The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

    Honor Board, not a court

    By Alex Gura

    For those of us who don’t cheat on tests or regularly skip school, the Honor Board doesn’t play a big part in our lives. True, it is an important part of Harvard-Westlake, but things like the Honor Code and Honor Board don’t come into the minds of people who follow the rules and do their own work. This was the situation for me until the recommendation above popped into my email.

    The situation described seemed completely unfair to me. There was no evidence against the kid, and yet he still got punished?

    In the United States, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, assuming that if there’s not enough evidence to prove that someone committed a crime, he probably didn’t do it. It seemed completely illogical for a school that prides itself on building independence in teens not to get them adjusted to this principle.

    I decided to go talk to the Honor Board advisers and clarify the situation. As it turns out, this case was one that would normally not even go to the Honor Board. There are cases that are sent to the Honor Board, such as ones where a teacher suspects a kid has done something but has no way to confirm the hunch, that are thrown out from the start and instead sent to the administration.

    But in a case that is thrown out, a kid is denied even a chance to defend him or herself and is sent straight to the gauntlet of discipline. As I also learned, even with the kid completely cleared, the teacher may still maintain “academic integrity” and decide any grade he or she wants for a student. Isn’t that just nasty?

    But it isn’t. The comparisons I made, which at first seemed completely parallel, are actually completely skewed. The Harvard-Westlake honor process is nothing like the legal system of the United States and shouldn’t be. This is due to the one integral word in almost all of Harvard-Westlake life: honor.

    This is the vital difference between the legal system and ours. The Harvard-Westlake system’s first priority isn’t to deal with infractions, but to instill a sense of honor into all students. One doesn’t elect to follow United States law; one is compelled to. But for Harvard Westlake, however symbolic it may be, all students signed the Honor Code, deciding for themselves that they would abide by it.

    In national law, there is always a prosecutor and defendant, and to apply that standard here would pit teachers versus the students in a fight for punishment versus survival. But the Honor Board is about teachers working with students to understand what they did and why they shouldn’t do it again.


    The thing that made me completely turn around my view was something school chaplain Father J. Young told me when I asked him about the case. I came in thinking about the injustice of the system.

    “The teacher knew that the case could end up like it did, but he nonetheless wanted to go forth with it for the student,” Young said.

    The Honor Board and Honor Code are ultimately for us, not for the teachers, and not for punishment.

    They are about building responsibility for one’s actions and creating a bond of trust between the teacher and student. If a bond of trust is broken between a teacher and student, steps should be taken to fix it. The trust that is inherent in this relationship is why the teacher can have control over a student’s grades without question, because ultimately this ensures that the teacher can make a student understand what he has done or rectify a personal issue. It’s not simply about the action that a student takes, but about how the student handles him or herself, the ultimate goal of the Honor Code.

    Ultimately, we could create a system for Harvard-Westlake like that of the United States. But this would demolish the bond as a whole between students and the Harvard-Westlake community.

    The fact that students participate in the Honor Board would be completely hypocritical in a system where the students owe nothing to the school and the school owes nothing to them. We’ll have enough time as adults to deal with situations like that.





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    Honor Board, not a court