The Truth about Honesty

Harpeth Hall is fortunate to have the words “live honorably” as the last and perhaps most powerful words in our mission. These words send a clear message to all of us.  Naturally, we schedule our Honor Assembly as the first all-school assembly after Convocation each year. During this assembly, we introduce our Honor Council members, and we hear a speech from our Honor Council president. The entire community recites the pledge, and all of the Middle and Upper School students sign the pledge. These signatures are displayed throughout our buildings, and we continue to work hard each year to ensure these words remain an integral part of our culture.

It should come as no surprise to me that a recent graduate wrote the following comment on her Harpeth Hall College-age Alumnae survey. “One last thing I would like to share is about academic honesty. I really treasure the honesty that was instilled at Harpeth Hall. I wish I had picked a college that posted more of an emphasis on academic honesty. For girls graduating, make sure they know that the honor system that they have grown used to at Harpeth Hall is one of the most precious things in the world, and honor should be something that they carry on throughout college.”   It seems that it gets even tougher to “live honorably” when it is not part of the ethos of a place.

On one hand, I am reassured to know that one of our graduates has reflected on the differences in these communities and is appreciative of the culture formed at Harpeth Hall. On the other hand, I am reminded that we need to make sure we teach our students and daughters how to seek and participate in environments that include a safe academic and social community.

In an effort to join forces with our parents in promoting and encouraging honesty and integrity in our school culture, I would like to write a few blogs on this subject. I will share some observations I have made regarding honesty and the tough choices that our students have to make each day.

Part I: A Few Myths about Honesty

The first myth I would like to dispel is that students are either honest or dishonest. I accept the fact that we cannot be a little bit of both at the same time, but I believe we can be one or the other at different points in our lives. Furthermore, I don’t think a dishonest action should give a student or person a label as a “cheater” for the rest of her life.

The second myth is that students cheat because they cannot master the work themselves. Another assumption might be that they are taking the easy path because they are simply lazy. You may find it interesting to know that the typical student caught cheating is not the student who struggles academically nor is she the student who avoids work. Most of our students, who are tempted to cheat, do so from a desire to maintain an excellent record. It is uncommon for a student to cheat, but when it does happen, it is more likely to involve a highly capable student than a struggling student. The capable student is someone who cannot accept, for a variety of reasons, a lower grade or imperfect record. In an effort to maintain their good standing or good grade, they take a short cut.

Here is where we can work together. Please help us send the message to our students and to your daughters that an “honest C, D or even F is always better than a dishonest A.” Whether we know it or not, they want to please us with a high grade. In many cases, this pressure comes from within and not overtly from home or school. In order to achieve these personal goals, many of our girls tend to stretch themselves too thin. It is up to us to help them cut their losses when necessary, learn from the experience, make appropriate adjustments, and move on. Allowing the experience to unfold is a powerful teaching tool.

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