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School cheating as social corrosion

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With students across the country wrapping up their summer vacations and heading back to the classroom, I can't stop thinking about a news report that emerged earlier this year revealing that 68 percent of college students have engaged in one form or another of serious cheating.

In the survey, conducted by the Center for Academic Integrity, the category of "serious cheating" included such offenses as plagiarizing passages, turning in someone else's work as your own, or using a cheat sheet on exams.

It's been a while since I attended school, and I can fully appreciate the fact that it's probably harder than ever to earn good grades and get into post-graduate programs such as medicine, engineering, and law, but come on - 68 percent?

The statistic, of course, makes one wonder if these are really the types of future adults we want reviewing our medical charts, building our bridges, or giving advice on our legal affairs.

The problem, unfortunately, isn't just limited to higher education.

Another survey taken in 1998 by Who's Who Among American High School Students revealed that 80 percent of seniors admitted to cheating.

Flipped the other way, that means only 2 out of 10 high- schoolers haven't cheated.

If I were a late-night comedian, I'd ruefully joke that all the students polled probably also resorted to copying each other's surveys, but I don't find moral and ethical lapses of such epidemic proportions particularly funny.

It's one thing to read about politicians lying under oath and millionaire athletes taking banned, performance-enhancing drugs.

It's something else altogether, though, to realize that the majority of our young people also apparently see nothing wrong with lying and cheating.

Perhaps the most depressing numbers reported in the collegiate study showed that while nearly 88 percent of faculty members admitted they observed some form of cheating in their classrooms, 32 percent never did anything about it because of administrative hassles and fear of being sued by an accused student.

In other words, not only are school instructors and administrators aware of the problem, they're more than willing to tolerate it.

Where does that leave those students with integrity who do follow the rules and adhere to a code of ethics that not too long ago was commonplace? What are they to think when they discover that not only have they been competing on an uneven playing field, but there's little or nothing in place to penalize the offenders?

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