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All Signatories: Has anything changed now that we are all Honor Code signers?


This year marks the first year the entire school, K-12, has signed the Honor Code, mandatorily. The Honor Code and the Honor Committee have been around for almost four years. The goal of the committee is to “create a community in which the values of honesty, respect, responsibility, kindness, and courage are embraced” as stated on the TAS website, or simply to “promote the values” as stated by Honor Committee Co-President, Angela H. (12). The objective of the Code, on the other hand, is to establish TAS as a “value-based” school and propagate the ethical standards of the community.

In order to achieve its goals, the Committee organizes the mandatory Honor Code assembly, signing ceremony, advisor group discussions, Faculty and Student Speaker Series, and promotions using videos and its bulletin board.

A recent Blue and Gold survey, however, revealed that 41 percent of the over 400 responding students admitted not knowing what the Honor Code states.

“Many students don’t even know what the Honor Code says, including me. I’m guessing that the Honor Code states things that are probably common knowledge and already stressed many times by teachers, such as be honest, be kind, don’t steal, et cetera, so it’s not news to most students,” one student commented.

But others disagreed. “The students all know, understand, and acknowledge the Honor Code and what it states, as well as the standards the code asks for,” said another student.

“[The Honor Code] is on the first few pages of the student handbook but I don’t think students will actually read them,” said Phillip T., the other Co-President of the Honor Committee, when asked about the fact that a number of students are signing the code without knowing what it stipulates. “I’ve had the suggestion of having people recite the Honor Code at the assembly but no guarantees. At least at that standard, people will know what the Honor Code states.

Dr. Hartzell, the upper school principal, also expressed his concerns about the lack of student understanding of the Honor Code but reiterated: “certainly more students know what the values are and know what the Honor Code says than seven or eight years ago.”

The Blue & Gold Survey

Sitting in his office staring at a sheet of paper, Dr. Hartzell squinted his eye as he examined the fine prints.

“Statistics say what you want them to say. I don’t look at theses statistics and think we’re in trouble,” he said.

He was looking at The Blue and Gold’s Honor Committee survey results. “I think that’s an incredible response,” he noted, commenting on the percentage of students who became more ethical upon signing the Honor Code.  “I would have bet zero to be the response. Looking at just that response, I would say case closed. We made 19 percent of the students more ethical? I would never have thought that.”

Dr. Hartzell took a really positive spin on the results. When asked about the fact that 60 percent of the students know what the Honor Code states, he said, “Holy Camoly. I would’ve thought 10 percent knew.”

You Sign It or Leave It

“Making the Honor Code signing mandatory defeats its purpose. An analogy was drawn between signing the Honor Code and getting a driver’s license, but I don’t think that’s the case at all,” said a student. “The Honor Code is a set of values that we are meant to uphold. If they are forced to sign it, it almost becomes meaningless. If there is no choice involved, there is no sense of duty in abiding by it.”

The rationale behind the mandatory nature of the Honor Code might as well be the most widely misunderstood matter at TAS. The fact that TAS is a “values-based school” requires all students to sign the Honor Code in order to attend.

“Part of the contract to coming to TAS is following the Honor Code. It’s simply just mandatory. It’s a set of guidelines that I think everyone should follow and it will make TAS a better place,” said Phillip.

And yet 76 percent of the students still believe signing the Honor Code should be voluntary.

Dr. Hartzell explained his support for a mandatory Honor Code: “the goal is not to stop people from violating the honor code. Unless we have absolute saints in here, if there were enough of my students in this room, they’d say I violate the kindness part of the code every hour.”

“Students might or might not follow it, but the honor code is not a solution to a problem. It is not going to make us more or less ethical,” he said. “All I can do is repeat the decision to make it mandatory. If you want to come to school, this is what it is. It is a known fact; you are going to sign the Honor Code. It’s not voluntary. But whether it is good or bad, I don’t know. As I have said I don’t even see this as a solution to a problem anyways.”

Adults, please leave the room

Barriers are what the Honor Committee hopes to break down with meetings with advisory group, but they might just be creating more.

“I feel like the honor committee members are sincere about what they want to present, but they could reevaluate how they present to the advisory groups. It should be more of a student-to-student environment to allow for better and more comfortable discussion,” a student said.

