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commentary: don’t forget integrity

professional development

don’t forget

by Kenneth Rudich

“To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace in society.”

Theodore Roosevelt

The axiomatic character of Roosevelt’s remark is never more conspicuous than in times like these.  Indeed, the contours of the current dilemma we are in remind us of that everyday: a floundering economy, frozen credit, Wall Street spiraling, foreclosures soaring, bailouts growing, unemployment mounting and, most distressing of all, the unwanted anguish of everyone affected by it – which is to say, all of us.  A terrible avalanche of uncertainty has unfortunately descended.

Though it is hard to contend none of this would have happened if everyone involved along the way had shown integrity, it is even harder to believe everyone exercised integrity and it happened nonetheless.

To be sure, integrity is requisite for all human enterprise; it is emphatically important in all walks of life.

In education, for example, it is called academic integrity, and it reveals itself in numerous ways.

Say, for instance, academic scholars and scientists roamed around doing as they please, fabricating here, taking shortcuts there, never double-checking their work (aka employing the scientific method) or giving colleagues a chance to thoughtfully weigh it.  Could we really trust the fruits of their labor?  Do you think the new knowledge they create would actually serve to advance the cause of society or somehow elevate the common good?  Even more fundamentally, would it be proper for them to acquit themselves in such a slipshod manner?

To that, I say most definitely not.

Would it be acceptable for teachers at any level to arrive to class unprepared, neglect to provide students with solid information, or skirt the responsibility for nudging their pupils to probe ideas, and then speak and write about it with clarity?   Would a diploma or certificate from a place like this be meaningful or worthwhile?  Would anyone even care to participate in such a farcical endeavor?

To that, I say most definitely not.

As for the students, let us not forget they belong in this equation, too.  What if every student skipped class, bought term papers, or otherwise failed to carry out their academic assignments in honorable fashion?  “Would you,” asks Political Science Professor Bill Taylor, “want to be operated on by a doctor who cheated his way through medical school?  Or would you feel comfortable on a bridge designed by an engineer who cheated her way through engineering school?  Would you trust your tax return to an accountant who copied his exam answers from his neighbor?”

To that, I say most definitely not.

Perhaps, under ordinary circumstances, in a climate less tumultuous than the present, I might be inclined to suggest you pause for a moment and imagine the chaos that can result when people discount the real and genuine need to embrace integrity.  As it turns out, however, I’ve already been trumped by the stark example we get in our daily dose of grim reality.

Theodore Roosevelt clearly appreciated the concept of integrity and the kindred offspring it produces – attributes like morals, ethics, honesty, trust, character, and discipline.  He also obviously understood the role of education in helping to nurture it across time – because if you don’t learn it there, there’s a chance you won’t practice it thereafter.

Garnering all that is great and good from life is not about doing whatever it takes to get ahead no matter the cost or consequence.  It’s about having the sort of internal compass that goads you, time and time and time again, to do the right thing.

For your sake, for education’s sake, for the sake of us all, don’t forget integrity.

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