`Character Education' May Become Need of '90S ETHICS IN US

By David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 14, 1993 | Go to article overview

`Character Education' May Become Need of '90S ETHICS IN US


David Holmstrom, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


LYING. Cheating. Stealing.

Recent incidents and several studies suggesting they are pervasive in the United States point out a need for ethics teaching in schools, education experts say.

* Last month, members of Texas Southern University's marching band were apprehended during a trip to Tokyo for stealing $22,000 worth of tape recorders, pocket-size televisions, and other items from stores.

* In Santa Ana, Calif., the finance officer of a financially struggling school district was caught embezzling more than $3.5 million from the district over a six-year period.

* In November, the Joseph and Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics in Marina Del Ray, Calif., released a report on nearly 7,000 US students indicating that 61 percent of high schoolers had cheated on an exam in the past year, 33 percent had stolen something from a store, and 33 percent of college students said they would lie on a resume.

* According to a National Retail Federation study, shoplifting cost US businesses $24 billion last year, and only 3 to 5 percent of shoplifters are caught. Employee theft costs businesses about $9 billion a year.

As lying, cheating, and stealing continue to roll around on the pitching deck of culture, some authors, teachers, and professionals think character education will become a major component of teaching in the next decade. They say not lying or stealing is the right thing to do, and should be taught from that standpoint.

"Prudence says it's the smart thing to do, you know, good ethics make good business," says Michael Josephson, president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics. "Virtue says it's the right thing to do. I argue that what we need today is not more self-interest ethics, but more virtue ethics." Right vs. wrong

Mr. Josephson says that today's sophisticated rationalizations for behavior leave people not knowing what is right and wrong.

"People don't get born into this world knowing what the rules are," says Robert Frank, a professor of economics, ethics, and public policy at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "It's very important to teach them, and I think that's been part of the problem - that we haven't been teaching people the rules anywhere near the same degree as we used to."

Josephson once did a survey for a private school showing that two-thirds of the students had cheated on exams. The administration did nothing about it. "Somehow people never believe it's their kids doing the cheating, lying, and stealing," he says. …

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