In the mid-1990’s, State’s Attorney James W. Glasgow developed C.E.A.S.E.-F.I.R.E., an acronym for Character Education Activates Self Esteem -- Fosters Individuals Respecting Each Other. The C.E.A.S.E. F.I.R.E. initiative was embraced by an independent group of concerned Will County public servants and citizens composed of law enforcement and school officials who believed that character education represents a significant weapon in the fight to recapture the spirit of today's youth, and actively assist in the long-term war against violence, gangs and drugs.
The group believed that character education is a critically acclaimed method of infusing a child's learning environment with a positive sense of achievement, to develop positive character traits within the child. It is a planned, comprehensive, and systematic approach to teaching self-respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, and citizenship.
As an educational program/curriculum it encompassed a set of 12 universal values: honesty, truthfulness, generosity, kindness, helpfulness, justice, tolerance, honor, courage, convictions, equality and freedom. The C.E.A.S.E. F.I.R.E. supported curriculum was implemented in over 40 Will County elementary and secondary schools.
Since Mr. Glasgow’s re-election in 2004, his character education initiative has been revitalized under the umbrella of CHARACTER COUNTS! from the Josephson Institute of Ethics. The State’s Attorney’s office has been given permission to promote CHARACTER COUNTS! as a comprehensive character education effort aimed at students, teachers, administrators, parents, business owners, local government, law enforcement, faith-based organizations, and community organizations.
It is our vision that the Six Pillars of Character; Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caringand Citizenship will be adopted throughout Will County. The Will County Coalition for CHARACTER COUNTS! will meet on a regular basis and will discuss the ways that CHARACTER COUNTS! is being implemented in various schools, organizations and communities throughout Will County. The Will County Coalition for CHARACTER COUNTS! will coordinate its efforts with other community CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalitions. For more information, call 815-727-8742.
Some topics for discussion are included in the following study of 25,000 high school students conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics:
According to a just-released study by the Josephson Institute of Ethics based on a national survey of 24,763 high school students, nearly two-thirds (62%) cheated on exams and more than one in four (27%) stole from a store within the past 12 months. Additionally, 40% admit they “sometimes lie to save money.”
Despite these admissions, the majority of students reported high self-appraisals of their character (74% rated their own ethics higher than those of their peers [Q5]) and stated their convictions that honesty, ethics and good character are very important (almost all, 98%, said it is important for them to be a person of good character [Q1]). What’s more, most have unrealistically high self-images when it comes to ethics. Asked “if people you know were asked to list the most ethical people they know, how many would put you on their lists?” 83% said at least half the people they know would list them [Q61]. Additionally, 92% said they were satisfied with their ethics and character [Q25].
The inconsistency seems to be explained by high levels of cynicism about the ethics of successful people and the prevalence of cheating in the “real world” creating a justification for dishonest conduct. Cynicism is especially strong in young males. Two-thirds indicated a belief that “in the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating” - and more than half (52%) of the females agreed with this cynical assessment [Q8]. In addition, half (51%) of the males agreed with: “A person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed.” About one-third (32%) of the female students expressed a similar view [Q9].
When asked to prioritize their values, most high schoolers expressed commitment to positive views. Thus, 91% said it is very important to have trusting personal relationships [Q34], 88% said it is very important to treat others with respect [Q35], and 84% said it is very important to have good moral character [Q28].
Analyzing the survey results, Michael Josephson, prominent radio commentator and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, said, “Though the Report Card on the Integrity of American Youth continues to contain failing grades, there is reason for hope. For the first time in 12 years the cheating and theft rates have actually dipped downward and the stated devotion to ethics is the strongest we’ve seen. While this results in a troubling inconsistency between words and actions, character education efforts should be able to build on the fundamental appreciation of ethics, character and trust to achieve continuing improvements in conduct. Still, it can’t be comforting to know that the majority of the next generation of police officers, politicians, accountants, lawyers, doctors, nuclear inspectors and journalists are entering the workforce as unrepentant cheaters.”
The Joseph & Edna Josephson Institute of Ethics is a nonprofit corporation based in Los Angeles. This report, released during National CHARACTER COUNTS! Week, is based on the largest sample ever used by the Josephson Institute, whose studies on the ethics of American youth are often cited as the benchmark of youth attitudes and behavior. Students in 85 schools throughout the nation were surveyed (45% public schools, 40% private religious schools and 15% private nonreligious schools). The survey was answered by an equal number of males and females.
More detailed results:
ATTITUDES ABOUT ETHICS, CHARACTER AND TRUST
Young people are almost unanimous in saying that ethics and character are important on both a personal level and in business, but they express very cynical attitudes about whether a person can be ethical and succeed.
IMPORTANCE OF CHARACTER AND TRUST. Virtually all high school students (98%) agreed with the statement: “It’s important for me to be a person with good character” [Q1])
ETHICS IN THE WORKPLACE. Though their cynical attitudes about real world ethics have undoubtedly been influenced by highly publicized business scandals in the past few years, young people still believe ethics is important in the workplace. 94% said that “in business and the workplace, trust and honesty are essential” [Q7].
GOODNESS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WEALTH. Ninety percent (90%) agree that “being a good person is more important than being rich” (though twice as many males disagree with this statement as females (15% v. 5%) [Q4].
ROLE MODELS. Despite a growing concern that young people lack positive role models, 84% say that “most adults in my life consistently set a good example of ethics and character” [Q2].
Though one justification for the rampant cheating is the pressure put on youngsters by parents, the overwhelming majority (91%) say that their parents or guardians “always want me to do the right thing, no matter the cost” [Q3]. Only 6% say that their parents “would rather they cheat than get bad grades” [Q12].
PLAYING BY THE RULES. The vast majority rejected cynical statements about the propriety of cheating to win.
SELF-APPRAISAL. Despite admissions of high levels of lying, cheating and theft, high school students maintain a high self-image of their character and ethics both in relative and absolute terms.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOUNG PEOPLE? When asked to express their values and priorities and rate the importance of various factors including wealth, looks, and popularity, the vast majority of adolescents rated virtuous qualities and behavior more highly than materialistic and pragmatic ones. Thus,
CYNICISM. Despite consistently expressing positive and ideals-based attitudes about the importance of ethics and character and the role their parents and teachers play in encouraging them to do the right thing, a very high proportion of young people reveal corrosive cynical attitudes about what works and doesn’t in the real world.
CONDUCT. Widespread and deep youth cynicism often reflects itself in a rationalization process that nullifies ethical judgment and condones conduct that is contrary to stated moral convictions. Thus, the same youngsters who speak of the importance of ethics, character and trust frequently lie, cheat and even steal without much guilt or hesitation.
The good news is that while students continue to lie, cheat and steal at alarmingly high rates, it appears that the tide has been stemmed and for the first time in 12 years of surveying, the amount of dishonesty in each category actually went down. We have no solid explanation for this improvement, though we know that the spread of character education programs and a new level of attentiveness to values and integrity after 9/11 and in response to massive corporate frauds at Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, and other firms may well have had an effect.
There is also the possibility that, given all the publicity on cheating, students may not be willing to be as honest on surveys as before. In fact, we know the admitted cheating rate understates actual behavior as 29% admitted they lied on one or two questions on the survey (12% said they lied on three or more) [Q82].
In any event, the amount of confessed dishonesty demonstrates that schools have a very long way to go to better instill attitudes and habits of integrity.