Eli
Newberger
 

November
Cheating


There are several situations in which boys are frequently tempted to cheat—in sports, for example, or in their after-school employment—but I've elected to look mainly at academic cheating because academic work is the equivalent in a boy's life to his parents' jobs. A student who habitually cheated in his schoolwork might find it less guilt-provoking to cheat in his adult work than he would if he had gone through school with academic integrity.

Boys are familiar with cheating well before they are tempted to practice it academically. They may have observed it or done it in family life—cheating in games in order to win, for example—or in play groups. They may have heard parents boast of successful cheating—on expense accounts or tax returns. Cheating is rife in adult life, from white-collar business fraud to falsified research data.

My brother, Henry, is a high school social studies teacher. It was thus natural for me to turn to him first for information on academic cheating by boys today. According to Henry, cheating is prevalent in high school. He told me about a boy he observed using a crib sheet during the first exam of the past school year. Henry reacted with obvious enough indignation that the rest of the class immediately knew of the transgression and teased the student mercilessly for weeks. The academic penalty for the student was to get a grade of zero to begin the year's grading.

In Henry's school, there is no established school policy on cheating penalties—maybe a sign in itself that the school as an institution is uncertain how to deal with cheating. Each teacher has to use his own judgment. There is no written school code of academic and social behavior, nor are students regularly reminded of standards of behavior. It is assumed that "everyone knows" cheating is not permitted.

The happy fallout of the story is that Henry's student responded to the cheating exposure by buckling down to work; by June he was near the top of the class despite having his initial grade of zero averaged in. He became an exemplary student, not only successful in tests but impressive in classroom discussions.

Others might regard the embarrassing public exposure as contributing to the boy's change of direction, but Henry believes he would just as surely have changed course if Henry had handled the episode firmly but more discreetly—in other words, without shaming the boy publicly. Henry regrets his outburst when he discovered the crib sheet. It is better, he says, not to embarrass students deliberately. Peer status is everything to kids, he believes. The last thing a student wants is to be uncool. Though Henry didn't say so, perhaps what classmates considered socially uncool in this situation was that the student got caught, not that the student had attempted to cheat. A boy who cheats today does so as a member of a society in which appearances are often judged more harshly than underlying social realities. Adultery, for example, is reported by survey research to be a prevalent type of cheating. There is little evidence of public concern about adultery if it is effectively kept secret.

Every boy has to sort out for himself a set of inconsistent social cues that he is given beginning in childhood. One cue is that cheating is wrong, but other cues include the obvious fact that some people think it is more wrong than others do, that society as a whole regards some forms of cheating as morally worse than others, and that sometimes people are more scornful of getting caught than of the cheating offense itself. I don't think it is too exaggerated to say that there is a culture of dishonesty coexistent with a culture of integrity in our society. A boy who is tempted to cheat has many precedents from the culture of dishonesty to use as justification when he elects to cheat. Fortunately, he also has exposure to the culture of integrity that espouses good choices.

Another student came to see Henry late last year to ask about his grade average. Henry consulted his grading book and pointed out that the student had failed to turn in some written assignments, a factor that, if not remedied, would adversely affect his final grade. The student hurried off to complete the missing work. Then he went a step further. He graded the assignments himself (very highly) and tried to slip the papers into Henry's desk. Unwittingly, he used a different color of ink than Henry ever uses, so the cheating strategy was exposed.

Reactions to cheating can be intemperate and have unpredictable consequences. A female high school teacher spoke about getting caught cheating in an English lit course during her freshman year in college. She had plagiarized a published critique of a work for one of her reports, and her professor recognized the passages and knew their source.

The dean suspended her for a semester. He said of her cheating, "You've done well, but not well enough. We suspect you've done this kind of thing in all your classes." His suspicious accusations were untrue. She was deeply affected by the way a single incident had provoked a wholesale condemnation of her character.

