopia said...

Just in my own teaching, I have encountered students who when caught cheating (plagerism mostly) deny, deny, deny. The frustrating part for me is the conversation with the parents. On more than one occasion, I have had parents defend their children's actions, even when I have solid proof that they have cheated. Education about cheating needs to start at home. If the parents have an easy going attitude about cheating, then so will the child.

The Science Goddess said...

I find that with cheating, a lot of the discussion comes around defining what that is. We as teachers often have a very different definition of it vs. what kids and parents understand.

That being said, I certainly have had parents who completely deny their child's wrongdoing. This includes a kid who copied on a test. There were two different versions of the test---so it wasn't difficult to show how this child's answers perfectly matched the other version. Mom said it just had to be coincidence. Shur.