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November 19, 2007

Different Notions of Honesty?

Friends from Hanover came into town this weekend and mentioned this story: "A small town in New Hampshire is coming to grips with a scandal at the public high school where nine students face criminal charges for allegedly breaking into a classroom and stealing advance copies of final exams.

The incident at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., is sparking debate between those who believe the students are being treated fairly and those who think the charges go too far."

But what I found most interesting about this story was this:"Teachers also may be sending kids the wrong message about cheating.

Students say they know they won't get in trouble for things like sharing homework or finding out what's on a test from kids who've already taken it. "That is cheating, and some teachers don't classify it as cheating," said Junior Cory Burns. "Or some don't see it as such a serious issue, " added Dillon Gregory.

The millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000) seems to have a different notion about honesty than previous generations.

Aine Donovan, executive director of the Dartmouth College Ethics Institute, said kids today are more apt to rationalize their behavior as a means to an end; and they seem to have invented their own particular code of right and wrong.

"When I ask my students: 'Is there anything unethical about downloading music?'" Donovan said. "(They answer) 'Absolutely not.' They don't have a problem with it. And yet, those same kids would never in a million years, walk into a K-mart and steal a CD. They just have a different kind of orientation of morality."

"Other students, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admit that they would cheat because of all of the pressure to do well.

Jim Kenyon, a columnist for The Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H. — whose son is accused of acting as a lookout and now attends private school — said Hanover is a place where the college you go to is more of a status symbol than the car you drive, and parents put big-time pressure on their kids.

"We've created a monster, and I'm as guilty as anyone as a parent," said Kenyon. "Because we want the best for our children, and so we should be surprised when we have these kind of things happen."

But Kenyon adds that treating kids like criminals does nothing to address the broader and rampant problem of cheating."

Update: Kenyon's son was found guilty of acting as a lookout and given a reduced fine and community service as punishment. The judge suggested he look up the definition of "lemming." The trials of other students are still pending.

Posted by Joan Knoebel at November 19, 2007 11:30 AM
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