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Survey of Students Suggests Americans Are Apathetic About Ethical Standards

While 36 percent said they had used the Internet to plagiarize, 93 percent said they were satisfied with their ethics.
While 36 percent said they had used the Internet to plagiarize, 93 percent said they were satisfied with their ethics. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
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By David Crary
Associated Press
Monday, December 1, 2008

NEW YORK, Nov. 30 -- In the past year, 30 percent of U.S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64 percent have cheated on a test, according to a new, large-scale survey suggesting that Americans are apathetic about ethical standards.

Educators reacting to the findings questioned any suggestion that today's young people are less honest than previous generations, but several agreed that intensified pressures are prompting many students to cut corners.

"The competition is greater, the pressures on kids have increased dramatically," said Mel Riddle of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "They have opportunities their predecessors didn't have [to cheat]. The temptation is greater."

The Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly selected high schools nationwide, both public and private. All students in the selected schools were given the survey in class; their anonymity was assured.

Michael Josephson, the institute's founder and president, said he was most dismayed by the findings about theft. The survey found that 35 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls -- 30 percent overall -- acknowledged stealing from a store within the past year. One-fifth said they stole something from a friend; 23 percent said they stole something from a parent or other relative.

"What is the social cost of that -- not to mention the implication for the next generation of mortgage brokers?" Josephson remarked in an interview. "In a society drenched with cynicism, young people can look at it and say, 'Why shouldn't we? Everyone else does it.' "

Other findings from the survey:

· Cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated on a test in the past year and 38 percent did so two or more times, up from 60 percent and 35 percent in a 2006 survey.

· Thirty-six percent said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment, up from 33 percent in 2004.


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