Repairing honor

By David Lim

Shortly after school ended on a Friday almost a month ago, my phone buzzed announcing the arrival of an email. The same message containing a 29-page Honor Board Recommendation landed simultaneously in the inboxes of all my classmates.

I paid much more attention than I usually do to Honor Board recommendations. What was different this time was that the 11 individuals named in the recommendation could not be simply reduced to nameless, faceless “cheaters.” 

Behind the randomly chosen names and genders in the document, there were classmates that I had seen every day. I had first met some of them on the second grade handball courts and I looked up to others as seniors.

This time, it wasn’t some class in a galaxy, far, far away but one of my own classes that was left in almost universal shock when we returned from semester break.  Instead of facing our midterms, we heard a bleak statement from our teacher notifying us of alleged cheating on our midterm.

Class was dismissed, leaving us nearly 90 minutes of our canceled double to share in our disbelief.        

Exempting the prefects and students sent before the Honor Board, few members of our student body hold real situations up to the text of the Honor Code.

For the rest of us, the Honor Code only becomes a part of our school-wide conversation as an instrument of punishment that we have little to no control over. The idealistic language, which few of us have read thoroughly since signing the Honor Code in seventh grade, leaves the Honor Code open to varying personal interpretations and doesn’t go far in setting clear-cut rules that can be enforced consistently.

As we approach the five-year anniversary of the expulsions that led to nationwide media attention, nothing has visibly changed to make the Honor Code more practical or prominent. The signs put up around the school are not nearly enough to combat the magnitude of this long-term problem.

A month before the 2007 scandal, Prefect Council’s effort to increase awareness of the Honor Code with unsupervised discussions crashed and burned as they lost control of a rowdy senior class.

“Kids don’t even know what the Honor Code is,” Head Prefect Talia Smith said in December 2007, explaining the reasons for the class-wide assembly. “They don’t know how it would apply in their lives.

In the past five years, there have alleged Honor Code violations involving midterms and finals committed by groups of students in 2007, 2010, and 2012. If we really are to break from this unacceptable pattern, there must be fundamental changes to how we view the Honor Code. The Honor Code, originally initiated by students, must have a tangible presence beyond the closed doors where the Honor Board meets.

We should expect more than the one-way communiqués summarizing cases. Discussion of the Honor Code that can result in positive, more practical change should not be monopolized by the few who can punish members of the student body.

We all have a stake in the integrity of our community and when the Honor Code is broken, the damage goes beyond the class the violation occurred in. Cheating affects all the relationships that we have with administrators, teachers and each other that depend on mutual trust. 

No teacher should ever have their trust “shattered” irrevocably with their all of their current and future students, as expressed in the Honor Board case.

No students should ever be wracked by discussions on the Honor Board case that has left a stain on their class without an effective outlet for their outrage.

What we really need is a two-way dialogue between the student body and those who enforce the Honor Code to make the Honor Code practical and relevant by laying down clearly what constitutes cheating. Although the attempt in 2007 failed due to its botched implementation, the core concept is what is needed for real, lasting change.

When remarking to a classmate that nearly a quarter of our class would face the Honor Board, the last thing I expected to hear from him was that he would too appear before the Board. Our school has seen too many students reduced to aliases on recommendations and the trust that holds us together has been breached too often by the regular Honor Code violations, not only by lone individuals but also by groups of students. What has been lacking is a clear and coherent response to the mistakes of the few.

Changes are necessary to make the Honor Code relevant to all of us and to return it to the original student-driven vision. It would be unfair to all of us to expect anything less.

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