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Barbara Walking in the Valley
A weekly column for those who live and walk in Silicon Valley

by Barbara Dahlgren

Being Normal May Not Be Good Enough
Column for the week of November 3-9, 2002

"Religious schools don't ensure ethics" was the headline in an October 26th San Jose Mercury News article by Adelle M. Banks. Evidently a survey found that teens attending religious high schools are "more likely to cheat on a test than those who attend other schools."

Here are a few statistics according to the article:

In the Past Year
Teens Attending
Religious Schools
Teens Not Attending
Religious Schools
Cheated on tests
Stolen from parents
Lied to parents
Lied to teachers

Thank God for shoplifting and stealing from parents or the "Christian" kids would really look bad. Now here's the oxymoron: out of all the students surveyed 74% said "religion was essential or very important to them." Is that incongruous or what?

These statistics seem to mesh with the "That's Outrageous!" section of Reader's Digest a few months ago entitled "Reading, Cheating and 'Rithmetic," written by Tucker Carlson, co-host of CNN's Crossfire. It seems 28 sophomore students in a Kansas town plagiarized a semester long biology project. The teens had been warned about the consequences of cheating so the teacher gave them all a failing grade. It seems the parents of the little cheaters and the school board thought the punishment was too harsh. The teacher was instructed to change the grades. She ended up quitting. She is rare indeed. Cheating has become the norm at lots of high schools and colleges. The attitude of some administrations is not to punish plagiarism because it "might hurt the cheater's self esteem." After all, "students plagiarize not because they're dishonest and lazy, but because they're tired." And if you follow that reasoning, I have some swampland for sale in Florida for you.

What happens when these cheaters graduate from college and continue their "little white lies" attitude? Do they eventually plagiarize books? Do they take credit for other people's work? Do they eventually falsify stock gains for corporations? Do they shred the documents? Do they rob houses to support a "habit?" What's wrong with that? They aren't really dishonest or lazy, they are just tired. Well, I'm pretty tired too but I don't think that gives me license to rob, steal, cheat, and lie. The jails are full of guys who have great self-esteem.
Generally speaking, the church tends to mirror society. This can be good or this can be bad. It can be good because as our society changes, the church can change in its approach to reaching the unchurched. Notice I said, the approach changes, not the message. The message remains the same. (Hebrews 13:8) Jesus lived and died for our sins. We should love God and our neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40) How we get this message (the good news) to others might need to be modified to reach our society.

Unfortunately, the church reflecting society can be bad, too. How? Well, the above statistics gives us an idea of how. I'm sure these teens at religious schools feel that it is just normal to cheat. What about the rest of us? Are we guilty of lowering certain standards to fit in with society? Are we becoming the proverbial frog in the pot? Will we be "cooked" so gradually we won't even know what's happened until it's too late? Will our views on morals, ethics, and standards gradually be watered down so that we think the norm is okay? And just how does God look at all of this? To Him, being normal may not be good enough.

©November 2002

Be sure to visit this page every week to read the next edition of Walking in the Valley. You can write to the author at bdahlgren@wcgsouthbay.org.



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