“The advisor group sessions are awkward, and I think most of the time students are just answering survey-like questions that the Honor Committee’s proposes instead of talking about their views on how to improve the school environment to better embody the values and what their opinion on the values is. After all, the only way to get students to accept the values is for them to want to incorporate them,” said another student.

The Honor Committee has stressed the need for a more interactive and engaging discussion with the school, even as it can be “kind of hard” at times.

The gratitude activity, where students are required during advisor group to write thank you notes to any adult at TAS, is something Phillip believes to be effective in serving the committee’s purpose. He mentioned receiving positive feedback from students who said the activity was enjoyable and effective. He said it made “ students realize that the Honor Code isn’t a set of rules, but a guideline implementable in real life.”

Dr. Hartzell said these meetings were an opportunity for growth.

“Yes I think they have been effective because they’ve existed. But they’ll never be able to wipe out cheating and disrespect,” he said.

Dr. Hartzell wants genuine discussion that is open, free, and civil.

“One day there will be enough trust for there to be open discussions about the Honor Code and people will speak their minds without adults present in a respectful way about certain events. That would be my ultimate goal,” he said. “There are a lot of students at TAS who would welcome the opportunity to go in and talk about TAS issues without adults present. I admire them and I think that hopefully over the years they will be more comfortable.”

Respected and elected

When asked if the student body respects the Honor Committee members, Dr. Hartzell stated that students do show “appropriate respect.”

According to Dr. Hartzell, “there is a distinction between respecting [the Honor Committee] and treating them with respect,” adding that he thinks the students “treat them with respect.”

But if the student body is ultimately going to have to respect, listen, and interact with the committee members, should they have a say in the selection process?

Both co-presidents expressed their concerns about this proposal, citing possible trolls and other factors that might exclude many excellent candidates for Honor Committee.

“I think, in a sense, people should have their own choice,” said Phillip. “People don’t respect you because you are the president of a club or StuGov, they respect you for who you are. If you are someone who demonstrates courage, then I’m sure people would come to like and respect you.”

Dr. Hartzell has been at many different high schools with Honor Committees, including The Webb Schools and The Harker School.

“The best system I have ever seen for electing members is an indirect vote where students may vote but the ballot had to go to the faculty first,” he said, when asked about the Honor Committee’s member selection process.

“The Honor Committee would present a slate, the faculty would vote on that slate, if the vote was against then the person was removed, and the slate went back to the Honor Committee. If they really wanted to have that person, they would put the person back on, and it would go back to the faculty, who had the final say. There are different systems, however at least this way, students feel like they have a say in things. But it’s never perfect. And that example was about a very small school where most of teachers knew all of the students.”

Would you want to vote for your Honor Committee members?

The Power of Disciplinary Review: Student Jury

In many high schools and universities, Honor Committees review student cases and make recommendations to the administration. In a way this could increase the student body’s say in what they expect their community to be like. The system would be sort of like a student jury except the deliberations would come in the form of recommendations, accepted or rejected by the administrators.

“I think it would be good,” said Dr. Hartzell when asked about the idea of a student jury. “I do believe that it is worthwhile and that it is in the general student population’s interest that other students participate in activities pertaining to discipline. I certainly welcome it but I would never force that on the student body.”

Dr. Hartzell’s former schools all had some sort of student jury system set up in conjunction with their honor committee. He noted that when the Honor Committee was being created, StuGov held a poll surveying the student body’s opinion about this idea. The results were overwhelmingly negative.

“It was discussed and input was considered. I insisted and they insisted and then they decided,” he said.

The Honor Committee, designed with an organic structure to embrace change, hasn’t really changed much since its inception. While Dr. Hartzell expressed his preference for a student jury system, he isn’t optimistic about the students’ response to it.

“I would give Mr. ORourke NT$1000, if we held a poll and students agreed to give other students this authority,” he said. “There’s no way students would want to have an honor committee where students are willing to have students sit and judge other students. “

Do you think a student jury system would be welcomed now?

“It might be time to find out again whether the students think they should have more of a role in disciplinary cases. I think I know the answer but again there are different students here now,” said Dr. Hartzell.

With this year marking the first year that all students attending TAS signed the Honor Code, the impact of such a milestone is ultimately judged by the signers themselves – the students.

“It’s okay for students to be critical of the honor code,” Dr. Hartzell said. “If there is criticism; that is okay because it shows that [students] care about the TAS values. If they care enough to talk about it, I’d say that’s good.”


Amanda H. contributed to this report.

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