The eighteenth-century philosopher, Jean Paul Richter, commented: "If a child tells a lie, tell him that he has told a lie, but don't call him a liar. If you define him as a liar, you break down his confidence in his own character." I think his is profoundly wise advice. What the dean did to the student was to generalize her single offense and call her a cheater. She might have withdrawn from an academic career, or she might have developed a deep resentment of his unfair characterization of her and resolved to cheat more skillfully. Fortunately, this student resolved to clear her reputation. After serving her suspension, she returned to the same college, graduated with honors, and now counsels all her high school students on the potential consequences of cheating. Her story is sobering, but is her experience the final word on cheating? How prevalent is cheating, and is it best handled with a punishment-as-deterrent policy?

Why Do Students Cheat?

Who's Who Among American High School Students surveyed 3,210 "high achievers" in 1997. Eighty-eight percent judged cheating to be "common" among their peers. Seventy-six percent confessed they themselves had cheated. Compare this figure to the results of a national sample of college students in the 1940s, only 20 percent of whom admitted to cheating in high school when questioned anonymously. The students queried in 1997 ranked copying someone else's homework as the most frequently practiced form of cheating (65 percent of the cheaters); cheating on a quiz or test next most often (38 percent); consulting a published summary in lieu of reading the book, third (29 percent); and plagiarizing published work, fourth (15 percent). "Every single day I see cheating, a lot, in every single class I'm in," says a high school freshman from Madison, Connecticut. "They ask to see someone's homework, they write things on their hands or bring in little cheat cards to hold in their laps. It's bad."

Another type of academic cheating appears to have increased significantly in the past few decades. When William Bowers surveyed 5,000 college students in 1963, 11 percent admitted to collaborating with other students on work that was assigned to be done individually. Donald McCabe and Linda Trevino partially replicated Bowers's study in 1993 at some of the same colleges and found 49 percent admitting to the same kind of forbidden collaboration. My brother Henry's policy, when he discovers evidence of collaboration on work that was assigned to be done individually, is to grade the work on its merits, then divide the grade by the number of collaborators.

The odds of getting away with academic cheating appear to be heavily in the cheater's favor. Ninety-two percent of the confessed cheaters surveyed by Who's Who said they had never been caught. As we shall see, temptation to try cheating may be encouraged by the uncertain application of penalties: from severe to nothing at all. The prevailing attitude of a majority of students about cheating is that "it's not a big deal."

"They are driven cheaters," says the high school teacher I've mentioned who was suspended from college for cheating. "They do it for grades, not because they're lazy or stupid or don't know the material. It's sad, you see, because they're so driven to have a high grade-point average so they can get into their first-choice college. I hate it, because they lose interest in learning. I tell their parents that it's okay if they get a B. It's more important to be a well-rounded, interested, bright kid. But that's a hard sell."

When Henry and I were schoolboys, the students who were believed to have the strongest incentive to cheat were the students in danger of failing. Is the primary incentive now to get into the college of one's choice? A Chicago area mother reflected the grade pressure recently when she complained bitterly to a teacher upon her son's receiving a B instead of the desired A. The grade, the mother argued, could make the difference between her son's "getting into Northwestern or having to settle for Northeastern." While one might give her credit for knowing how to turn a phrase, she doesn't appear ready to settle for a "well-rounded, interested, bright kid" who gets B's.

Eighty percent of high school students share the belief that college is the door to a successful career, and they may believe as well that the better the college, the better the chances of success later on. Only about 50 percent of the students in high school today will actually go on to college, but about 80 percent of middle school and high school students say they intend to go to college. While there are many ways to define success, and not all of them go through college, it's easier to see that later in life than it is as a teenager.

About 20 percent of high school students are in some kind of serious alienation from the educational system at any given time, surveys suggest. They are working too many hours in paid employment to cope with schoolwork, or they have been devastated by drugs or alcohol or crime, or they are distracted by psychiatric or severe family problems, among the more common reasons. What this means is that almost everyone except the alienated student is pushing toward the door to college. In that kind of environment, the temptation to cheat to get the coveted admission or scholarships must be very powerful indeed.

The self- and family-induced pressure to get into the "right" college is not unlike the pressure many adults feel as they try to balance their economic and social class aspirations with the realities of their incomes. When they sit down to subtract from disposable income what they owe in taxes, the temptation to cheat a little here and there, or a lot, is very powerful.

