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A Problem of Honor in High School

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According to Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher, humans possess a primal depravity which is disguised by the advancements of civilization. While the conscience of many individuals lead them along the path of righteousness, humans become prone to temptations. Humans also tend to be cynical, often developing fallacious suspicions about other individuals. It is these universal truths about human nature which diminish the credibility of honor systems implemented across high schools, colleges, and universities. These honor systems depend upon the inherent goodness of the student body as well as the mutual trust between the students and the staff members. Honor systems could engender success in certain environments, but Notre Dame High School is not a good candidate for the implementation of an honor code.

Even with tyrannical regulations and specific punishments outlined in the code of conduct, Notre Dame students still commit numerous transgressions. As a school with numerous cameras to regulate ethics and conduct, the scenario depicted by Aaron Bacall’s cartoon seems eerily familiar. According to this cartoon, “Recent research has shown that a spycam can greatly improve the honor code. The cameras mentioned in this satire defeated the purpose of an honor code by implying that the administrators did not trust students enough to loosen their control, which emanates as an accurate fact at Notre Dame. Furthermore, based on a 2007-2008 student survey with 257 participants, 40% have violated the honor code and evaded consequences, and 88% believed that the fear of failure was an adequate excuse for violation of the honor code (table). These statistics suggest that under certain circumstances, integrity alone may not provide enough incentive for students to obey the honor code. Especially at a prestigious school where grades have inflated significance, the implementation of an honor system at Notre Dame may not be an ideal choice.

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Furthermore, the obligations and the internal hesitations that students may face portrays another negative attribute of the honor system. Certain schools such as Lawrence Academy assigned probation to students who failed to confront or report a fellow classmate when they disregarded the honor code (Vangelli). Students opposed this rule since they did not feel responsible for the actions of others. Since the social hierarchy of school is such a high priority, many individuals feared that tattling or reporting their classmates could decrease their social standing and degrade the respect that their classmates possessed for them. Most of all, these students feared retaliation since they did not believe in the promise of confidentiality for reporting their peers (Vangelli).

Vigilant students who refuse to condone the errs of their classmates ensure the success of utilizing an honor code. However, school presents enough challenges without the additional burden of responsibility for the actions of other people. Yet the greatest barrier against the establishment of an honor code in a school such as Notre Dame is the relentless, watchful eyes of the administration upon the students. Honor codes only succeed in an environment with high expectations and mutual trust between the faculty and the students since expectations determine reality in an honor code. The honor systems cease to function, “not because students are deceptive, but rather because they don’t expect anyone else to be honest”(Dirmeyer and Cartwright). Colleges with successful honor codes have also “invested considerable resources in programs that influence how the honor code is perceived,” and lacking the resources to provide adequate heating in the school, it is unlikely that Notre Dame could maintain an honor system. Besides, forcing a transgressor to sign a contract will fail to impact their morality in a significant manner.

In reality, Notre Dame’s administration would be reluctant to relinquish their fascist control on the school, making the prospect of an honor system difficult to imagine. Furthermore, the staff’s skepticism of the students’ integrity engenders a sense of wariness among the members of the school, inevitably aligning the honor code with failure. Notre Dame’s competitive climate for stellar grades combined with the universal desire of teenagers to find acceptance among their peers undermines the strength of this type of disciplinary system. With an honor system’s lack of concrete regulations, even the most pious individuals may face temptation to trespass against the rules in order to gain personal benefits. Regardless of the circumstances, it is foolish to believe that a frequent violator of the rules would respect their pledge to an honor code, simply because their conscience inclines them to do so.


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