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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: An investment in student honor

May 08, 2013|By Joe Puglia

Last Friday I pulled a raid on Mrs. Pruden's second-grade class at La Cañada Elementary. I had intercepted intelligence that she was bringing chocolate cake to school. I was making a getaway when, for some reason, I fixated on a minivan parked in front of LCE adorned with stickers that read, “My Child is an Honor Student.”

I pondered the duality of honor. Today, at least in the sticker's context, “honor” is linked with academic prowess. However, during a more classical time, honor was linked with virtue. An individual was judged relative to his or her morality.

Plato's “The Republic” exhorts the tutelage of youth in matters of virtue in order to build an ethical society. Thomas Jefferson realized this, but tweaked Plato's contention by professing that youth governing themselves relative to virtue enhances morality. Although Jefferson failed to propose a Constitution that abolished slavery, he was nevertheless intellectually adept in moral philosophy. As a classicist, he believed in institutionalizing honor. In 1779 he instituted the nation's first “Honor Court” at the College of William and Mary.

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William and Mary defined the Honor Court as set ethical principles governing a community. These principles were based on ideals that define what constitutes honorable behavior within that community. Jefferson believed that students could be trusted to act honorably and adjudicate morality relative to academic and social concerns.

La Cañada High School has an Honor Court and promulgates academic honesty throughout the institution. The school's Honor Court is admirable, as it is aligned with Jefferson's perspective that adjudication by peers enhances virtue.

Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University who specializes in student integrity, has said, “Students at colleges with honor codes that are student-enforced cheat less than their counterparts elsewhere.” He also said, “Their success depends upon a culture of academic integrity that leads students to take enforcement of the rules seriously.”

How do you instill a culture of academic integrity within the institution? Administrators, teachers and students must find solutions and not criticisms. The idea of an honor court must be championed.

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