Bill BrashIer, a journalist, decided to compare high school statistics on cheating to seventh-grade attitudes and practices by interviewing several classes of bright students selected for magnet programs. The seventh graders, especially the boys, were quick to tell him their methods. How they wrote information relevant to tests on shoe soles or wrists. How they covertly used pocket calculators when it was forbidden. How the class brain signaled correct answers to the others. Their methods were more traditional than the technique of some high school boys I read about who wrote crib sheet information on the underside of their baseball cap brims until their high school teacher said all such hats had to be worn backward during exams.

They all cheated, the seventh graders said, on tests, on homework, on reports. One of their teachers laughed off their talk as exaggeration, as a way of being cool. Only a few of them, he insisted, cheated as much as they all claimed. But why did they all claim to cheat?

The simple desire to take the easy road is sometimes advanced as the basic reason that students cheat. My brother says that in almost thirty years of teaching he has never ceased being surprised how many students "just never studied." So there would appear to be a certain portion of the student body disposed from the beginning to take the easy path: book reports off the Internet, for example. A mother writing to an Internet bulletin board provides a perfect example:

My 15-year-old son had an English paper due on Great Expectations. When I didn't see him working on it, I gave him a gentle reminder. 'Don't worry Mom: he told me. 'My paper's going to be great.' And it was. In fact, it was so great that I became suspicious. I called up the file on our computer and discovered that he had downloaded the paper from the Internet! I was shocked. Even more shocking was my son's attitude when I confronted him with cheating. He didn't see it that way. 'Everyone cheats, Mom,' he said. Is he right? What can I say to get through to him?

There certainly is a sizable pool of teenagers who resent the cheating going on around them for making it more difficult for them to succeed honestly. But other testimony, including that of my brother Henry, sounds plausible to me. Students, on the whole, are very tolerant of other students' cheating. The statistics, after all, indicate that only somewhere between a fifth and a third have the right to claim that they don't cheat. My guess is that the incentive in the majority of cases is to get a better grade, either to keep from failing or to build a superior academic record to facilitate getting into college; cheating as an easier path than actually doing the work would also be a motive, but one made all the more accessible by the prevalence of cheating for other reasons.

Of those who don't cheat in order to get better grades than they could get on their own, some certainly are collaborating with cheaters by giving them assistance—letting cheaters copy their homework or look at their papers during exams, for example. So they are endorsing cheating and contributing to it, even though they aren't benefiting from it. The mother of an eighth grader found giving answers to others during a test argued that his giving did not constitute cheating; only receiving information was cheating, she said, as she accused the teacher of pursuing a vendetta against her son.

There may be some social benefit for the bright collaborator in a system in which cheating is widespread. For the "brain" to give others the opportunity to copy his work, thus leveling the academic playing field to some extent, would be viewed as a "cool" thing to do in some schools. A bright student who refused to assist other students asking for collaboration in cheating might be ridiculed or excluded from high-status cliques and crowds.

Attitudes Toward Cheating

 eer, long before he had become an icon of American architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright was so desperate to acquire a commission that he showed his potential client one of Louis Sullivan's great buildings in Chicago and claimed that he, Wright, was its architect. He got the commission. I think of Wright whenever I'm tempted to assume that it's the untalented who cheat, or that cheating will surely corrupt talent.

Of the three parties most interested in the outcome of a high school cheating incident—the accused student, the teacher (and the school administrators behind him or her), and the parents, each has a different perspective. The alleged pressure that leads to cheating is attributed by most high school students to their parents, to their peers, and sometimes to their own personal calculations.

The overwhelming testimony of high school students is that when a student is caught cheating, the teacher, out of sympathy, misguided or not, or out of desire to avoid personal confrontation with the student or his parents, often looks the other way. Many instances of exposed cheating are not followed up. The teacher knows that even the most blatant case may provoke hassling by parents, administrative hearings, maybe an override decision by the principal, or even litigation. For whatever reason, most of the time there is no penalty. Consequently, there is little general deterrence based on fear.

