Some Thoughts about Deception

By Petress, Ken | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Some Thoughts about Deception


Petress, Ken, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Deception is defined and explained as a value, not just as a behavior. This essay advocates truthfulness as a unit of instruction in the elementary and middle school grades, in secondary schools, as well as in college. Deception is shown to be ubiquitous in our culture and is defined as a corrosive cultural element in need of correcting. Deception is seen as a learned behavior and value; truthfulness in promoted over deception.

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Deception is the denial of honesty; honesty is a learned value. Values are temporal and transitory; they change with age, maturity, situations, (1) and cultural change. Some educators claim it is unethical to teach values in school; that values belong in churches and homes. This essay agrees with Arthur Schwartz in his argument in favor of teaching values in the classroom. (2) Caution must be taken not to suggest that values are static, universal, or that they must be adopted or changed. Only teachers with demonstrated sensitivity and proven ethical teaching strategies ought attempt teaching values. I believe values can and should also be presented in the lower grades as well with caution, care, sensitivity, and with a non coercive approach.

Values are embedded in our culture, interpersonal relationships, organization cultures, politics, religions [ours and others'], and our legal system. (3) Most homes and churches do not present this spectrum of values, especially honesty vs. deception; therefore, our schools have to pick up the slack lest our children inherit a value void that may haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Recently, I visited two third grade elementary school classes, and two high school classes, (4) and I took a poll in my freshman college class: each was asked about lying. Many responses from each group were almost identical in wording and intensity. This shocked me as I anticipated some change in attitude and value and in sophistication from students in these various levels would occur with age and advanced learning. All these groups agreed that lying was common; that they, themselves, sometimes lied; that they were aware that they were frequently lied to--even sometimes while the lies were being spun: and that they rarely did anything about these lies. Some students in each group expressed curiosity about why I was making a big deal of lying. Lying seemed not to be much of a big deal for the students or their teachers. Most of the teachers openly deplored lying but claimed they were "powerless" to do much about most lies. It seems that deception is not a major value issue or an overt concern in today's classrooms or by parents as measured by the dearth of questions or comments from parents and teachers during periodic conferences. Several teachers have told me that rarely does this topic arise except in the most egregious cases. Students are being harmed in the long run by not being taught about lies and lying. They grow up assuming that since everyone lies and is frequently lied to, the practice of deception is acceptable; even desirable, as a means of social interaction. Since it is rarely discussed and since observed and experienced lying is rarely confronted or criticized, students come to see lying as a competitive game where the best lies and liars are winners. Lying is thus not seen as a practice to avoid and condemn, but one to strive to sharpen and to receive praise for when it is done successfully.

Deception is pervasive; we all lie and are lied to daily. Lies are so common that we often do not recognize them for what they are. Strictly speaking, any statements that are made that are knowingly untrue, exaggerated, intentionally incomplete or masking needed details, or evasive are lies. Some people have lied so often and have been so seldom confronted with their lies, they no longer recognize lies from truth. Some individuals are incapable of discriminating between lies and truth; such individuals are called "pathological liars. …

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