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Posted: Nov 20, 2008 07:45


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By: Malcolm Gauld

Most American students cheat.

In nationwide surveys on college campuses, about seven in ten students admitted to some cheating. Three in five high school students admitted that they had cheated on an exam, and more than four in five admitted copying another student's homework in the past 12 months.

There is a cheating crisis in our schools, and the problem is not confined to low-achieving or unmotivated students. Cheating is common among most types of students; boys, girls, athletes, smart kids, student leaders, even those with "strong religious beliefs." Why are so many students cheating?

Malcolm Gauld is President of Hyde Schools, which consists of prep schools in Maine and Connecticut and public schools in Washington DC and Bronx,NY. The schools have led the way in character-building education for 40 years, and have been featured on CBS's 60 Minutes, ABCs 20/20 and PBS.

Gauld and his wife Laura are also the award-winning co-authors of the parenting book The Biggest Job We'll Ever Have (Scribner). Gauld is recognized as one of the nation's leading experts on character education and parenting.

Our culture has become preoccupied with achievement, the Gaulds explain. Pressure for grades to win parents' approval and gain admission to colleges leads many students to cheat. While many students are pushed to succeed by parents and a grade-based system that starts naming winners at an early age, students also feel pulled by a desire to get on a path to top colleges and high-paying jobs.

But there are serious ramifications to winning at any cost, according to Laura, including lack of character in students and also the lack of self-esteem.

"Never kid a kid," Malcolm says. They will never misread our true expectations of them. They know we have created an educational system that values their aptitude more than their attitude, their ability more than their effort, and their talent more than their character. They are surrounded by signs that tell them that what they can do is more important than who they are.

Unfortunately, an environment that values only achievement can make it extremely easy for test scores and awards to lure good kids into a false sense of fulfillment. This is not the genuine self-esteem that is earned from the learning process, which includes mistakes and some hardship, and it can leave kids feeling empty.

"In a character culture, achievement is valued, but principles are valued more," says Laura. "That is, what you stand for is more important than merely how you stack up against others."

In addition to this pressure for external achievements, Malcolm Gauld identifies another debilitating grip on today's kids, which is the result of a prevalent mindset in our homes, schools and culture, that asserts that kids need to feel good about themselves all of the time.

Applied to education, this mindset seems to say, If we make kids feel good about themselves, they will do great things, explains Malcolm. But, in fact, it is the other way around. When kids do well, and do it honestly, they will feel good about themselves.

"Character is inspired, not imparted," Malcolm continues. We cannot pour it into our kids or our families. Self-esteem and real, authentic self-esteem is essential, and once earned, it can never be taken away. Our children should graduate from schools with a healthy amount of it.

Hyde School graduate Dana Wappler, 20, agrees.

"Hyde School helped instill a sense of responsibility in me," Wappler says. "If your character comes first, everything else flows from that."

At this time, Hyde School's famous Attitude over Aptitude philosophy is now branching out into the public schools, from Washington, DC to New York City.

About the author:
Malcolm Gauld is President of Hyde Schools. For more information, complete bios and photos, contact Rose Mulligan, 207-443-7379, or, or check the web site at

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