In some instances, I'm sure, the disinclination of the teacher to pursue evidence of cheating is based on sympathy for students trying to cope in a grade-oriented system. My brother has a high school teacher colleague who, when he is teaching a class drawn from a low-achiever track, deliberately leaves the room for a few minutes during each test so that the students can swap answers. He rationalizes this action on the basis that those students need "all the help they can get." So, in certain respects, the status quo pits students and teachers as allies against the grading system.

In times now gone by, a teacher could afford without risk to judge each case of cheating on its merits, meting out either punishment or exemption. These days, however, teachers are often judged on the overall performance of their classes, compared, when feasible, to standards set on a statewide or nationwide basis. Teachers now have incentive to collude with students' cheating in order to make it appear that the teacher has been successful in raising class performance to an acceptable level.

In 1995 the Academic Decathlon team from a Chicago high school compiled a tremendous score on the six-hour written examination that is the basis of the competition, and it appeared the school had won the coveted state title. But elation soon turned to dismay when evidence of cheating turned up. With the collusion of the faculty mentor, the team had prepared ahead of time, using a stolen copy of the exam questions. "It was such a good team," the principal remembers ruefully. "A dream team. They didn't have to win it all. It would have been wonderful if they had finished tenth or twelfth in the state. We'd have been so proud. Instead they went right down the tubes. It was gut-wrenching." The school hasn't fielded a team since then.

Parents may swing back and forth from a parental role in which they are interested in remedying their sons' cheating, to overidentifying with their sons. A father whose eighth-grade son had been suspended for cheating, said that he supported the suspension; but, he said, if the suspension caused any permanent blemish on his son's school record, or if the matter were made public in such a way as to harm his son's reputation, he would immediately switch passionately to his son's defense.

Educational Testing Services, known worldwide for its standard entrance examinations for colleges and universities, recently proposed a national public service campaign against cheating, especially in test-taking in schools. The rationale for the campaign cited the same kind of statistics I've cited above concerning the prevalence of academic cheating. The plan targeted nine- to twelve-year-olds in public schools as a group to be taught individual values such as honesty, integrity, and responsibility. Though I think there are flaws in the proposal, I applaud attempts to raise the level of national awareness of character issues.

One theme of the proposal emphasized individual competition: "Children need to understand that tests are a part of life-whether it be your turn at bat or a spelling quiz. Each is a test, and each requires practice. . . . In order to prepare themselves for winning, children need to understand that winning requires doing, and doing requires learning. If a child hasn't learned to swing a bat, he won't hit the ball." As the proposal concluded, at another point, "Cheating undermines integrity and fairness at all levels. It leads to weak life performance and corrodes the merit basis of our society."

Another theme of the proposal emphasized the intrinsic value of learning, though not without getting learning, values, and success intertwined: "Children must know that learning, knowledge, values and ethics are more important in assuring moral character and success, than just getting by or getting a grade:' (Italics mine.) If only individual children would adopt the view that it is learning that matters, and that cheating obscures lack of learning, it is suggested, all will be well. There is a degree of contradiction between these two themes. A college student newspaper essay quoted in the Educational Testing Service proposal identifies the contradiction without knowing how to resolve it. For some students, the essay says,

the desire to secure the best grades has become a paramount force that drives their education. With so much emphasis placed on outcomes in our society something is lost along the way. The learning process becomes overshadowed by the final outcome. . . . Grades, rather than education, have become the major focus of many students entering universities today. Their goals become simple: get in, survive, get the grade, and get out.

Why target nine- to twelve-year-olds in a campaign about cheating? It is in the middle school years (sixth or seventh through eighth or ninth grades, depending on where a particular school system makes the divisions) that grading gets emphasized in many American schools; there are schools that do not give numerical or letter grades for achievement until the sixth or seventh grade. It is in the middle school years that widespread cheating is first noticed, and the phenomenon intensifies in high school.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky studied cheating patterns among almost three hundred middle school students. Forty percent of the students admitted to cheating. "Cheaters thought the purpose of school is to compete and show how smart you are," says the main author of the study. "To them, what's most important is doing better than others and getting the right answers."

