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Editorial: Cheating

Do as we say . . .

The governor of Illinois is accused of a shakedown. One of the most trusted men on Wall Street is accused of running a Ponzi scheme.

Should it be a surprise that stealing, cheating and lying have become the best subjects of too many U.S. high school students? Or that, sadly, they see nothing wrong with their unethical behavior?

In the last year, 30 percent of high school students stole from a store, and 64 percent cheated on a test, according to a national survey of 30,000 public, private and paraochial students conducted by the Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute.

More than one in four students, 26 percent, admitted even to lying on the survey! Experts say that likely means the dishonesty among the country's young people is even higher than feared.

The staggering numbers suggest a bleak future for this nation. Its next generation of leaders has learned that success is worth any cost - even if others consider it cheating.

The survey indicates that cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. At least 64 percent of students cheated on a test in the last year; 38 percent more than twice.

Plagiarism is also on the rise, with 36 percent saying they improperly used information from the Internet to complete an assignment. Eighty-three percent admitted copying a classmate's homework.

Forty-two percent said they sometimes lied to save money. More than 80 percent admitted lying to a parent "about something significant."

Thirty-five percent of boys and 26 percent of girls admitted stealing from a store within the last year.

One-fifth said they had stolen something from a friend; 23 percent said they had stolen something from a parent or relative.

But get this: In another sign indicative of their likely future behavior, 93 percent of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character.

It seems many students have cynically set their moral compass by our current society's skewed standards, with an "everyone-else-does-it" attitude. When it comes to doing what is right, 77 percent said, "I am better than most people I know."

Some educators caution against concluding that today's youth are less honest than previous generations. They say that young people lead demandng lives and are under more pressure to excel, and that they have more opportunities to cheat.

It's also true that today's adults offer too many examples of unethical behavior to say our youth are going to be even worse. But parents and schools must raise the bar and hold students to higher ethical standards. The mistakes of the adult generation don't have to be repeated.