The Death of Honesty

Authors: 
William Damon
Publication Year: 
2012
Publication date: 
January/2012
Publication name or Publisher: 
Defining Ideas, A Hoover Institution (online) Journal.

[Excerpt of last two paragraphs]

It is practically impossible to find a school that treats academic integrity as a moral issue by employing revealed incidents of cheating to communicate to its student body values such as honesty, respect for rules, and trust. In my own observations, I have noticed a palpable lack of interest among teachers and staff in discussing the moral significance of cheating with students. The problem here is the low priority of honesty in our agenda for schooling specifically and child-rearing in general.

In former days, there was not much hesitancy in our society about using a moral language to teach children essential virtues such as honesty. For us today, it can be a culture shock to leaf through old editions of the McGuffey Readers, used in most American schools until the mid-twentieth century, to see how readily educators once dispensed unambiguous moral lessons to students. Nowadays, when cheating is considered by some teachers to be an excusable response to a difficult assignment, or even a form of pro-social activity, our society risks a future of moral numbness brought on by a decline of honesty and all the virtues that rely on it. As the Founders of our republic warned, the failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a lethal threat to any democracy.