As a Quaker, I found myself at times concerned about how much I could let my Quakerism invade my classroom without breaking the required separation between church and state. The issue appeared when I was considering the possibility of using the honor system in my classes. Since character building is considered acceptable within the sanctity of education, I decided to go ahead with it but I realized that I was treading on shaky soil.
I suggested the possibility of working on the honor system in my classes and asked the students if they liked the idea. After a period of discussion, they decided it was a good idea, and we agreed to work with it. Realizing that the honor system is not commonly used in modern classrooms, and that it might not be automatically successful, I planned a checkpoint.
Friday was a special day in my classes because we spent most of the hour critiquing the bulletin boards the students had prepared during the week. We also had a weekly quiz consisting of multiple choice questions. Because we were on the honor system the students graded their own papers. This way they could get immediate feedback to help correct their misunderstandings.
To check their honesty, I gave the quiz at the end of the hour one week so we did not have time to check the papers before the period ended. I collected the papers, took them home with me and graded them over the week end without putting any marks on the papers. I copied their answers and put the grading marks on my copies. On Monday I distributed the papers and the students graded their own papers. I then compared their answers with mine.
I usually found a few discrepancies, although most of the students were honest. After I found the discrepancies I announced to the class that I had found that some students had cheated in grading their papers. I asked them to talk to me privately if they had done so. Most of them gladly did so. They were sorry and said so. I told them that I hoped they had learned an important lesson, that I was sure they would not do that again and that now we would have the advantage of having an honor system that really worked.
Usually I had one or two students who did not volunteer their sin. With those I sought a private conversation and they ended up to be as reliable as the others. One year, however, I had a student who violently denied her guilt. I was more concerned about her than the others. She asked her parents to come in to see me. I was uneasy about this. In the school where I taught a teacher could do most anything she wanted to do as long as it stayed in the classroom and parents were not involved. I knew my honor system would attract suspicion. If these parents went to the principal with this, I could be in trouble.
The interview went well. After all, what parents would not object if a teacher had accused their child of being dishonest unfairly and they were rightly concerned. I had, however, my evidence. I had my copy of what she had put on the test and how I had graded it. It did not coincide with the way she graded her paper. I talked with the parents about the importance of helping her face reality. They went away concerned about her rather than me. My relationship with her was strained for the rest of the year. Years later I happened to run into her and discovered, much to my surprise that she remembered me fondly and had apparently completely forgotten about the incident.
I continued to use the honor system throughout my teaching years. I had some problems with it because I did not apply it simply to grading papers. I used it in all my relations in the classroom. I expected students to do the same and most of the time we were comfortable with it. The exceptions were dramatic.
I do not think the administration ever knew that I used the honor system. Students are extremely sharp about what they reveal that might cause trouble. If they respect the teacher they do not talk about such things in adult circles. This means to me that the students found value in the process.