Can we try to rewrite?


All they had to do was sign their names, indicating the school could charge a dollar to their accounts. What they didn’t know was that the Prefect Council was testing them to see who would pay for their donut, and who would steal one.

When I heard this story I thought back to our own Honor Code assembly last March. The minute the deans left the room, our grade let loose: the assembly was stupid, the Honor Code irrelevant. Somehow I don’t think The Donut Plot — or the Honor Code flyers in every classroom — was what students had in mind.

I have nothing against a good flyer or two. I understand it can be effective in a moment of pressure. But it’s a Band-aid over a bullet hole. Writing someone else’s English essay, inserting a published paragraph into a term paper and stealing a midterm exam are a little more pre-meditated, a little too complex for The Poster Theory. I have a hard time believing the Honor Code just slipped these students’ minds.

There are places where the Honor Code really works: where teachers leave the room during tests, students schedule their own final exams and there is no need for turnitin.com. I’m not surprised that our own skimpy Honor Code can’t achieve all that. It’s well intentioned but vague: “I will neither give nor receive unauthorized aid, as defined by my teacher both explicitly and implicitly, from any source on…any academic endeavor.” What does that even mean? Do I have to get permission from my teacher to borrow notes from a lecture I missed? It’s also unsurprising that students feel disconnected from a document they had no part in writing and were essentially forced to sign in seventh grade.

Posters, no matter the size, won’t make up for the emptiness of the words printed on them. Choices and Challenges should be replaced by an Ethics class that addresses the Honor Code as it functions at the Upper School. The Honor Code should be rewritten by a team of teachers and students to include more specific terms, and every year the code should be re-ratified by a vote including the entire student body, with the meetings at which students can propose amendments.

Making the Honor Code work goes beyond the Prefect Council. Trust is a two-way street. If teachers don’t put faith in the Honor Code, students won’t either. So practices like turnitin.com, whose very existence undermines the idea of an Honor Code, have to go. We can’t trick freshmen into stealing donuts. Even if it makes a really, really good talking point.

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