Friday, March 27, 2009

Dis honor

As my students walked into class yesterday, they were confronted with this message from their teacher in 300-point font on the projector screen:
Write and sign this pledge on your test (if you do not, I will not mark it):

On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received improper assistance in completing this task.
"Are you kidding?" a few demanded.

"That's bullshit," a couple mumbled under their breaths.

"No, I'm not kidding," I said, "and I don't care what you think. We now have an honor code."

"What if I don't have honor?" one wiseguy wanted to know.

"Then this is completely meaningless to you," I said. "Just sign it and cheat. But if you get caught, there will be consequences."

A group of students had led the effort to start up an honor council at the school. This was after months--if not years--of seeing others getting away with cheating on exams and assignments. For my part, I was disturbed by the administration's failure to deal severely with an alleged cheater, someone that different teachers on different occasions had caught. So when the email came asking us to discuss the honor council and code with classes next week, I decided to start here and now. With four of my classes having quizzes yesterday, I had them write and sign the pledge on their papers. And I spent valuable class time responding to student complaints and anger about it.

I was a hero of honor! Or so I thought.

After school, the teacher-advisor of the honor council approached me, saying a couple of the kids were upset with me. Upset.

I tried to process. I rewound through the day, wondering what I might have said to offend.

Possibly: "So this means that from now on, you either don't cheat, or you cheat so well that you don't get caught." I did say that.

Or: "If you don't believe in honor, then why do you care? It's just one more thing you have to do, like go to chapel once a month."

Or: "You might as well get used to it. Most colleges and universities have some sort of honor code you sign, and if you're busted cheating, the consequences are more severe and more expensive than here."

I was feeling pretty good about how I had defended honor. But still. "What did I say?" I asked.

Apparently, two of the kids were upset that I had also said something about how this pledge does not apply to me, to "do as I say, not as I do." I don't remember saying it, but I probably did. My initial thought was to apologize for this dis of the honor code. But when I thought about it later, I decided I was right.

The student honor code absolutely does not apply to teachers. It's like anything else: There are rules that students must follow. Teachers may lead by example, but we shouldn't be held to the same standards.

Instead, teachers are held to a much higher standard. Or we should be. We are professionals, having been educated and then hired to fulfill a responsibility. If a student is caught cheating, he may get a zero on the assignment and possibly a one- or two-day suspension. A teacher, on the other hand, can lose his job for a transgression. So, saying that a teacher should sign the student honor code is a false analogy, comparing apples to oranges.

And speaking of, I need to remember to give extra credit to the kid that brings me an apple every day.

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