What’s the difference between pretending and lying?

By Barbara Gruener

When A Dragon Moves In coverJodi Moore’s When a Dragon Moves In is a whimsical summer sizzler about the antics of a dragon who moves into the sandcastle of a lucky little lad. While his family busily goes about their beach business, the boy and his dragon have all sorts of adventuresome fun roaming around and roasting marshmallows, busting bullies and braving the waves. Despite his insistence on the dragon’s existence, this creative, clever kid cannot convince his family that the dragon is real.

And when mischief starts to happen, the boy decides to send his dragon packing “until he learns some manners.” That’s my favorite part because it’s the perfect segue into a character chat with my students. What should a dragon’s manners look like, sound like, feel like at the beach? At home? At school? In the community? Who will teach him those manners? How will the boy know that the dragon has learned his new skill set? Then will the dragon be back?

The eye-poppingly expressive illustrations by Howard McWilliam bring the text to life in such a magical way that I actually wanted to believe! You can also use this gem as a springboard for a discussion about real versus pretend. Find out if your audience thinks that the dragon really exists. Why or why not? If they ascertain that the dragon is imaginary, then is the little boy being dishonest? What, if anything, is the difference between pretending and lying?

After reading this dragon tale, ask your children to share their favorite sun and sand adventures out loud using as many sparkle words as they can. Then, fire up their imaginations by encouraging them to mesh fantasy with fact as they script a summertime story of their own. Encourage families to spend the day together at their favorite beach so that they can draw from all five of their senses.

Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen! Happy summertime!

Barbara Gruener is a school counselor at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX, a winner of the 2009 CEP National School of Character Award. For more information on Westwood’s program, visit its website.

America’s lying problem

Statue of Themis
Image from Wikimedia Commons

We’re in the midst of a lying epidemic, according to James B. Stewart, author of Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff.

Telling the stories of Martha Stewart, Bernie Madoff, Barry Bonds, and “Scooter” Libby, Mr. Stewart explores how and why people at the top of their field deliberately toss trustworthiness out the window.

“Obviously they all thought they had done something wrong, they couldn’t admit it, they were going to hide it, and it was easier to lie and cover it up,” Stewart said in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Part of the problem is that people can’t bring themselves to admit that they’ve done something wrong. And it seems this sort of lying isn’t exclusive to billionaire entrepreneurs and athletes. Stewart noted in the interview, “[E]very single prosecutor told me that they felt it was an epidemic, that it was out of control. One of them said, ‘Every day I come into work expecting to be lied to….'”

What’s the solution?

“You have to have people being held accountable for breaking the law, and then you have to have encouragement for people who do the right thing,” Stewart said.

But also, telling these cautionary tales, illustrating how tangled up people get in their own webs, can arm us with good sense to admit to our mistakes and honestly face the consequences.

The stories of Madoff, Stewart, Bonds, and Libby all show that lying – to protect your reputation, make money, or preserve your positive self-image – comes out eventually, destroying whatever it is you wanted to save. Lying also tends to destroy the lives of the people around the liar. In the interview, Mr. Stewart recalled that Martha Stewart’s lying shattered the life of the young stock broker’s assistant who got caught up in her scheme.

Click here to listen to the interview.

Related: See CC! President Michael Josephson’s commentary “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

What would Honest Abe Lincoln say?

SurveyWhat would Honest Abe Lincoln say about the values of today’s American youth? In our survey of more than 40,000 high school students, the gap between what students believe and their actions does not bode well for future generations.

This report comes on the heels of our report issued in October of 2010 on bullying in American high schools.

Survey highlights: while 89 percent of students believe that being a good person is more important than being rich, almost one in three boys and one in four girls admitted stealing from a store within the past year.  Moreover, 21 percent admitted they stole something from a parent or other relative, and 18 percent admitted stealing from a friend.

On lying, more than two in five said they sometimes lie to save money (48 percent of males and 35 percent of females). While 92 percent of students believe their parents want them to do the right thing, more than eight in ten confessed they lied to a parent about something significant.

Rampant cheating in school continues. A majority of students (59 percent) admitted cheating on a test during the last year, with 34 percent doing it more than two times. One in three admitted they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

“As bad as these numbers are, they appear to be understated,” said Michael Josephson, president of the Institute. “More than one in four students confessed they lied on at least one or two survey questions, which is typically an attempt to conceal misconduct.”

Josephson said the results of this survey, conducted in 2010, are slightly better than those of the 2008 survey. “We show some improvement in ethical behavior, but the baseline of values remains alarmingly low compared to what they believe,” he said, adding that a whopping 92 percent of students were satisfied with their personal ethics and character.

What would Lincoln say to our youth? A great believer in human potential, he might patiently remind them, “You have to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.”

* See the complete data tables

* Get a pdf of the press release

* Take our Integrity Survey

* Read about the Report Card on Bullying and Violence

* Surveys were conducted in 2009 and 2010 with a national sample of public and private high schools. For the general questions (over 40,000 responses), the accuracy is well within +/- 0.005 or 0.5%; for breakdowns of 20,000 the accuracy is +/- 0.69%, and for 10,000 the accuracy is +/- 0.98%; and even when there are just 1,000 responses, the accuracy is +/- 3.1%. Almost all standard errors of differences are much less than 1% for even small samples.