Search form

The Reasons We Cheat: Teaching Integrity in Education

When adults act counter to their morals, young people often copy them. So, how do we teach our children to know better and practice better judgment than their erring elders? In the classroom, how can teachers teach ethical conduct when mounting academic pressures create an environment that breeds cheating in exams or submitting plagiarized papers?

We are not born with integrity. As we watch behaviors attached to virtue, like honesty, respect, and responsibility, we incorporate them into our character. The world is not a hopeless place because, after all, we can teach integrity to our young ones. Still, it begs why we even cheat in the first place: does cheating come naturally to our children? 

Why Do People Cheat?

Science has an explanation for dishonest behavior, and it boils down to the following principles, according to organizational psychologist Dr. Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg:

  • Omnipotence: Omnipotence is a feeling of being invincible or untouchable. It gives us the notion that we are exempt from following rules and norms; we believe we are entitled to break the rules.
    • For example, a spoiled kid may not hesitate to steal their friend's toy because they feel special enough to get away with it. 
  • Cultural Numbness: When we begin to adhere to a way of things that is otherwise contrary to our moral compass, then we become culturally numb. We may cheat because everyone else is cheating until we no longer feel guilty. 
    • For example, if a lack of parental guidance has led a child to a group of friends who steal habitually, they may start doing it themselves and not feel guilty anymore.
  • Justified Neglect: Justified neglect is engaging in dishonest behavior and convincing ourselves that we acted reasonably under the circumstances, despite knowing that we didn't. When we commit justified unethical behavior, a reward is at stake, and we have low chances of being exposed. 
    • For instance, a food-deprived kid may steal a toy for a friend who promises him a meal in exchange, assuring them that they won't get caught.

Teaching Integrity in Schools

While character development begins at home, it ultimately follows the mold created by cultural socialization through the influences present in a child's sphere. Since young people spend most of their time in schools, educators must actively promote an environment that instills positive character traits, such as integrity.

There are many methods to teach integrity in schools, but teachers must continue syncing their strategies with this generation's rapidly evolving social landscapes. Nonetheless, they can always start with the basics, including the following:

Articulating Integrity Through Keywords and Quotes

According to the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), five fundamental values define academic integrity: responsibility, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and honesty. Teachers can drill these keywords into students' subconscious by mentioning them frequently in class without necessarily making them the central topic. Students may naturally develop an aversion to unethical behaviors through the repetition effect as they grow older.        

Rewarding Good Behavior in the Classroom

The problem with a grade-centric educational system is its tendency to push students beyond their ethical boundaries for high marks. If teachers could also reward students for exhibiting hard work, courage, respect, and other parallel behaviors, learners will understand that integrity always comes first.

Strategic Response to Cheating

Studies have shown that punitive environments only encourage more dishonest behavior in children as they attempt to avoid more punishment. Students should get a moment to reflect on their mistakes, and teachers must listen and show respect before firmly reinforcing that they will not tolerate dishonesty.

Developing Self-Confidence

When people are being dishonest, it's because they feel incapable of getting what they want otherwise. For example, students may cheat on a test, believing they couldn't pass it even if they studied. A manager may steal from their company, thinking that they can't get more money otherwise.

Through activities that draw out their talents and skills, students will have the opportunity to develop self-confidence and, in the process, lose their urge to engage in dishonest behavior. Practicing integrity then becomes a habit they want to carry well into adulthood.


There is no doubt that the motivations behind dishonest behavior can be complicated. Explanations can be so clever they almost pass as acceptable. Then again, when integrity is lost, we pay for it dearly. If we start our children young in integrity education, they will gain everything.

Written by Cheryl Ramos
Education World Contributor
Copyright© 2022 Education World