Another Visit with An Old Friend


Happy New Year!!  It’s been a long while since the last Chronicle, and one of my Resolutions for 2016 is to be a better and more frequent communicator in that regard.  So . . .

The current state and future of our Honor System was the main focus of our annual day-before-second-semester faculty meetings last Monday.  In that vein I was asked to give a brief history of that system, focusing most heavily on its present incarnation, the one started by Mr. Massey and Mr. MacConochie upon their arrival in 1950.  I could not help but look at more ancient texts, and with my wife the archivist’s help dug up some jewels.  For instance, in the “Rules of the School,” published upon the Academy’s 1787 reopening after the Revolutionary War, the standard for expulsion was set at “Notorious Immoralities.” Heaven knows how that phrase might be defined today!  

In trying to bring what was a new idea in 1950 to its present condition, my wife scoured many issues of The Belfry and found quite a treasure trove.  (For those of you born in the last two decades, there existed for some four decades a monthly newspaper called The Belfry, printed on heavy paper and full of legitimate news, opinion and humor.  The rise of digital communication has rendered such a publication relatively obsolete.)  In any event, there were many opinion pieces on this or that problem with the Honor System as well as many pieces extolling its virtues. At one point Frank Batten, Jr. and Craig Slingluff went toe to toe on several aspects of the system. Young Mr. Batten opined, among other things, that students should be shown more freedoms (unproctored tests for seniors, for example) to give the concept of “community of trust” real meaning.  In the next month’s issue, the future Dr. Slingluff replied that this would create too much temptation and that the Honor System was here to “teach” students, not “test” them. 

As I read piece after piece about the very same things we debate in earnest today – on Monday, in fact – I became initially saddened that after 65 years we still haven’t perfected the use of open lockers.  I regretted that after 65 years we have still not figured out exactly what is the duty of a student upon witnessing a violation.  Why, I asked myself, have we not yet arrived at a system of consequences for honor offenses with which everyone is comfortable?  Are we ever to get this exactly right?  

And then after a few moments’ reflection, I realized that the answer to that question is an emphatic “No.”  More than that, I realized that “no” is the best answer. Many years ago Mr. Massey famously observed that our Honor System has not “arrived.”  The clear implication is that it never will.  Trying to improve the System is our currency.  It is what we trade in.  Discussing vital questions of good and bad and of right and wrong brings us together as a faculty.  And if after all these years there is still no resolution on these important issues, perhaps that is because in the realm of the possible there can be no such resolution.


Headmaster Dennis Manning and the Honor Council hold an interactive discussion with the faculty at the start of the academic year.

My presentation was followed by a short film showing what an Honor Council meeting looked like, followed next by Cosby Hall’s summarizing the results of the most recent poll of Tunstall students as to their views on the state of honor at Norfolk Academy.  There was much discussion among faculty about several of the issues raised by those results, again, with no definitive resolution.

But it was uplifting to sit in a room with valued colleagues and talk about concepts so central to the soul of our school.  I certainly might have differed slightly with a few of the things said, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that on display for a few hours on a cold January morning was the embodiment of that phrase we use so often and I have already used once herein.  We are all lucky enough to be members of a real, functioning community of trust. And that is a rare privilege, indeed.  

I’ll get back to you soon – seems there’s some sort of resolution involved.DSC_8185


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