“Honor” is a lost concept in the worlds of work and school


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World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Woodrow Williams places his hand over his heart during the invocation during the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington on Friday, March 25 2022.

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As the school year draws to a close and we prepare to celebrate this year’s honor graduates, we should reconsider our definition of “honor”.

Today, educators want students to achieve a variety of academic and non-academic goals. This stems from the recognition that factors other than academic competence often have a profound influence on student success in school and beyond.

Researchers from the Consortium on School Research at the University of Chicago are studying the importance of student qualities such as perseverance, courage, tenacity and self-discipline. Researchers in the Ecological Approaches to Social and Emotional Learning (EASEL) Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education are investigating the value of empathy, perspective taking, self-efficacy and state of growth mindset. This work will help establish the importance of these skills and assist educators in their efforts to foster their development.

Notably absent in these efforts, however, is the dash of honor. It’s all the more ironic that few other personal traits have been held in higher esteem or valued longer throughout history than that of honor.

Traditionally, honor has been the foundation of all areas of public service. The highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Department of State is the Distinguished Honor Award given in recognition of exceptionally outstanding service of marked national or international significance. Each military academy’s honor code sets out a system of ethics for cadets who study there. The US Military Academy at West Point’s honor code, for example, states, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

Thomas R. Guskey

Similarly, the U.S. Army’s Core Values ​​make honor fundamental, defined as “a matter of applying, acting, and living the values ​​of respect, duty, loyalty, selfless service, integrity and personal courage in everything you do”. The Medal of Honor is the oldest and most prestigious award that can be awarded to any member of the United States military service.

Yet, according to Terry Newell, author of the bestselling Serve with honor, the concept of honor has been lost in modern-day public service. Newell argues that although honor should prevail everything those who serve in government, today it is confined only to those in the military.

In order to help students develop 21st century skills and becoming college and career ready, educators have also lost sight of the importance of honor. We focus on the qualities and characteristics that contribute to professional or financial success, but neglect what makes that success truly meaningful. We ignore the important questions as to whether the means used to achieve this success were good, just and honest. Is success worth achieving or is a goal worth achieving if we sacrifice honor and integrity along the way?

We certainly want our students to strive for success. But we also need to help students understand that just as important as success is how you get it. No achievement in any endeavor is worth the sacrifice of honor, dignity, or integrity.

It’s time for educators to expand the definition of honor graduates to reflect not just academic achievement, but truly honorable student deeds. Celebrate students who make special efforts to include those who are different and students who step up to prevent someone from being bullied inside or outside of school. Recognize students who set aside their own interests to help others with difficult tasks or assignments. Recognize students for their acts of kindness, generosity, empathy and civic responsibility. Celebrating students who put others first and champion the cause of social justice.

We need to look beyond the traits that contribute to individuals’ professional or professional success to consider what will help them become people of honor, dignity and integrity. We must help students develop the skills that will not only help them succeed in today’s world, but will guide them in building a better world for tomorrow. More than ever, we need to recognize students whose selfless acts bring honor to themselves, their families, their schools, and the entire community.

Thomas Guskey is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Kentucky.

Maria D. Ervin