Defining cheating as an individual moral issue for a meritocracy carries a barely hidden ideology with it; and that ideology, of course, is as open to moral scrutiny as is the issue of cheating itself. The implication of pure meritocracy is that everyone should take the test honestly, and the (perhaps relatively few) winners should reap the coveted rewards, and all the losers should accept the verdict and make do with the scraps that are left over. The tracking system in many middle and high schools begins early in life to assign kids their probable destinations in the meritocracy.

Is it any wonder that adolescents try to rig the system to their own benefit and that they often do it in collaborative ways that suggest collective solidarity as much as individual self-interest? As Robin Stansbury wrote in the Hartford-Courant,

Jake Raphael was sitting quietly in his sixth-period foreign language class at West Hartford's Hall High School last year when his teacher passed out a weekly quiz—a quiz Raphael had already obtained the answers to. It happened quickly earlier that morning, as students shuffled between classes. Another student, who had taken the test earlier, shoved the copied exam into Raphael's outstretched hands. He wasn't the only student given an advance copy of the test. Most of the students in the afternoon session had seen the quiz by the time the class began. Raphael, now a senior, said he debated with himself for only a minute that morning before deciding to memorize the quiz. And as he sat at his desk, the perfectly completed quiz sheet before him, Raphael said he had no remorse.

One way to evaluate a school is to analyze how it emphasizes two different modes—a learning mode or a selection mode. The latter mode emphasizes the selection, mainly through grading, of the students who are the brightest. There is certainly a very substantial overlap between good grades and the amount of learning that has occurred. Sometimes, though, real learning occurs but it isn't fully reflected in the grading system. In other instances, grades bestowed indicate more learning has occurred than is true. Cheating would account for some of this disparity, but not all of it. Favoritism by teachers accounts for some of it, too.

For the learning mode to fulfill its promise, I think a society has to establish hope for every student that diligent and honest effort will be rewarded with attractive continuing opportunities in life, no matter how well his results stack up against the grades of the best students. It is too idealistic to argue that learning is its own reward, because you can't expect kids growing up not to make decisions based heavily on how their choices might take them toward a satisfying career.

A learning mode would naturally take into consideration the many factors that can adversely influence an individual student's capacity: a difficult temperament; emotional problems such as depression; neurological problems such as ADD/ ADHD or dyslexia; health problems that affect vision or hearing; distracting. sometimes abusive, family situations; social barriers such as racial, ethnic. or class prejudice; the amount of family support available; and the quality of instruction both technically and temperamentally. A learning-based system tries to take account of all these factors. because only in doing so can the potential of the student be maximized. Merit or grading systems, I believe, show less incentive to try to make the playing field as level as it can be for all.

Every school is a mixture of both these modes. The teachers that most high school students remember with highest affection are the teachers who inspired them to learn, often by teaching a subject with notable brilliance and enthusiasm, but many times also by showing acute sensitivity to the particular needs of students. But most middle and high schools are dominated by the grading system, and the evidence of it is the prevalence of cheating.

When learning is most highly valued, there is little incentive to cheat. When grades matter most, cheating rises as students begin to use every available means to increase their class ranking, or be seen as helpful to friends when they offer work to copy. Thus we may think of cheating as a social phenomenon induced by grading pressure at least as much as it is a phenomenon of individual character failure. The grading pressure is generated by the culture and personified by many parents. We can see resistance to this pressure when better students give worse students their homework to copy—by far the most common form of school cheating. This is too massive a phenomenon to be dismissed individual by individual; it amounts to social resistance by the young. Collaborative academic cheating is, in its way, an odd expression of altruism among adolescents at the same time that it is a deceitful breaking of rules.

Who Loses with Cheating?

The literature on cheating is surprisingly inconclusive on what constitutes its moral offense. Some writers, viewing academic cheating as a "victimless" act. argue that the damage is mainly self-inflicted. The cheater appears to know more, or be more competent, than is actually the case. A weakness is being papered over, and sooner or later it will harm the cheater when he can't perform as expected at a higher academic level, or professionally, and is made to suffer the consequences.

This argument—that cheating harms the cheater-is learning—based in a grading-dominated environment. When grades are the defining element and the competition is intense, many students will employ every means they can to stay afloat as long as they can. The very prevalence of academic cheating suggests to cheating students that their bubble of deception might never burst.

