Between elections, bailouts and octuplets, short shrift has been paid to another highly deserving national travesty: A recent survey found that ninety percent of our high schoolers confessed to cheating on exams. This data can only make adults shake their heads and wonder: What kind of kid talks to a stranger and freely admits to cheating?
In 1963, a similar survey of Baby Boomers revealed only twenty-six percent of students owned up to copying off another student's paper. Just think: In post-war America under the leadership of a handsome, young president, a full seventy-four percent of our high schoolers, when confronted by a pollster, had the common decency to lie. Boy, Camelot was awesome.
What happened to our nation? Where did it all go wrong? It's anyone's guess but whatever the cause, this most recent poll will surely have a chilling effect on the futures of all unprepared, unmotivated students. Why? Here's why:
After a whopping three quarters of students chose to lie in the 1963 poll, there was little urgency on the part of adults to take action against such good kids. Hence, the respectful shiftiness of Baby Boomers effectively freed up the next 45 years worth of students to peek on multiple choice exams, smuggle crib sheets for essay tests and and devise elaborate hand signals for true and false questions. Among it's many contributions to the American culture, it's quite possible the selfless fraudulence of the Baby Boom generation enabled more listless students to gain acceptance to college than the GI Bill, Pell Grants and The United Negro College Fund combined.
But in the wake of the 2008 poll in which all but a paltry ten percent of our sons and daughters mystifyingly chose honesty over expedience, educators everywhere will undoubtedly mobilize to curtail classroom malfeasance. Their reforms can conceivably hamstring millions of future high schoolers in their efforts to achieve good grades without studying or paying attention in class. Many of these youngsters will miss out on higher education and even though the only tangible impact of attending college lies in meeting a lot of people who will haunt you for the rest of your life, this is still a catastrophic situation.
Again, we can only surmise why one generation responds to a nosy pollster one way and another generation in an entirely different way. The French, among their many silly adages, like to say: Autre temps, autre mores. Other times, other morals. Well, in this temps, one of our top mores is gone: Deception for the greater good. The golden age of slyly covering up ones own deceitfulness has been replaced by honesty, which is little more than a sneaky way of being devious.
Funny, I recall a teacher Francis Lewis High School in Queens who was blind in his left eye. As was trendy in 1972, he eschewed assigned seating, just letting us pile in everyday and park ourselves anywhere. I mentioned to some classmates that sitting on the left side of the room for exams could be beneficial and sure enough, for the mid-term, twenty-eight kids scrunched along the windows. Most of us fared freakishly well on the exam, after which I was lauded by my classmates as some kind of tactical genius.
Heady times were those. And yet -- yet! -- as much as I wanted to tell the world of my genius, I kept it to myself. In fact, after a few days, my whole class tamped down the genius talk. Modesty and discretion were not lost on the Lewis Class of '73. Somehow, we instinctively knew that maintaining an open and honest society required keeping our elders in the dark.
It's hard to put a value on values and in no way do I mean to imply that our generation of high schooler was superior to today's model. But, in so many ways, we were a lot better.