On Academic Integrity

(Just thinking about it makes me make the face my students recognize as the one they encounter when we both know they’ve had serious failures of character.

Truthfully, I rarely feel this way about my students. They know that in my classes it’s most important that they act earnestly, ethically, with integrity and perseverance; grades are secondary. During a study hall this past exam week, one of the kids cursed. It’s not a huge deal, but I and a few of their classmates don’t like it, and they know that. “Watch the language.” “Sorry! That was me.” One of the other kids said, “Look at us owning our curse words. I’d never do that in another class.” I said, “That’s because I make this classroom a safe place to be ethical.” Sanctimonious, sure, but the kids agreed that my class is, indeed, a safe place.

What makes a safe place? In a learning community, a safe place is one where everyone is welcome. It’s a place where people have at hand the resources to succeed – and if not, they’re acquired. It’s a place where people can try and fail and try again with encouragement. It’s a place where communication is open and honest and constructive and supportive. It’s a place where no member of the community is ever rejected. There’s been so much nonsense in the media about participation trophies and gaining admission to college though Affirmative Action without demonstrating academic merit; that’s not what happens in my classroom or in healthy learning communities.

When, based on our contemporary selves, I think about our ancient selves, it is clear to me that we needed one another as much as we needed sustenance. As a result, even now, withholding dignity from people who don’t ‘produce’ or ‘win’ is short-sighted, unethical, and dangerous.)