My fourth grade students recently completed a Language Arts Assessment that included a writing component. Students were asked to read a short piece of fiction, summarizing it and responding to it by making a personal connection.
In the story, a young boy discovers a purse full of money and has to make the decision to return the purse, and money, to its rightful owner (identification was inside) or keep the money for himself so he could buy the bike he wanted. (The boy was tempted to keep the purse, but he decided to return the purse to its owner. The woman who lost her purse was also the owner of the bike store and rewarded the young boy with the bike he wanted for half its selling price).
I will say this - my students are honest. Some wrote that they would return the purse because it’s the right thing to do. Other students wrote that they would keep $10 or $20 and return the rest. One student wrote that he would take just enough so that others wouldn’t be suspicious. And some students claimed justification for keeping all the money in the whole “Finders keepers, losers weepers” mantra.
I read these essays, and it scared me. This is our future. Will my retirement years be in the hands of selfish young adults? Or maybe that’s too cynical a view. I’m not entirely objective, after all. I do spend all day with these children, seeing them at their nice and not-so-nice sides.
So, I remind myself that these are nine and ten-year-olds answering this question. Maybe, if the situation presented itself to them, their conscience (or their parents or their teacher) would be the voice of reason.
I hope so.