Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

A Broad Character Education Approach for Addressing America's Cheating Culture

Academic journal article Journal of Character Education

A Broad Character Education Approach for Addressing America's Cheating Culture

Article excerpt

A recent article in The Guardian entitled "China Deploys Drones to Stamp Out Cheating in College Entrance Exams" (2015) is a poignant reminder of the prevalence of cheating by high school students across the globe. Indeed, some scholars note that academic dishonesty has reached epidemic proportions (Stephens & Wangaard, 2013). In 2011, a survey of over 3,600 American high school students found that 95% of students had engaged in some form of cheating behavior even though 57% of the students agreed that it was morally wrong to cheat (Wangaard & Stephens, 2011). Similarly, Seider, Novick, and Gomez's (2013) recent finding that lower academic integrity-measured in their study as a higher willingness to engage in dishonest behaviors such as cheating-is associated with higher academic achievement in middle school students, lends support to the idea that, in today's culture, there is a perception that it "pay[s] to cheat" (Lickona & Davidson, 2005).

Numerous methods have been employed to combat this cheating culture, including implementing preventative or punitive measures, building trust, and fostering student-teacher relationships (Lickona & Davidson, 2005; McCabe & Trevino, 1993; McCabe, Trevino & Butterfield, 2001; Morris, 2016; Saddiqui, 2016; Stephens, 2016; Wangaard & Stephens, 2011). In addition, many whole-school intervention models have been proposed (e.g., Lickona & Davidson, 2005; Morris, 2016; Saddiqui, 2016; Stephens, 2016; Stephens & Wangaard, 2013). For example, Stephens' (2016) "multilevel intervention model" for creating a culture of integrity promotes academic honesty through whole-school, context-specific, and individual approaches.

Often couched within these whole-school models are moral character education interventions, such as honor codes, which are used to combat academic dishonesty (Lickona & Davidson, 2005; McCabe & Trevino, 1993; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001; Stephens & Wangaard, 2013). Indeed, integrity itself is usually considered a strength of a moral character (Lickona & Davidson, 2005), and is defined by the International Center for Academic Integrity as "adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty" (ICAI, 2015 citing dictionary.com). While this definition and frame of reference certainly make sense, we posit that fostering a broad range of character strengths (not just those associated with morality) might also positively impact students' integrity and help to combat student cheating. Thus, whereas some whole-school approaches intend to specifically target students' academic integrity, our aim is broader, with a focus on promoting multiple character strengths in relation to integrity.

Character can be conceptualized in many different ways, but a definition used by numerous scholars (e.g., Baehr, 2015; Birdwell, Scott, & Reynolds, 2015; Seider, 2012; Shields, 2011) parses character into four areas: moral character, performance character, civic character, and intellectual character. Lickona and Davidson (2005) originally argued for a division between moral character (strengths that allow for successful interpersonal relationships) and performance character (strengths that promote excellence), but more recently, scholars (e.g., Baehr, 2013; Seider, 2012; Shields, 2011) have argued for the addition of civic and intellectual character strengths. Seider (2012) called for the conceptualization of civic character as those strengths necessary for responsible citizenship, whereas Baehr (2013) has argued that intellectual character includes the character strengths of a good thinker. Many scholars agree that character is a multidimensional construct (Berkowitz, 2012; Lerner & Schmid Callina, 2014; Seider, 2012), and factor analytic studies have begun to support the understanding of character in this way (McGrath, 2014; Park & Peterson, 2006; Shryack, Steger, Krueger, & Kallie, 2010; Wang et al. …

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