Bank Financial Fraud Goes Global
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The Hole in the Moral Ozone is Getting Bigger

Rationalization for Cheating by Kids Bolsters the Theory of Moral Blindness

The Theory of Moral Blindness holds that some people are unable to form an awareness of others’ thoughts; that their actions do not consider consequences on others. Moral blindness implies an irresponsible, self-serving nature. It means to act in a manner without conscience.

We have a cheating society. Reports last week from New York City officials indicate that 70 students at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School had been involved in a cheating scheme in June. During a foreign-language exam on June 18, the principal confiscated a cell-phone from a student who was texting messages to fellow students. Using data found on the student's phone, a subsequent investigation uncovered additional cheating during previous tests, including three Regents exams.

Students rationalize cheating in a variety of ways including: (1) everyone does it; (2) we are just reflecting what goes on in the business world; (3) the standards at our school and competitiveness causes us to cheat; (4) the schools let us get away with cheating; and (5) we are expected by our parents to get into an elite college such as MIT and Brown. Notice how in each case someone else is blamed and the students do not accept responsibility for their actions; many seem surprised when (and if) they are held accountable.

At Stuyvesant, all 70 students have to retake the exam. It was reported that the student whose phone was confiscated and was at the center of the cheating network faces possible suspension and may have to transfer to another school by fall. This is supposed to be the just punishment for cheating? The students get to do it over again – and that’s it? I can add number six to my list that the punishment is extraordinarily light or nonexistent.

Last January I blogged about Sam Eshaghoff, a Great Neck Long Island student, who officials said was paid to take the SAT test for dozens of other kids. Eshaghoff accepted up to $2,500 from each of the other students to take their tests using easily manufactured fake IDs. His scam came crashing down in fall 2011, when he was arrested for criminal impersonation and fraud. Eshagoff is now at Emory University.

The Josephson Institute of Ethics issues a biennial Report Card on American Youth’s Values and Actions. The 2010 Report Card reports on the survey of 43,000 high school students in public and private schools. A majority of students (59 percent) admitted cheating on a test during the last year, with 34 percent doing it more than two times. One in three admitted they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

I think back to my days in high school and wonder how and why things have changed. Sure, cheating went on in a ‘low-tech’ manner. Some students brought in crib sheets; wrote answers on their hands; and looked at other students papers. One difference is the cheaters felt bad after getting caught rather than somehow entitled to cheat. Another difference is one’s parents would remind us of the shamefulness of our actions. The punishment might have been no after school activities for a period of time; no television; no friends over or leaving the house other than for school. You can bet the school would treat the matter more seriously than occurs today.

It’s convenient to blame the problem on technology. Cell phones are tiny and one student can easily text another for an answer and will do so even though the school has a policy against cellphone use. After all, you don’t become a cheater in the first place and then worry about rules that probably won’t be enforced by the school anyway.

Unethical actions abound from using steroids in sports to gain an edge, to cheating on one’s spouse for self-gratification, to fudging an expense report to receive a higher reimbursement, to using technology to gain a competitive advantage, and the list goes on. These actions all have one thing in common. They reflect the widening of the hole in our moral ozone and spreading disease of moral blindness that has infected us for years and now threatens our ability to remain a civil society.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 16, 2012