Training to Tell the Truth: Part 3

This is the third post in a series where we have been talking about dealing with students who do not tell the truth. In our first post, we presented several results of lying. Next, we introduced several results of telling the truth. This short post offers the first technique in training students to tell the truth- Confronting the Truth.

A teacher’s or administrator’s life would be so much easier if they could get an honest answer to questions, such as “Who done it” or “Did you do it”? Josephson Institute of Ethics survey of high school students shows that 80% of the students lied to their teacher. They also concluded, “The most emphatic findings are that younger generations are significantly more likely to engage in dishonest conduct than those in older cohorts.” (2018)

Although infants have no sense of morality, they know what feels good or bad, and they let you know about it—as in the case of a diaper that needs changing or a stomach that needs feeding. As they become toddlers, they know shame and remorse. As they interact with caregivers, they learn that consequences are attached to their behavior—some consequences are pleasant, and others are not.


This interaction continues into the preschool years and helps ideas of right and wrong. Caregivers reinforce these ideas through rewards and punishment. Preschoolers learn that “good” is to be sought after and earn rewards while avoiding the “bad,” which results in mainly punishment. Through caregivers’ guidance, correction, consequences, and interaction with siblings and other children, they learn what is fair and right and wrong. Although they may make mistakes, they learn from their mistakes and grow in understanding others’ feelings and rights.


From kindergarten through elementary grades, children “think that authority figures such as parents and teachers have rules that young people must follow absolutely. Rules are thought of as real, unchangeable guidelines rather than evolving, negotiable, or situational. As they grow older, they develop more abstract thinking, and become less self-focused; children become capable of forming more flexible rules and applying them selectively for the sake of shared objectives and a desire to co-operate.” (Oswalt)


In our schools, we want our students to be truthful as part of everyday practice, not just to get a reaction, avoid punishment, test what they can get away with, or get out of taking responsibility but because it is the right thing to do. Consider the following strategies that will help increase truthfulness in students.


Confront the Truth

If someone is not telling the truth, they are most likely lying. Being called a liar is embarrassing. No one likes to be accused of not telling the truth, regardless of the reasons for lying. Sometimes, educators do not want to embarrass a student, so they avoid confronting the truth.


Consider an event in my middle school Science class—some magnifying glasses came up missing. The morning following the disappearance, while all the students were present, I asked the question, “Does anyone know what happened to our magnifying glasses? They were in the closest at the end of the day, but this morning, they were missing.”


Receiving no response to the question, I decided to ask each person in the classroom, one by one, “Do you know what happened to our magnifying glasses?” All the responses were “No.” If each were telling the truth at face value, someone outside of the class must have taken the magnifying glasses. Even before I could ask each student, “Did you do it,” I suspected that the answer would have been “No.” By asking each student the question, I hoped that if a student took the magnifying glasses, they would not violate their conscience and confess.


Educators are often reluctant to ask a specific question for fear of embarrassing a student. They expect to get an honest answer. However, when faced with a direct question in a classroom setting with their peers looking on, very few students will tell the truth for fear of embarrassment or punishment. This fear makes the task of finding out “Who Done It” very challenging. Conclusion: truth must be confronted, and there are several methods to confront the truth—state the obvious, redirect questions, and focus on feelings. In next week’s post, we will deal with these three actions.

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