Opinion: Integrity Is Important in School and In Politics

Walter Rhein

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Imagine you’re a teacher. You’re teaching your children basic mathematics. You give a test on Friday, grade it on Saturday, and hand it back to the class on Monday.

One student fails. You hand him his paper.

He takes one look at it. He doesn’t take any accountability for it. He doesn’t even recognize that he’s failed.

“This test was rigged!” he screams.

“No, the test wasn’t rigged, you just failed.”

“I didn’t fail. I’m perfect! Everybody knows that I’m perfect! Therefore, the only possible interpretation is that you, the teacher, cheated somehow!”

As a teacher, you’re trained to deal with things like this. This is what is referred to as a “teachable moment.” You decide to humor this kid. You show him more respect than he shows you.

“Do you have any evidence that the test was unfair?” you ask.

“No!” the child says because there is none.

But the child isn’t pacified by this. The child refuses to recognize the truth. He goes home and complains to his parents. He incites anger. The next thing you know, the parents have marched into the school to scream at you.

Back when integrity still mattered in the United States, teachers could rely on parents to be on their side. These days, all parents think their children deserve a participation trophy even if they completely fail a math test. This is part of the reason why basic order of operations math problems routinely stump the whole internet.

“Why are you teaching our son CRT?” the father claims.

“I’m not teaching CRT, this is a basic math test,” you reply.

“It was rigged dad,” the child cries.

“Why do you think it was rigged,” says the father.

“Because I failed!” the child says.

The father and the child look at you. “He failed because he doesn’t know the material. When you fail you shouldn’t turn around and deny it. You shouldn’t blame the whole world. You should take responsibility. You should hold yourself accountable. You should work hard and become a better person.”

“But that’s not what the president did!” the father and the son scream together.

That is the crux of what we have to deal with in modern society. How can teachers and parents be expected to instill traditional values if the voting public continues to elect leaders who don’t model those values?

What happened to integrity?

What happened to personal responsibility?

You can’t solve every problem by throwing a temper tantrum, breaking windows, and denying reality.

My daughter has just started her basketball season. On the very first day, the coach brought all the parents together and lectured us that we had to have integrity. That meant that if our kids lose their game, we can’t turn around and blame the refs.

We can’t say it was rigged.

We can’t engage in violence.

Essentially, we have to do the opposite of what the followers of certain politicians model all the time. We have to do the opposite of the behavior that's become normalized in our country.

I’m very worried about the direction the United States of America is heading. I remember a country where people valued personal accountability. That seems to me to be one of the primary values that any productive society needs to revere.

If people feel entitled not to hold themselves accountable when they fail, that will lead to the failure of our society. How are we supposed to improve as a nation when we can’t recognize a mistake? What are we teaching our children?

Let’s be mindful of traditional values when we go out to vote. Let’s consider integrity. Politicians that refuse to acknowledge that they’ve lost a fair contest do not model integrity. Our society cannot succeed unless we hold people accountable for violating basic, traditional values.

It starts with integrity. Success for our whole society follows from that.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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