COMMENTARY: Noah’s Term Paper

Noah really needed an ‘A’ on a term paper.  His friend Jason tells him that lots of kids “recycle” papers they don’t write and offers to give him a paper his older brother got an ‘A’ on three years ago. When Noah asked his for advice, his father hoped his son wouldn’t cheat but he didn’t want to be judgmental so he said, “Son, it’s your life, I can’t tell you what you should do.  It’s a personal decision.”

I think that’s shabby parenting. Noah’s dad declined to provide moral guidance and lost an opportunity to strengthen Noah’s values, and his own credibility as a reference point. Kids need parents to bolster their moral will power to resist temptations.  His reluctance to actively intervene and influence is an abdication of responsibility.

What’s more, his noncommittal response is not an expression of moral neutrality but a statement that conveys the moral judgment that honesty and integrity are optional.

True, this is a personal decision.  Noah has the power; he can choose to be honest or dishonest, ethical or unethical – it’s his call.  But the real question is one of propriety: he didn’t ask his dad “What can I do?” but “What should I do?” This is a question about ethics and it can’t be dodged or evaded.

If we want our children to build good values and a strong character based on virtue we have to be willing to teach and advocate those virtues. Sometimes that means saying, “That’s wrong!”

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 4

  1. I think saying “this is your choice” is fine … if it is followed with a “however”. If this had been my son, I would have said “I think you already know what you *should* do” and walked him through the howevers to help him reach his decision. As a parent of a child that age, it is our responsibility to help them learn to discern.

    1. Good response, Cindy! I never had children, but I did go through college and had many term papers assigned. So often I think term papers are “busy work” that makes lazy the professors job easier. And if I really knew, I would guess that many of the term papers that I labored over may have never been read by the professor. What I am implying here is that it depends on the circumstances as to how I chose to get the job done. When I had a genuinely interested professor that taught and made assignments in the name of good education and learning I wanted to do proper research and write an exceptional paper, and I did! When I had a slug for a prof, I just wanted to get my three credits and a grade. In this case I would do what I had to do to get past this Dr. Dolittle, even if I submitted a recycled paper. I was older when I entered college and had been around the barn a few more times than the young and vulnerable. I don’t believe that either I or the lazy professor were being ethical. Sometimes we have to play a game when it appears that it is a game. After I got my degree I went out and searched for real teachers and got a real education. What I learned wasn’t taught to me in college.

      One more comment … My undergraduate degree was in teacher education. The professors that taught us how to become teachers neither had teacher education experience, just PhD behind their names. Most never had teaching experience other than OJT college teaching. Sad isn’t it?

      I wouldn’t necessarily share this info with my kids if I had kids. Just you!

  2. This should really have been a multiple choice question. What else “should” the father have said? How about:
    -“want to work on this paper together?
    -“want to ask your mother”?
    -“what have you been doing on the paper so far?”
    -“can you ask your teacher for help?”
    -“what about asking your grandparent for advice and/or help?”
    If a grandparent is available, the best answer may be the last. As I just discussed in a Key Note speech on “Cultivating Moral Potential in Grandchildren”, grandparents, who are usually outside of the conflictual relationship with parents, are in a unique place in the family, as well as their own moral development, to provide the moral wisdom that grandchildren need.

    Besides, Noah is named after the Biblical Noah, perhaps. The Biblical Noah was the most moral of his generation. Let’s guide this Noah in that direction.

  3. Some one should tell Obama and friends to give kids advice not show how to use condoms like they are doing in NY liberalism is a mental disease

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