What would Honest Abe Lincoln say about the values of today’s American youth? In our survey of more than 40,000 high school students, the gap between what students believe and their actions does not bode well for future generations.
This report comes on the heels of our report issued in October of 2010 on bullying in American high schools.
Survey highlights: while 89 percent of students believe that being a good person is more important than being rich, almost one in three boys and one in four girls admitted stealing from a store within the past year. Moreover, 21 percent admitted they stole something from a parent or other relative, and 18 percent admitted stealing from a friend.
On lying, more than two in five said they sometimes lie to save money (48 percent of males and 35 percent of females). While 92 percent of students believe their parents want them to do the right thing, more than eight in ten confessed they lied to a parent about something significant.
Rampant cheating in school continues. A majority of students (59 percent) admitted cheating on a test during the last year, with 34 percent doing it more than two times. One in three admitted they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.
“As bad as these numbers are, they appear to be understated,” said Michael Josephson, president of the Institute. “More than one in four students confessed they lied on at least one or two survey questions, which is typically an attempt to conceal misconduct.”
Josephson said the results of this survey, conducted in 2010, are slightly better than those of the 2008 survey. “We show some improvement in ethical behavior, but the baseline of values remains alarmingly low compared to what they believe,” he said, adding that a whopping 92 percent of students were satisfied with their personal ethics and character.
What would Lincoln say to our youth? A great believer in human potential, he might patiently remind them, “You have to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
* Surveys were conducted in 2009 and 2010 with a national sample of public and private high schools. For the general questions (over 40,000 responses), the accuracy is well within +/- 0.005 or 0.5%; for breakdowns of 20,000 the accuracy is +/- 0.69%, and for 10,000 the accuracy is +/- 0.98%; and even when there are just 1,000 responses, the accuracy is +/- 3.1%. Almost all standard errors of differences are much less than 1% for even small samples.