A frequent topic for both students and educators is the significance and purpose of one's time in school and the impact education will have later on in life. Teachers often remind us of the benefits of a well-rounded education and how no learning opportunity should be wasted. While the benefits of learning subjects that may or may not be used in one's future career varies from student to student, the impacts of subverting the learning process for the sake of ease have significant consequences. Unfortunately, students might find themselves tempted to cheat as a result of not seeing the value in their education, and the rate at which students cheat on average around the country can be disheartening.
Academic dishonesty can occur when students fail to see inherent value in their educational process and when students have a less sophisticated or developed moral compass. The good news is that schools can foster this moral development and encourage intrinsic motivation every single day, and this happens here at Episcopal.
Scholars Christopher Qualls, Lafe Figgars and Danette Gibbs found that as many as eight in ten college students self-report cheating, according to their paper in The College Student Journal. Liora Schmelkin, a professor at Hofstra University, has conducted research indicating that around seventy percent of high school students cheat. Most shocking of all these statistics comes from a professor of medicine at the University of Zagreb in Croatia. Taradi found through numerous surveys that a whopping ninety-seven percent of those medical students surveyed have cheated during medical school. Students who will go on to hold people's lives in their hands and even those educated at the most selective universities can shortchange their education. Further, the negative impacts of people in important careers who cut corners don't start and stop with those in the medical field.
Similarly, business schools are sometimes plagued by a lack of academic integrity. Assistant professor of business at William Woods University, Stephen Forsha, has not only found that business schools have high rates of academically dishonest students but also a set of students who tolerate academic dishonesty more than others at different institutions. In recent years, insider trading scandals have shaken the business world and have been the catalyst for large amounts of public discourse on corruption from major companies. These scandals have also cost innocent people millions and resulted in huge numbers of lost jobs. Many corrupt corporate executives behind these scandals attended prestigious undergraduate and graduate schools with a focus in business. Many have another thing in common that makes academic dishonesty a very important issue.
The biggest reason students are academically dishonest is that they lack fully-developed moral development. Moral development is a psychological theory founded by late psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, which quantifies the levels of moral reasoning that guide a person’s actions. The lower levels of moral reasoning relate to self-interest and are (supposed to be) mostly exhibited by younger children. The intermediate level has to do with social conformity, and most teens function at this level (ideally). Fully functioning, well-developed adults are supposed to function at the highest level, which has to do with principles and ethics that do not sway in the face of societal pressure. Kohlberg’s theory was made with the assumption that most people function at a level of moral development that is appropriate for their age, but in real life this isn’t always true. This is where the problem with academic dishonesty becomes obvious. It has been found by the previously mentioned Stephen Forsha that business students display levels of moral development commonly displayed by young children and make arguments relating to ethics that are directly related to their own self-interest. Putting people with the same amount of moral development as children in positions of massive power and wealth is bound to lead to all sorts of problems, and of course it has with all of the previously mentioned examples of business scandals.
But, this does not have to be reality. Lynn Aaron and Catherine Roche, two academics published in the Journal of Educational Technology Systems, have found that academic dishonesty rates have risen tremendously from 1988 to 2008. This coincides with schools becoming more focused on performance and less focused on ensuring students are good citizens and human beings. Around 1988, schools stopped making character education mandatory, and academic dishonesty rates rose as a result. If the world wants to make sure students value being a good person and approach their lives with the same ethical attitudes across all of their endeavors, then schools need to return to focus on having conversations about ethics.
When all my research was said and done, I reflected on my time at Episcopal and realized several things. The first was about how lucky I was to be a member of the Episcopal community, and how much our school truly cared about its community. This included the honor code and our school’s mission to make students become good people who go on to lead purposeful lives. It made me feel lucky to be so involved in a true preparatory school: one that is not only concerned with producing good students and workers but good people as well. Episcopal has achieved this goal in every avenue I’ve witnessed. This truly hit me when members of the honor council at Washington and Lee University came to discuss our school’s honor system with us, and our entire discussion group revolved around trying to make our school’s system of integrity better. It became clear that we have succeeded in our mission and that Episcopal helps encourage students who are willing to speak about things they thought were wrong and try to make what they were passionate about better.
Ben Levine is a senior at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, and has attended the school since the 4th grade. He was inspired to join Thesis for the opportunity to hone his writing and speaking skills, and also to share something that excites him with other people. Outside of school, he has been an active member of a year round swim team and was runner up at the state meet his junior year of high school.