Scouting magazine

Lead an ethical debate about accidental guilt

THEOLOGIANS OFTEN DIVIDE sins into two categories: sins of commission (when we do bad things) and sins of omission (when we fail to do good things). Perhaps there’s a third category — call them sins of inadvertence. Or, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, some people are prone to wrongdoing while others have wrongdoing thrust upon them. 

Imagine, for example, that a clerk at an airport food court gives you too much change, and you don’t notice until you’ve boarded your next flight. You haven’t intentionally done anything wrong and you’re not quite sure how to make the situation right, so you’re caught in an ethical dilemma.

Such dilemmas are as common to young people as they are to adults. As your Boy Scouts and Venturers take halting steps toward adulthood, you can use these situations to explore the intricacies of ethical living. Here’s a story to get you started.

The Dilemma
Rashid Newberry is a solid B student at Washington High School, and he works hard for every good grade he gets. He does all his homework, he actually studies in study hall and he stays after class when he needs extra help. His studiousness has impressed more than one teacher, including Janelle Vivian, who recruited him to be her aide this year. In that role, he copies handouts, helps with attendance, cleans the chalkboard and even assigns students to groups for projects. Sitting at Miss Vivian’s desk during her lunch period, he can see himself becoming a teacher one day.

Unfortunately, one day he also sees a copy of the pop quiz Miss Vivian plans to give his class the following day — answers and all. At first, he only half-realizes what he is looking at, but by the time he realizes what he’s seeing, he has read the whole quiz, which covers a topic he hasn’t mastered. Although he doesn’t memorize the answers, he certainly knows what to study that night. He can’t unsee the quiz, so what should he do?

For Discussion
Begin the discussion with a general exploration of academic dishonesty. Discuss these questions with your Scouts or Venturers:

Next, discuss these questions about Rashid’s situation:

Rashid’s dilemma has two parts: what to do about studying for and taking the pop quiz, and what to do about confessing to seeing the pop quiz. To keep the discussion focused, talk about each part separately.

Studying for and taking the pop quiz
Rashid has several choices here. He could study for the quiz and try to get a good grade. He could avoid studying for the quiz but still try to get a good grade. He could avoid studying for the quiz and skip over the questions he remembers seeing. He could not take the quiz and accept a zero. He could level the playing field by telling his friends what he saw.

Telling (or Not Telling) Miss Vivian
Again, Rashid has several choices: He could not tell Miss Vivian — after all, he didn’t memorize the quiz answers. He could tell Miss Vivian and face the consequences outlined in the school’s academic code of conduct. Or he could wait until after the pop quiz and tell her only if he gets a good grade (reasoning that, if he gets a bad grade, his inadvertent cheating wouldn’t matter).