Intro by Jack Antonini
We live at a time when traditional values are being challenged nearly every day. As credit union leaders, we embrace traditional values, such as People Helping People, the mission of the credit union movement. As we work to help members, and our teams who work so hard to support our mission of helping our members, it can be helpful to think about some of the traditional values that are being undermined and forgotten. One of those values is honesty. My son, Jonathan Antonini, a former Professor of English Literature at Sam Houston State University, shared his perspectives on one of the constantly changing values in the world in which we live. Take a moment to read his story, and perhaps share with your team … reinforcing traditional values such as honesty helps build character and helps us better serve members.
Over my six years serving as a professor of literature and English, I encountered a fair amount of cheating and plagiarism from my students. For the most egregious cases, I would call the students into my office and ask them a simple question – “Did you cheat on your essay?” I already knew the answer was “yes,” as the plagiarism software our university employed was quite thorough, but I wanted to hear what my students would say. I wanted to test their character as well as their writing, for growing and determining ethical fiber was important in my class.
I remember three specific encounters. In the first appointment, after I asked my question, the student denied cheating vehemently – “Oh, No, Mr. Antonini! I would never cheat on an essay! I wrote this completely by myself!” Without saying a word, I simply turned my computer screen toward the student, which revealed the massive extent of the plagiarism in this student’s essay. “Then would you care to explain this?” I said gently, as I slowly scrolled down the page to reveal word after word, sentence after sentence, and paragraph after paragraph all copied from a free essay online. The student’s expression turned from shock to defiance, as she slowly sat back in her chair and said nothing. I assigned the student a zero, and without any apology or sign of remorse, she grabbed her backpack, got up, and simply walked out of my office.
In the second appointment, after asking the question, the student feigned ignorance. “What do you mean, Mr. Antonini? I don’t know how I could have plagiarized?” I patiently and painstakingly went over his essay, revealed all the plagiarism, and kept looking to him to see if he would admit what he had done. He continued to give me a dumbfounded look, not being able to understand how this could have happened. After ten minutes or so of me pointing out every bit of plagiarism, he finally admitted that he had his friend write his paper for him. I smiled and gave a soft laugh. “Having a friend write your paper for you is still cheating,” I said. He also received a zero and left my office.
On the third and final appointment, the student walked into my office and stood before me with a slightly guilty look. I think he knew what this office visit was about, and I asked him the same question that I asked all the others. However, to my great surprise, he looked me in the eye and said in a soft voice, “Yes, professor. I cheated.” Then he slowly lowered his head in shame and averted his eyes from mine. In my great joy, I said, “Thank you!!” louder than I expected, as he looked up at me in surprise and befuddlement. I repeated the words again with a goofy smile on my face, and I hugged him (Yes, professors generally should not hug their students, but if you had been lied to as many times I have over the years, you might just hug an honest student, too). He was completely dumbfounded, as this was not the reception he was expecting. I could not give him a high grade, after all, he did cheat, but I was able to give him a 50 on his essay, which is far better than a zero. He left my office grateful, and I was able to go home with hope in my heart about our future generation.
I am always trying to teach my students, whether I am inside the classroom or out. In this instance, I wanted to teach these students the value of honesty. For the third student, I rewarded honesty. I told him that being honest cultivated trust, and it allowed me to give students that I trusted the benefit of the doubt when they needed it the most. While I do believe in the old adage – “Honesty is its own reward” – I also believe that honesty affords very real and physical rewards. Sometimes a reward may come in the form of an increased grade, but honesty almost always affords a deeper level of trust, as people will naturally gravitate towards those whom they know are being honest rather than people who are known to have a reputation for lying. Ethics are not meant to be taught simply to bludgeon people over the head that they need to be better people, but rather ethics are taught because they protect us from danger, reward our diligence, cultivate trust, prime us for a promotion, or in the case of my students, allow for a higher grade. Cultivating and employing honesty does have its rewards.