Less Is More (Why Harvard Shoulda Seen It Coming)

MJ Porzenheim Staff Writer So if you’re like me, you live under a rock: in addition to a bedroom full of moss, you also have an- ahem- limited knowledge of news. Anyway, a little bit back, some students at Harvard University did something on a take home test they claimed they didn’t know was cheating- they collaborated. Shockingly enough, I haven’t talked to any of the involved parties myself, but it all seems a little sleazy to me.   If you share your answers on a test with your buddy, and you’re older than six, and your teacher didn’t tell you specifically to collaborate, you know you’re not doing the right thing. Period. It’s not that hard. But anyway from what I heard it wasn’t explicitly spelled out that they shouldn’t share answers, which I guess is an okay excuse. And also a pretty good argument for not spelling out rules explicitly.   We spell out things semi explicitly at Latin. I don’t even know all the rules, and I’m a bit of an obsessive weirdo, so that’s saying something. Our student handbook contains 35 pages, 13 of which are explicitly full of rules, and much of the rest of which are not so explicitly full of rules. And to some extent, I think it might be more of a hurt than a help. Yeah, kids know what to do, kind of, and the school can point to an explicit rule telling us that we shouldn’t have done something. But it does open the door to some immorality.   Look, if it’s explicitly spelled out that we can’t take fireworks to school (it is), then the argument can be made that if something’s not in the rules explicitly, even if it’s wrong, then a student can’t be punished for it. Now whether this argument will fly is certainly a good question, but it could cause some irritation for the school, or inconvenience. Certainly some Latin parents would make pretty much whatever argument they had to make for what they felt was the good of their child. And it sort of undermines our core values to spell everything out. If things are so formalized, some things in case by case circumstances can cause issues. What I mean to say is that we’re all pretty good at following the letter of the law and not its meaning. Laws or rules that are more conceptual, in my opinion, would prompt more reflection on the morality of an action, and less reflection over one can get away with it.   It’s not possible to be explicit on everything, and once in one area a certain level of enumeration is achieved, people tend to expect that same level everywhere. Or, if things aren’t specified, they do things they know aren’t right, but aren’t explicitly told not to do.   I see this at Latin, too, students doing things they know aren’t right but that fall into cracks in the rules. We’re revising our core values. I’m quite pleased with that. I appreciate that our school is going to listen to us. The best way to make those core values stick might be making them the real rules that students have to follow, and simply expecting students to apply the values themselves to the minutia.   At the very least it would keep kids from claiming that they didn’t know they weren’t allowed to cheat on a test.  ]]>