Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lying, cheating, and stealing

Even though we're bogged down with ridiculous standards that nobody could possible teach in one single year, all teachers try to impart some moral fiber to their students. We don't (always) try to indoctrinate them with our crazy liberal agenda, but we do try to show them how to be good people.

So, after 7-8 years of this character instruction, why do our kids still lie, cheat, and steal?

I'm not talking about the girl who crossed the line just once because she wanted a better grade. No, she's past that, and she'll probably never forget it. Nor am I talking about the boy who once made a half-hearted attempt to convince me that he really did put his homework on my desk, knowing that I'd make him look in his backpack again anyway.

No, I'm talking about the kid who steals cash from a teacher's purse, who rummages through file cabinets looking for cell phones, or who accuses other students of cheating in retaliation for their refusal to give her answers during the final.

I'm talking about the boy who will ignore clear evidence that he copied a test and lie through his teeth to his parents, principal, and teachers.

And what about the kid who shoplifts from the gift shop on the class field trip?

These are only a few examples of actual situations I've endured. So, why do kids lie?

Some people try to tell me that it's part of their culture. Because so many people in their community are from a country that is the poster child for corrupt governments, they can't trust those in authority, and they learn that lying to anyone government-related is not only acceptable, but expected.

Others tell me that human nature is terrible and that, unless some divine force works on our souls, we will never even be capable of good.

Many people blame it on the parents, saying that dishonesty is a learned behavior, and there's not much a teacher can do in a few years to reverse the effects of a lifetime of deception.

I've learned that it doesn't really matter why kids lie, and that I need to be prepared for alternate versions of the truth at all times. It's changed my teaching practice; I've had to incorporate accountability into grades, create multiple versions of every exam, watch kids like a hawk, and lock up or leave at home anything that I can't afford to lose. I've learned that I have to be extremely consistent because even the nice kids lie. Above all, I've learned (okay, I'm trying to learn) not to take it personally when a kid lies.

Dr. House was right: Everybody lies. I just have to find a way to teach, assess, and survive in the tanged web they weave.

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