Brookstone School

Great Things - Honor Code

HONOR SYSTEM: We take honor seriously in the upper school and have an Honor Council in place that educates our students on the importance of honor both individually but also to the community as a whole. This student-led council has 14 members with representation from each grade of the upper school.

On August 22, 2013, the Upper School held it's annual Honor Assembly. Before signing their classes' Honor Code placards, the students heard a talk from Brookstone's own Allen Page, Class of 2008. Below are excerpts from his exceptional address. We thank him for his words and for sharing his text with us.

The Honor Code says this: I will neither lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do. When you think about it, three of those ideas are, for most of us, fairly easy to obey. The fourth one, however, is always the tricky one. What if it were a good friend? What if it is a minor violation? Is it worth the punishment that person will receive? Do you turn someone in? All of a sudden, now that your principle has come into contact with a real person, even when you know the right answer, things aren't so clear.
Now, I'm not at all saying you should tolerate violations of the Honor Code. Not at all But you can see how much more difficult things get when principles collide with real people.
So, how do we deal with this?
I want to suggest another way of thinking about the Honor Code. I want you to consider the Honor Code not as a principle, but as a promise
You see, when we think of principles, when we think of rules, we think of something outside of ourselves, words that are out there somewhere. Like the Ten Commandments, rules, principles, and laws are things that are written on tablets of stone, in books, on paper. Somewhere else.
We think of the Honor Code that way too – it is out there somewhere, floating in the hallways of the school, or written in the student handbook. And that's where it lives.
But I want to tell you that, if we think that way, we are mistaken, and here's why: becausewords do not exist on their own.
Do you realize this: that if you all simply got up and left – if you all just walked away and never came back to Brookstone, that the Honor Code would cease to be. It would no longer exist. Why? Because you, as people, make the Honor Code real, to yourself, to each other, and to the school, to the world. You give it flesh and blood, without which it would die.

I've already said that principles are written on tablets of stone, where the stone is the image of something outside of ourselves. So, here's the difference: principles are written on tablets of stone, but promises are written on the tablets of human hearts.
What does that mean, to be written on the human heart? It means this: that promises reflect real relationships. Remember earlier, I said that principles tend to break down when they collide with people. Promises, however, do the opposite. True promises are built up when people come together.

We've also said that principles tend to break down when they collide with people. This means that it is a problem if we think about the Honor Code as some rule or law that is out there on its own, because it is ultimately going to break down.
Actually, let me go further than that and make a bold statement. I would argue that if you only think of it as a principle, as a rule, the Honor Code will have absolutely NO impact on you as a person. It will ultimately fall away because it is not written on your heart.
Now, I know what some of you are probably thinking: why does this even matter? This promise stuff, written on my heart, etc. etc, who cares? I'm just trying to follow the rules so I don't get a zero on my test, and so I can get on with my life. Why does it matter?
Now that's a very good question. In fact, it's the exactly question we are here to ask – it's the whole purpose of today. Why does the Honor Code matter?
To answer this, I want you to take a moment and ask yourselves why you are here? Not so much in a cosmic, why do we exist way, but more practically – why are you at Brookstone? Why are you sitting in that chair right now?
(Because you have to be… okay, whatever). To learn, right? Yes, to learn, you say, but to learn what? Biology, History, English, Calculus, sure, that's great, you are here to acquire various types of knowledge to prep you college. But, I would argue that more than learning what to think, you are learning how to think. You are beginning the process of developing your own intellectual abilities, you are forming your own opinions – to put it simply, you are learning how to be your own person. At least I was in high school. But I want to go one step further. I think that even more than learning how to think, you are learning how to live. This is the sort of learning that develops without you noticing it, yet it is the type of learning that will make more of a difference on your life than anything else. These are the subtle repetitions of everyday life, the patterns of reinforcement that work on your mind and your heart, and which you work on yourself and others. These will truly put a stamp on the person that you are going to be and the life that you are going to live.

And that's all I think the Honor Code really is. Even more than it is about lying, or cheating, or stealing, it is a promise, made by each of you to the person next to you, from your heart to theirs, which says simply this: you can depend on me, and I can depend on you to make this school the kind of place that you and I, as people, deserve, and if you are here to learn how to live like that, then nothing is more important than that. Nothing is more important than making that promise to your classmates, and so nothing is more important than the Honor Code.