Monday, December 01, 2008

Want of Honesty

Every time I have to grade term papers (I've been doing a little online teaching on the side), I find evidence of cheating. People lift material from other sources, sometimes without any acknowledgment, or sometimes, while acknowledging the source, failing to indicate that the material is verbatim. The latter is not quite as serious, but in both cases, the student is making an effort to employ the wording, the grammar, the structure, and even the argument of someone else as though it were his own. This is essentially stealing.

This morning, coincidentally, as I was reading and grading essays, a story came up on FOX news saying that some 30% of students are guilty of plagiarism. Well, I thought, I guess I should take heart. My classes are much better than the average.

Of course the evidence of dishonesty is widespread throughout our educational system, as most everyone is aware. I have no data on whether it is on the increase, and even if I did, I suspect it would not give the whole story.

But it stands to reason that in a society in which the family has broken down, and parenting is rapidly becoming a lost art, there should be a corresponding rise in dishonesty.

Honesty must be taught in the home first of all. This, of course, does not merely mean that parents should merely lecture there children: Be honest!

It means, first, that parents should be honest, setting the example. Sit-coms like Everybody Loves Raymond are certainly entertaining, but they don't really help. Their shtick is often the web of lies that keeps growing as the liar tries to stay ahead of being found out. Such things ought never happen in a Christian home. Lies, however small, must be verboten. When children are found to have lied, it is incumbent upon parents (who themselves have presumably been honest) to show the children how devastating, how hurtful, lies can be; even the small ones. When you lie to me, you are taking from me my desire to trust you in the first place. Now, instead, I must be suspicicious, which is a sad thing. Children need to see the ramifications of their lies.

Moreover, parents should raise their children with the expectation that those children will be honest in all their dealings. When I was a child, and I might ask my mother, say, for five dollars, she would say, "Go in my purse and get it." I wanted to show her that all I was taking was the five dollars we agreed upon, but she would refuse, saying, "No need; I believe you." That was a positive lesson well learned. I did not ever want to betray my mother's trust.

Luther declares in the Large Catechism that the world is a large stall full of thieves. It is also full of liars, one might add. God is true, says St. Paul, referring to the Psalm, and every man a liar.

Since this is so, we must also be ready to forgive one another, and to give our children another chance. This is not to be confused with leniency. Infractions must have consequences, of course. But we need to inculcate into our children, especially the dishonest ones, a new desire to gain our trust. Let them know, when they have lied to us, that this will take some doing; but let them also know that we are benevolent parents who are eager to see them learn this lesson.

After all, we have a benevolent Lord Jesus, whose own heart breaks when we lie, but whose mercies are new to us every morning, and who therefore is likewise eager to see us learn the lessons His mercy would have us learn.


Jen O'Hara said...

Without good parental examples (and, as you noted, cultural examples), kids are up the proverbial creek.

Additionally, as far as cultural examples...Well, in the "olden days", many films, plays and operas sin was portrayed, but the negative repercussions of that sin also began to appear almost immediately. In fact, many times, the results of the "bad behaviour", be it lying, adultery, or murder, are the main point of the narrative. In that case, such things can be helpful as far as instruction. (Of course, right now, can't recall a-one of them. Typical.)

(PS: Please say hello to your darling mother for us! She reminds me so much of my own dearly missed great-grandmother...such a sweetheart.)

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

Jen, good to hear from you; say hello to your husband.