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Rules, Regulations, and Cheating at Friends Academy

Image courtesy of Ryan McGilchrist on flickr.com
Image courtesy of Ryan McGilchrist on flickr.com

In an environment where our goal is professionalism, productivity, and Quaker values, there are lots of rules to follow. Everything must be covered, from library regulations, to homework policies, to academic integrity. In the Friends Academy handbook, there are many rules set in place to make sure that we follow our mission as a school. The Friends Academy student handbook states: “Friends Academy, like most communities, functions best when a clear set of moral and ethical principles is recognized and accepted by its members.” When there is a clear guideline for the community we want to be, and the rules to follow in order to be that community, we will always give ourselves the best chance possible to succeed. At Friends, there is not much conflict with the rules regarding violence, illegal possessions, or gambling, but there is much discussion about other rule sets that may not be as serious as those aforementioned. Indeed, there are moral and ethical obligations to be followed. Although there has been much reform over recent years regarding issues such as disciplinary process and academic honesty, with Mr. Baskind and many other teachers at FA working diligently to fix these issues, it’s not totally done yet. Overall, Friends Academy has a good model of a regulation system that allows the community to strive for its mission.

Upper School Principal Mark Schoeffel has worked in schools all over the country from New Jersey, to Pennsylvania, to California. He is very familiar with rules and discipline and has a good understanding of why rules are necessary in a community. When I spoke to Mr. Schoeffel, he said: “Usually rules are put in place to lead people closer to the mission of the community. There was one school I visited that had only one rule: no skateboarding in the hallways. That rule had all sorts of meanings. It wasn’t just about skateboarding; the school didn’t want 40 ‘no’s’ or ‘don’ts’. It’s more about people not doing things that would hurt themselves or others.” Our rule set at Friends Academy has become rather symbolic in that way as well. For example, even though there is a dress code, there is still a very diverse group outfits every day at school. The dress code has become an outline for students to wear clothing that makes them look ready to learn in a professional environment. There does have to be a line drawn, though, because a guideline can be symbolic while also being rather specific. Our school’s guideline has evolved into a balance between that symbolism and being specific enough to clear up confusion with regard to certain regulations. “Schools that are very rule-heavy have lots of rules and state them as negatives,” explained Mr. Schoeffel. “In my view it’s more productive to have fewer rules and talk more about doing things rather than not doing them. Rules are there for support. Left alone, mankind needs some limits: we don’t always set our own limits as effectively as can be.”

The Friends Academy student handbook is 20 pages long, which is somewhere in the middle ranks in terms of length, but is still descriptive in explaining what is and is not okay to do. The Irving School in Texas is an independent school and also has a specific “Philosophy of Discipline” that ranges 39 pages long. They state very clearly in the beginning of the handbook that the state of Texas requires the school to make it abundantly clear what the expected standards of behavior are at their school. They also clearly state that no student would be exempt from following these rules, no matter the circumstance. Many of the rules are not very different from those at Friends Academy. They too have a similar dress code, with a goal to create the best possible learning environment. It also appears as though Friends Academy puts a much stronger emphasis on cheating and academic honesty than the Irving School. Whether this is because cheating is not as big of an issue there, or whether we here at Friends are just more cognizant of possible cheating is not totally clear. Arroyo High School is a high school in California that has a very clear and concrete rule set when it comes to breaking the rules of academic integrity. It’s interesting that they actually have a strike system. The first time a student is caught cheating on an assessment, they automatically receive either an ‘F’ or a ‘0’. Then, if the student breaks the rule again, then they are sent to the dean’s office and possibly suspended. At Friends, if a student is caught cheating on an assignment, there is an immediate consequence and it is a far more severe one. It is probably more beneficial to have a stricter consequence immediately since academic dishonesty is one of the more serious types of misconduct. Arroyo High School also ranks how severe cheating is. For example, copying off someone during a test is not as serious as plagiarizing an essay. Again, Friends Academy is probably better off letting the deans determine what the punishment should be, as well as meeting with students no matter how serious the offence.