Others writers view cheating as a form of stealing. Academic cheating does involve stealing recognition and grades that are undeserved, and that others are earning meritoriously. Cheating is always fraudulent, and shows disrespect for the people directly affected by it. In academic cheating, fellow students are the ones treated disrespectfully by cheaters. What keeps the issue of respect from powerfully deterring student cheaters is that they often don't stop to think of other students as being hurt. Their focus is on cheating as an issue between the cheater and the faculty and administration. In an analogous case, people who file false tax returns don't think of themselves as hurting their neighbors who are reporting accurately; the tax cheaters think of it as an issue strictly between themselves and the government or the IRS. Or, again, people who make false insurance claims don't think of themselves as raising everyone else's insurance rates; they regard their cheating as an issue between them and the insurance company. This blindness to the consequences of cheating for one's peers is, I believe, very widespread.

Patricia Hersch has described a forum in which several bright high school seniors were asked to comment on the hypothetical situation of a college basketball star back on campus, exhausted, after performing well in a game, and looking forward to the next night's game when a professional scout would be watching him. But tomorrow he also has a calculus test in a course he must pass to keep his scholarship. Should he study as best he can and give it a try; hire a tutor and study most of the night in order to get a passing grade; or get the answer key to the exam, memorize it, then rest up for the game? There was nearly unanimous agreement that the student athlete should cheat. "Ethically, I would cheat," says an honor student. Only one boy, named Jonathan, disagrees: "We have to take responsibility for our actions and if he screwed up, it is his problem and he has to accept the consequences. If he cheats, it is not taking responsibility. If he stays up all night studying, he does."

Theft as the essence of cheating is particularly stressed in academic honor codes, for there the student has the double responsibility of being beyond reproach himself in the integrity of his academic work, and also of coming forward to accuse anyone whom he sees cheating; in fact, he is guilty of a violation of the code if he knows of cheating by others and does not report it to the judicial system.

A professor of business at the University of Kansas has built an honor code and other deterrents into his sophomore course with an enrollment of three hundred to four hundred students. Each student is assigned a seat. A dozen or so vigilant teaching assistants patrol blocks of fifty seats. At the bottom of each test are two statements with signature lines by them. One statement says: "I have not received nor given unauthorized aid during this exam. I have not observed any other students receiving or giving such aid." The other says, "I cannot in good faith sign the above statement."

To get credit for the exam, every student has to sign one of the statements. If it is the second one, he gets an interview with the professor; most of those who sign the second statement think that others may have been looking at their answers. The teaching assistants also always compare the exams of people sitting side by side. Only about 5 percent of the class get caught bucking this very vigilant system.

There is some evidence that cheating occurs less under honor code systems than other codes. It is unclear whether the honor code promotes superior character formation where it is employed. Punishment is much surer and harsher, and more evenly applied, when it is based on a proven violation of an honor code; in addition to the penalty, which might well rise to the level of expulsion, there is dishonor or shaming for the person found guilty of cheating. The environment where an honor code is in effect doesn't tolerate cheating to the extent it is tolerated in most high schools.

Cheating and Trust

Even where cheating goes unnoticed, I believe it deeply affects relationships because the perpetrator knows he is violating someone's trust, and therefore can't be candid about acts that, if known, would deeply affect the relationship. The cheater is always holding something back, and people sensitive to human interaction can often sense it. Adulterers, for example, may have taken great pains to hide their infidelity, but something about their behavior often sends a signal to their partners, who may not know precisely what is wrong, but know something has shifted in the relationship.

Perhaps we are not quite as trusting, on the whole, as some of our ancestors were. Many business deals were once closed with an oral agreement followed by a handshake as a seal of trust. Those days are long gone. Now we like to have everything in writing—an estimate for every project, a warranty for every appliance, a printed insurance policy for every risk. a waiver of liability for every responsibility we undertake. The degree of our trustfulness in many situations can be measured by the length of the written contracts involved. Where trust lags, people entering contracts, or their lawyers in their behalf, want to specify the consequences of every possible thing that could go wrong.

