Honor…. above all

Published 10:17 pm Saturday, November 1, 2008

One thing I love about the election season is how it epitomizes lessons for our students. I do not endorse negative political ads, but then this has been part of the political fabric going back to Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. It is not always pretty. The country is burgeoning with special leadership councils, leadership institutes, and leadership consultants. And here, today, America is lulled into a civil war of red and blue media-mastered map analysts. Where are the honorable leaders? Didn’t our founding fathers employ a sense of honor to what this American democratic experiment is all about? This is why I believe Honor Codes in schools are a good thing.

I attended a mock debate our students at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy held last week. I entered the building minutes before the debate to a small army of students dressed in black, eyes behind sunglasses, and microphones in sleeves. The students took their roles seriously – it even crossed my mind that, “Hey, that’s not a bad dress code!” Nevertheless, I passed the security detail and found our Upper School students fully attentive cheering on their candidates. Our mock candidates were then announced; the security detail flooded in before them and took their positions. The speeches were substantive-issue-based deliveries of the first order. I was impressed and dumbfounded, ah, here are the Lincolns.

There was no sniping, no bravado, no character demolition. This would not be a frustrated high school production of Saturday Night Live. This was about how our own honorable community went about the lessons of today. And this is no accident for our community. There is great humor in our halls, and there is that which keeps us all bound to a singular purpose – the honor code at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. In the field of education, there is perpetual optimism in our children. For our community, the honor code directs that optimism to a better horizon.

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Earlier in the school year our student leaders who comprise our honor council led the school in what is called the Honor Assembly. It is a student production – just like the mock debates. You won’t see our teachers in the midst of it, students carry it all. The council leads the school in the taking of the oath. I like oaths; they’re the best excuse to do what’s right. One cannot teach leadership, it must be practiced.

Clearly, the best speech on election night is the concession speech. It is where humility, a lost virtue, makes its rare appearance. Then, the wound will heal, and in January, comes the political oaths, America’s version of its own honor assembly. A president and members of congress all pledge an oath to uphold the Constitution. But then there is nothing in those oaths about behaving, or even being honorable. In these times, I would settle for our leaders across this land to simply abide by the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy oath, “I will not lie, cheat or steal, nor shall I tolerate those acts from others.”