Academically, Character Matters

Teaching character to our children is a worthy goal, but what about their grades, getting into good schools and getting a quality job?

How can we teach them to be honest about their homework and other school projects?

The number of inquiries to a ‘homework help’ website grew by 197 % from 2019-2020. Another newspaper reported that one particular mentor/teacher was offered hundreds of dollars to take people’s online exams. Another tutor agreed to write someone’s PhD dissertation for 3,000 British pounds.

Cheating is a concern for universities worldwide. How can an institution promise to turn out qualified individuals if the students aren’t the ones doing the work it takes to get the degree? In 2018 research found that one in seven students have used an essay they didn’t write. Doing more online learning during the pandemic didn’t help. 

An article I read highlighted one of these online “homework help” tutors, Vicky, who wrote a 2,500 word university essay on social work. She put hours into it, doing the research, writing, and proofreading.The article said she was proud of her effort. But she never handed it in. Someone had posted that they needed a social work essay and would pay for it. “I made 250 pounds,” she told the reporter. Later she said she felt sorry for the student who said they had dyslexia.

“I felt OK doing it because it was for a practical course. It’s unfair to expect a certain type of intelligence for a job role that requires a completely different type of intelligence,” she says. “I don’t think social workers need to know how to write a good essay – it’s more important that they know the law, how to spot abuse, and the relevant information.”

This online tutor with no social work experience was making judgment calls for a university social work program to justify her actions. She felt she wasn’t “cheating”, she was “helping.” And by the way, receiving money for helping. 

It’s discouraging to think that one in seven students is hiring their homework out to someone else. Can we trust our surgeons or our pilots to be thoroughly trained in order to do their life-saving work?

President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, told a story in 1996 about one person courageously trying to keep the “cheats” at bay:

“A friend related this experience her husband had while attending medical school. “Getting into medical school is pretty competitive, and the desire to do well and be successful puts a great deal of pressure on the new incoming freshmen. My husband had worked hard on his studies and went to attend his first examination. The honor system was expected behavior at the medical school. The professor passed out the examination and left the room. Within a short time, students started to pull little cheat papers out from under their papers or from their pockets. My husband recalled his heart beginning to pound as he realized it is pretty hard to compete against cheaters. About that time a tall, lanky student stood up in the back of the room and stated: ‘I left my hometown and put my wife and three little babies in an upstairs apartment and worked very hard to get into medical school. And I’ll turn in the first one of you who cheats, and you better believe it!’ They believed it. There were many sheepish expressions, and those cheat papers started to disappear as fast as they had appeared. He set a standard for the class which eventually graduated the largest group in the school’s history.”

“He set a standard for the class”. There is such a heroic quality to character meaning “this is the best way to live and I am going to live this way, even if I have to stand up against a large group of people in order to do it.”

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit research center who focuses on public policy. They studied character and how it impacted a child’s achievements in life. This was their conclusion and headline:

“For Success in Life, Character Matters as Much as Academic Skill,” Study Says

“The researchers found that children whose composite scores showed greater character strengths were more likely to graduate high school with a GPA greater than 2.5, less likely to be arrested as an adolescent, less likely to become pregnant as teens, and more likely to graduate from college.”

“Children who learn and can exhibit character strengths attain more years of education, earn more, and likely outperform other individuals in other areas of life,” they write, adding that research has shown that character strengths can be developed.”

The last line reassures us that with a growth mindset we can develop our characters. This is very powerful to realize that positive character traits can propel us and our children to better outcomes like graduating from high school, and college, and avoid pregnancy at a young age. 

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