Should students be taught that honesty is the best policy?
But one youth researcher at the University of Zurich argues that young people have a complicated relationship with cheating, lying and the definition of honesty.
Emanuela Chiapparini, who studied honesty from the perspective of high school students, conducted 31 in-depth interviews with 14- and 15-year-old students.
Do you honestly believe honesty is always the best policy? (iStock)She found that the students' notions of honesty varied for a myriad of reasons, including inconsistent rules and imperfect role models. For instance, some teachers let students get away with things that would normally be considered dishonest, or did questionable things themselves.
"In such cases, young people deem it acceptable to cheat on exams, withhold information or sign their parents' signatures themselves," explained Chiapparini, who added that students see a difference between explicit rules and implicit standards.
There is a difference, she explained, between the conventional rules of honesty and the ways in which individuals understand these rules in social contexts.
As in the adult world, students took cues from their peers and made decisions for practical and social reasons - while strict moral teachings fell by the wayside.
They also lost respect for authority figures who don't practice what they preach.
Chiapparini concluded that young people aren't always rejecting morality when they are dishonest, but are negotiating between strict, institutional rules about right and wrong and their more ambivalent lived experiences.
"In the current debate on schooling, all too often the idea of virtue is used unilaterally and normatively," says Chiapparini. "The empirical results, however, reveal the virtue 'honesty' to be an ambivalent mode of behavior in young people that depends on the situation, context and individual."
How important is it to always tell the truth? Does your answer change when you think about children and youth?
Should young people be taught that the world contains dishonesty, and that they must learn to manage it? Or should they be taught the importance of telling the truth and following rules?
(This survey is not scientific. Results are based on readers' replies.)
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