Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Assessment of Guilt and Application of Consequence

I've just had a great conversation with Bob Herzog, a newly minted mentor of mine, who has worked in schools for the past thirty years as teacher, coach, and administrator. We discussed what he calls "the assessment of guilt." I found the ideas we talked about and the structure he used to present them confirmed what we are trying to do with our Honor Code at Calvert.

First and foremost, the final arbiter of guilt is a person's conscience. We can help shape and guide that conscience (the Honor Code is a great foundation for that in schools) but ultimately the assignment and acceptance of guilt lies within the person. When determining if someone is guilty of a transgression, the following factors should be considered:

1. The Act, taken objectively. It is either good, bad, or indifferent (moral, immoral, or ammoral). What does the letter of the law say?

2. The Circumstances. What are they? Did the person know it was wrong? Did they have a choice in the matter?

3. The Motive. Why did this person do this?

These factors taken together mean all instances are shaded in some sort of grey. It is not appropriate to paint all situations with the same color of guilt or apply the same consequence to an act of two people that have varying circumstances and motive. Additionally, each person's unique perspective (which is a result of varied upbringings, varied opinions, and varied convictions) will further color the way in which a consequence is received.
I believe this is the way in which discipline should be handled. I believe it is the way in which discipline is handled in schools, for the most part. I believe it is the way Calvert handles discipline.

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