Recently, it has seemed impossible to follow sports without reading about some one who was caught cheating. We have the whole baseball debacle with Barry Bonds et al., and, of course, Pete Rose’s betting scandal. I was very excited to see Floyd Landis’ amazing win at the Tour de France—only to see it tainted by two failed drug tests. (As I perused the Sports Illustrated web site this morning I found that I needed to add world class sprinter Marion Jones to the ever growing list of athletes who cheat.)
I have friends who have played competitive sports at the professional level, and they tell me that they have known people who are willing to try anything to make it into or stay in the big leagues. A well known sports talk show host is famous for saying, “If you are not cheating you are not trying.”
How can we train up our children to do what is right if society places more of a value on so called “success” and winning than it does on ethical behavior? Maybe we should listen to Charles Barkley when he says, “Athletes are not role models,” given today’s sports culture.
Academia is also full of people who cheat. Every faculty member I know has stories of students who have attempted to cheat in one of their classes. I am also sure that all of us have had people who had cheated in our classes and were not caught.
The difficulty is that cheating can be very rewarding. You can get better at sports by taking drugs. You can get into a better college by cheating on your SAT. The world that we live in is more interested in the “now” than in the long term impact that an unethical act can have on one’s person. How do we help someone see the long term dangers of unethical behavior?
Moral or character education is a very hot field within the discipline of education. It is an attempt to bring ethical training into the classroom as a part of the curriculum. When I read books and articles in the field I am inundated by terms like “caring community” or “six pillars of character.” Students are told to treat others with kindness and respect. Educators are encouraged to hold meetings with students to help them decide on things like rules of conduct. Ethical behavior within character education often turns out to be acting within the communally established moral practices.
As an example the Association for Moral Education (AME) states that they were formed “To provide a forum for professionals who represent a wide variety of positions in moral education.” They go on to say: “The Association is dedicated to fostering communication, cooperation, training, curriculum development, and research that links moral theory with educational practice. It supports self-reflective educational practices that value the worth and dignity of each individual as a moral agent in a pluralistic society.”
Moral education is hamstrung by its inability to make universal statements about ethical behavior. While they can agree that certain acts are wrong within a community’s standards they cannot make ethical statements that transcend community standards.
It is hard to find anyone in character education willing to say something absolute about the nature of ethical behavior. This is because modern character education is stuck attempting to work within the bounds of an ideology that cannot extricate itself from its relativistic constructs.
If moral education is going to be successful it must look towards the transcendent for true moral substance. It is incumbent on our educators to view moral rights and wrongs as knowable—and, therefore, teachable. G.K. Chesterton states, “A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching.” We need to teach our students that their character and integrity matter, and that their ethical actions can be understood in light of transcendent judgments (or “primeval moral platitudes” as Uncle Screwtape negatively calls them) of right and wrong.
One’s ethics and integrity must extricate itself from the limits of society. One’s integrity stands outside of a solely human prescription. Our integrity is our ethical birthright, but too often we are like Esau who was willing to sell his birthright for a mere bowl of stew. Students need to understand how they act today will have long term implications on who they become. A short term pleasure (an “A” on a test) can never be substituted for a life without regrets or the eternal contentment of obeying our heavenly Father and His decrees.