Declare our Independence from the Current Honor Code

Let’s get rid of the current Honor Code. Now, it is a myopic code of law; instead, it needs to be a broader code of ethics.

I’ve always believed that the ultimate purpose of our Honor Code is to give all graduates going out into the world a strong moral backbone, a strong sense of what is right and an even stronger compulsion to do the right thing whenever possible.

But I’ve also always believed that our school graduates hundreds of students a year who, instead, have only taken from the Honor Code that lying, cheating and stealing are wrong.

Our Code outlines unacceptable actions rather than focusing on a principle by which students at Harvard-Westlake should abide.  That focus on specific violations (cheating, stealing, lying, destruction of property), which would clearly be in violation of any code of ethics, detracts from the spirit and meaning of our Honor Code.

And that’s why an extensive overhaul is necessary.

Asking 10 people to define honor would yield 10 different responses, but at the heart of each response would lie a common denominator: given a knowledge of the right and wrong thing to do in a situation, honor is the drive to do the right thing every time.

The current Code, quoting the venerable Jiminy Cricket, addresses the definition of honor only in the first line: “I will let my conscience be my guide in my everyday actions and endeavors at Harvard-Westlake.”

That should be the focus of our Honor Code, not classifying what things are dishonorable and unacceptable.

Stanford University’s Fundamental Standard, while not strictly an honor code, is a perfect model of a comprehensive, pithy guiding principle which is not limited to just scholastic activities: “Students at Stanford are expected to show both within and without the University such respect for order, morality, personal honor and the rights of others as is demanded of good citizens.”

It is the kind of code, as ours should be, that extends to the professional world, that isn’t restricted to tests and papers, that is universal.

Corporate corruption goes against the Fundamental Standard, as does physical assault, as does lying, as does property damage, as does cheating, as does any other action that would always be considered dishonorable.

So should we nix every line in our Honor Code except for the first? Should we simply revise the existing Code? Or should we hit the delete key and start from scratch?

I’d go with the mixture of the three. Including some components of the old code (the last line, “On all my work, my name affirms my honor,” is my favorite), a fundamentally new one would stress why a change is so fundamentally important.

Creating a new code should be a community effort, completed only after much debate, collaboration and, of course, a school-wide vote to ratify it.

What we have now is like the US Penal Code or the Constitution — a series of laws, restrictions and pieces of a moral framework.

What we need is the Declaration of Independence, an assertion of principles, a guiding philosophy that can transcend the borders of this school as our graduates head into the world.