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My son called from college, relating some good news. He had done a report so well that he had received extra credit on it. He was particularly amused, because the assignment had irritated him. The subject seemed trivial, and a distraction from the focus of the class.

“I overdid it,” he laughed. He had picked up the term from me, over the dinner table. When assigned something that I feel is a waste of time, but my boss wanted, regardless, I overdo it. I go to extra pains to give as complete and thorough a product as possible. Such requests often come because the boss is worried that you may not know as much as you think you do—or as you actually know.

My report would include every painful detail would (in appendices, so as not to distract from the main flow). The resulting document, left no room for further questions. 

My victim could not complain about being drowned in data. I arranged things so conclusions could be seen with a ten-minute scan of the summary. It is just that all the supporting material was also there, and all my work was shown. 

My son adopted the technique. Instead of blowing the report off, he threw everything into preparing it. He meticulously—and properly—cited every reference in the paper, including links to web pages. I was pleased when he said that he had received extra credit for citing his sources so rigorously.

Academic Integrity

Then he said “The professor told the class that he was glad there was one student who took academic integrity seriously. He used my paper as an example of how you were supposed to do it.  A bunch of students just copied their papers from the Internet. He was really mad about that.”

I suddenly realized I had unknowingly passed a pop-quiz in parenting. When I told my family about my day, it did not occur to me that I was setting an example to be emulated. It was just dinner table conversation.

If I had been conscious of the example I was setting I would have taken more pleasure in my abilities as a parent. Instead, the main thing I felt was relief. I had set a good example, true, but that is not what I set out to do. I felt relieved that virtue had, indeed, been its own reward.

I also wondered about the example set by other parents—the parents of the students that had plagiarized. Had they committed errors of omission, never discussing ethics? Had they instead bragged about taking clever short cuts at their dinner tables, not realizing that it would be taken as permission to do the same thing?

Proverbs 22:6 states, “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” The example we set as parents is the most powerful training of all—whether we realize it or not.

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By Mark Lardas. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

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