Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Wed, 5 May 1993

Well, it's early in the morning again and I have just come in, dripping wet, from a vigorous power walk. I love roaming the darkened, quiet streets. The air is clean and my thoughts are clear. This morning I was thinking about all that has happened in my classes during the ten days since I returned from my son's school in Maine. It's really blown my mind and I'd like to share one great event with you this morning.

I found the courage to take the risk to place my students on their honor and trust them to do the right thing. I told them that I was going to let them administer their own weekly quiz. No department monitors. I appointed a student in each of my three freshman history classes to pick up the quiz from the department secretary, hand it out to the triads, use the answer key to have the triads grade their own quizzes, collect the quizzes, and hand them back to the department secretary. I left for Maine nervously thinking about whether I really wanted to know if I had any impact on them after only four weeks of class, and whether my concepts and techniques were working. When I returned, I asked each class how things went. In one class which consisted of 13 triads, one of the quieter students said with a noticeably annoyed tone, "Fine, but were we allowed to use the book?"

"Damn," I disappointingly thought. And then I asked the students, "What happened?" Those were the last words I said as the students spontaneously took over for the rest of the class. The conversation went something like this (Thankfully, I feverishly, but quietly took notes of the discussion):

"There was cheating in some of the triads. You used the book to look up the answers. I am mad. We didn't cheat."

"We let Dr. Schmier down. He trusted us."

"Hell, we let ourselves down!"

"Why didn't you say something Friday when it really counted. Maybe we could have talked then?"

"I wanted to, but I was scared that everyone would think I was a brown-nosing, do-gooder."

"It's easy to do it now that Dr. Schmier is here to 'protect us.'"

"I would have backed you up. But I didn't have the guts to say 'This isn't right. It ain't worth it.' I'm just as guilty letting it happen as those who cheated."

"Bull! Who are you to accuse others?"

"I'm mad because we didn't cheat and they're going to get just as good a grade."

"Is that all you're concerned about, the grade? How about doing it just because it's the right thing to do? But, I didn't want to get involved either."

"I felt it was none of my business. If they could get away with it....I was sort of envious that I didn't have the nerve."

"Those who cheated, speak up. We know who you are. Do you have the guts to open up right here and now?"

"Dr. Schmier, our triad cheated. I've been feeling shitty about it all weekend. I rationalized that we were only checking three answers, but that's no different since we would have changed them (all) if they were wrong."

"It's no big deal. We changed only three questions. As I figure, that's about 3/25th of 1% of the final grade."

"You sell your honesty cheap."

"I don't see where its worth it. Something's wrong if a lousy small grade means that much."

"What will you do if some big thing came down, when you people showed no backbone over something this small?"

"We cheated, too.....But I don't think we ought to get punished real hard since we admitted it and some others still haven't."

"You want a reward? Hell, you cheat, you pay. Just because you admitted what we all know doesn't mean you get a medal. What you ought to do is look at yourself and learn. I say, Dr. Schmier, those that cheated should get 0s!"

"I'll take it."

"There are others. At least go into his office and own up. You screwed us all."

"Wait a minute. I've been listening. We screwed ourselves, me included, by letting it happen when it happened. We all lose his trust. So, let's stop feeling so righteous."

"I think we all ought to leave here and do some heavy thinking about just how upstanding people we are. Let's see who has the guts to do something about it. .How can he trust us again? Why should he?"

"Damn," I jubilantly thought to myself. I was so excited. I thought that was the end of it, but there was to be more. Students from three other triads who cheated came to my office and quietly turned themselves in.

"We figured if others were doing it, it was alright. But that's crap. It was wrong and there are no two ways about it. You took a risk to trust us and we didn't take the same risk to trust ourselves. The truth is some of us just didn't study and this was the easy way out and the rest of us went along. We talked and we decided we want the 0's. We're going to study our asses off from now on."

Now, that is what I call a value-forming, character-shaping experience. Understand that I don't teach character. I don't believe I can. I do not have any curriculum units that say "this is character," or "do this or that" or "you get it this way or that way." But, I can and do create a spirit and attitude that permeate the entire class, that place an extraordinary amount of importance on character, that help the students develop their character, and that place them in value-forming experiences. This is what education is all about.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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