Thoughts from Dr. Joe: An investment in student honor

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.

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.

I read an opinion by Tamar Bessos, entertainment editor of La Cañada High School's student newspaper, “The Spartan.” In it, Bessos contends, “In order to stem the tide of academic dishonesty, the LCHS Honor Code should be more definitive.”

Her perspective is well-founded. I applaud her because we honor virtue but hardly discuss it. However, I ask that she consider my contention that to stem the tide of dishonesty, one must be principled. It is the parents' job to teach a child ethical principles, but many parents forget that lesson. So it is up to the institution to fill in the gaps.

I encourage administrators, teachers, and students to continue Bessos' discussion because the Honor Court at LCHS parallels Plato's intention that a free society requires educated men and women of character who possess a fundamental integrity that affects their thoughts and their actions.

Lewis and Clark employed an honor court during their Corps of Discovery Expedition into the interior of North America. The men adjudicated the majority of disciplinary matters, thus assuring their unparalleled success. Jefferson was Lewis' mentor.

Many academic institutions throughout America have honor courts. They are different in degree and philosophical perspective. However, those institutions whose courts are revered are those that have an absolute commitment from the institution.

I encourage LCHS to gather its best thinkers and make the Honor Court a model program throughout the state. A child's honor is sacrosanct. An institution that invests in the honor of its students will fulfill Plato's promise.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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