Erik Erikson, in his delineation of the eight developmental stages a person passes through from birth to elderly age, saw the emergence of a sense of basic trust as the central issue of an infant's first year of life; this sense, he said. is nothing less than the ontological source of faith and hope in a person. Development of trust is concentrated in the relationship between mother and child. The child has very little capacity to give. so trust is established by the trustworthiness of the mother to give to him, and she can do that, Erikson suggests, only if she is in a wholesome relationship to both her infant and her culture. This is not just a private transaction. The culture. and its degree of nurturing and reliability, is a participant in the process.

If the infant fails to develop trust, he falls into basic mistrust.

One cannot know what happens in a baby, but direct observation as well as overwhelming clinical evidence indicate that early mistrust is accompanied by an experience of 'total' rage, with fantasies of the total domination or even destruction of the sources of pleasure and provision; and that such fantasies and rages live on in the individual and are revived in extreme states and situations.

Even in preschool years, trust comes to have a deep mutuality. It cannot endure unless a boy has an essential trustfulness of others and a matching sense of his own trustworthiness. One cannot survive without the other. No one gets through childhood without some disappointments in the quality or reliability of care received, so no boy is completely trusting; no one completes childhood without disappointing his family or others through some acts of dishonesty or irresponsibility, so no boy is completely trustworthy.

We fear for the welfare of any child who is completely trusting; his gullibility may make him too easily the victim of exploitation. But I fear that gullibility is not as often the plight of the child as is mistrust. Sadly, the landscape is littered with parents, particularly fathers, who are regarded by their sons with mistrust because of too many broken promises, missed appointments, failed expectations.

One way of nurturing trust is protecting the reliability and truthfulness of one's word in the sense conveyed by the phrase "keeping your word." When boys begin to experiment with telling little lies, the best approach, I believe, is not to try to stigmatize lying as bad, but to explain, with examples, that lying erodes trust. "What would you feel if I told you every night that your supper is ready, but when you came into the kitchen there was no food ready to eat? Pretty soon you wouldn't believe me. You need to know that I'm telling the truth, even if I'm tempted not to. I need to know that you're telling the truth, even if you're tempted not to."

Another way of instilling trust in a boy is to fulfill his basic material and emotional needs in a dependable way. This can lead to many possible disagreements as to what is "basic." Family meetings, beginning with preschoolers and lasting through teenage years, are almost indispensable opportunities for exploring how needs are being met or allegedly not met. Many children's requests based on their own emergent values that the parent may not share, are dismissed with the statement: "You don't need that." At least, the subject should be aired, reasons given, decisions explained. Parents should also articulate what they feel they need from their children materially (a few household responsibilities, perhaps) and emotionally. If parents don't express the need for emotional giving from their children, their children may not observe these needs on their own.

Boys very much need to learn early in childhood that incidents of lying and cheating are wrong, but that they are subject to repair and redemption. When deterrence is the main motive in dealing with academic cheating, redemption takes a back seat because the school authority wants the student to believe that he continues under a cloak of suspicion and mistrust.

A sense of basic trust may develop between siblings, but it isn't inevitable, given the desire of many children to protect fiercely their relationships with parents and therefore to see siblings as rivals. Boys may find it easier to develop basic trust with siblings when all have become adolescents or adults, and no longer feel as competitive with each other.

The sense of basic trust between mother and infant can, in childhood and later, be elaborated in a variety of relationships of varying moral value. When boys go off to school, opportunities exist both for trust between peers and trust between students and those teachers willing to be mentors. Now a boy can begin to develop trustful relations outside the family. In the course of his school years, a boy begins to see that various persons in his environment are making bids for mutual trust and that it is not easy to fulfill all of them. His parents may assume that the issue of trust is something to be worked out principally at home. His peers may be asserting the primacy of trust among classmates. His teachers will be asking for trustworthiness in his academic work and school behavior.

A boy will sometimes experience these claims as conflicting. Parents can help him to sort out these conflicting bids for trust, showing him that where there is conflict there is a moral problem to be solved; so, for example, a boy might maintain trust with his classmates but not to the extent of participating in academic cheating, because cheating would violate his trustworthiness with the teacher.

The existence of trust among peers does not guarantee that the group will pursue entirely admirable purposes. Boyhood and adolescent gangs value trust within the group very highly, and often ritualize its importance. The activities of a gang are usually a mixture of legitimate mutually supportive activities and antisocial activities. The biologically based aggressiveness of males can be elevated in a group of mutually trusting boys. Even on the playground, boys may bond in groups that treat other boys and girls badly. So trust will be invited in the service of a variety of pursuits, some of them laudable and some of them lamentable.

The great leap in trust possible in adolescence or later adulthood is for an individual to become trustworthy individually—even when it is not reciprocated. Trust has to be reciprocal in infancy or the infant develops basic mistrust. In childhood, trust is still basically reciprocal in the service of many ends of varying value. But an individual can decide to strive for general trustworthiness. Such an individual would choose not to cheat in financial matters, taxes, or professional responsibilities because he couldn't do so without breaking trust with someone, maybe someone he doesn't even know.

I believe males get to this highest level of trustworthiness only when they are inspired to it by encountering someone who embodies it. It is a level of character that is much more effectively caught than taught.

J. P. Richter [pseudo Jean Paul] (1763-1825), quoted in I. Weiss and A. D. Weiss, eds., Reflections on Childhood: A Quotations Dictionary (Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC-CLIO, 1991),204.

prevalence of cheating University of Kansas Office of University Relations, "How Prevalent Is Cheating?" Internet posting (1996) quoting David Shulenburger, vice chancellor for academic affairs; Beverly Sypher, associate professor of communication studies; Tim Shaftel, associate dean of liberal arts and sciences; Jordan Haines, distinguished professor of business; Paul Krouse, Who's Who publisher and founder; Lawrence Sherr, Chancellors Club teaching professor of business administration; and graduate teaching assistant Jim Danoff-Burg, at www.kurelatn@kuhub.cc.ukans.edu.

J. Johnson, S. Farkas, and A. Bers, Getting By: What American Teenagers Really Think About Their Schools (New York: Public Agenda, 1997), 29.

D. L. McCabe and W. J. Bowers, "Academic Dishonesty Among Males in College: A Thirty Year Perspective,"Journal of College Student Development 35 (1994),5-10.

D. L. McCabe and L. K. Trevino, "Individual and Contextual Influences on Academic Dishonesty: A Multicampus Investigation," Research in Higher Education 38 (1997),379-396; "What We Know About Cheating in College: Longitudinal Trends and Recent Developments," Change 28 (1996), 28-33; and "Academic Dishonesty: Honor Codes and Other Contextual Influences," Journal of Higher Education 64 (1993),522-538.

W. Brashier, "So Smart They Cheat: In Today's Moral Climate, Should Students be Held Accountable for Abandoning Honesty?" Chicago Tribune Magazine (April 12, 1998), 18-19.

Educational Testing Services, To Sound the Alarm: Cheating Has Consequences. A Campaign Proposal for "Commitment 2000," presented to The Advertising Council, Inc., June 18, 1998 (Princeton: Educational Testing Services, 1998).

E. Anderman, T. Griesinger, and G. Westerfield, "Motivation and Cheating During Early Adolescence," Journal of Educational Psychology 90 (1990), 84-93.

R. Stansbury, "When the Ends Justify the Means," Hartford Courant (March 2, 1997).

P. Hersch, A Tribe Apart: A Journey Into the Heart of American Adolescence (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1998), 99.

Erikson, Identity, 82.

©2010 Eli Newberger

Eli Newberger, M.D., a leading figure in the movement to improve the protection and care of children, is renowned for his ability to bring together good sense and science on the main issues of family life. A pediatrician and author of many influential works on child abuse, he teaches at Harvard Medical School and founded the Child Protection Team and the Family Development Program at Children’s Hospital in Boston. From his research and practice he has derived a philosophy that focuses on the strength and resilience of parent-child relationships, and a practice oriented to compassion and understanding, rather than blame and punishment. He is the author of The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of Male Charaacter and lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with his wife Carolyn, a developmental and clinical child psychologist." www.elinewberger.com or E-Mail.



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