Doc Howard taught at both Rutgers University and Franklin and Marshall College, and was a student at Wellesley College. She described the policies at these different colleges regarding cheating in comparison to what the policy is at Friends Academy: “Neither Rutgers nor Franklin and Marshall had a set honor code, similar to schools I attended, like Wellesley. The honor code allowed it so that final exams were unsupervised. At the schools where I taught, the idea was that if you did violate the policy of integrity, follow-up action would be taken. The only time I ever had to deal with anything like was at Rutgers. I gave an ‘F’ on the assignment, discussed it with the student, and did not have recurrent instances.”

From speaking with Doc Howard, it becomes clear that there is indeed a divide between the strategy taken with discipline at the high school level, and the strategy at the college level. College students are far more independent than high school students, and are given much more leeway with the rules. The hope would be that with a stricter rule set during high school, students would become familiar with rule systems and would be at a point where colleges would really only need to give them guidelines, rather than distinct “do’s” and “do not’s”. It’s a system that generally works well, especially given that college students may be more mature than high school students, as well as having more at stake in a college environment.

The first line in the section labeled: “Integrity in the Writing Process”, of the FA student handbook is: “When you do any academic project that depends on research of public materials, realize that you—though still a high school student—are entering into an adult activity.” This statement is correct. Many people at Friends Academy, such Doc Garrett, Mr. Baskind, and Mrs. Kulke, have spent a lot of time working on this policy. When asked about the issue of academic honesty and cheating, Doc Garrett described it as “an ongoing initiative”. “The Internet really has changed the nature of knowledge, and we can’t reckon with all of those changes, quite yet,” said Doc Garrett. “For a lot of reasons, cheating is on the rise everywhere. It’s in high schools, colleges, workplaces, and while it’s complex to get into the causes, Friends is not unique in dealing with this issue. We need to look at other systems and cultures that work better than others. There is no way to eliminate this problem, but my focus is finding ways to teach academic honesty.” Doc Garrett was absolutely correct in saying that there is no way to totally remove this problem, because so many outlets will continue to be available to students, such as tutors and the Internet. Doc Garrett went on to say: “We have only started this process. We have written a protocol for teachers which wasn’t there before, and this is a complex issue that needs to be taught more systematically.”

Regarding tutors it is also difficult to draw a line. As Doc Garrett said in our interview: “Students have to have people to bounce their ideas off of, especially in the writing process. Professional writers get ideas from editors all of the time. They need someone to give them suggestions. T.S. Elliot’s ‘Wasteland’ would not be the same without Ezra Pound’s edits. I think that once we truly roll out our new policy it can begin this conversation. My hope is that we can get this out of closet. I’ve been able to have conversations with people and find strategies on how to help them find help with work outside of tutors.” In Brittany Kriegstein’s exposé on cheating at Friends Academy (2013), she brought up an interesting point about the concept of using other ideas in the academic process: “In the past few weeks, the song ‘Feel This Moment,’ a duet between Pitbull and Christina Aguilera, has enjoyed a spot on iTunes’ top ten list… In addition to Pitbull’s catchy verse and Aguilera’s powerful refrain, the song features something else: the instrumental hook from band A-ha’s 1985 hit “Take On Me.” Essentially copied and pasted into the song, the loop adds a bit of nostalgia, and acts as another dimension that makes the song arguably better than it would have been otherwise.” While it is important for students to have outlets to search for creative ideas, there still has to be caution regarding the outside help. Mr. Wetherell’s creation of a writing center will hopefully work as a platform for helping students improve their writing and avoid academic dishonesty.

“The goal was to have a stated policy that was outlined and made sense to everybody,” said Doc Garrett. “The obstacle was that our policy needed to be revisited. It had not been reevaluated in quite some time. We encountered some issues when we were thinking about protocol and exact steps to follow up with issues pertaining to academic integrity. To this point, we are still involved in a conversation about that protocol that needs to be followed, the larger goal being a culture of accountability, as well as trust between faculty and students.” When speaking with Doc Garrett, she talked about how the original policy on cheating that was written by Doc Sullivan, had not been revised for nearly 10 years. Again, this becomes problematic given the rise of the internet that Doc Garrett had discussed earlier.

Our community is given its best opportunity to succeed when there is a clear understanding of what is expected from everyone. At Friends Academy, there is a list of rules to keep everybody focused on achieving the ultimate goal of being the strongest community we can possibly be. There can be much dispute over which rules help and which rules are unnecessary, but all rules are put in place with the intention of helping us reach our full potential. Issues such as dress code, library regulations, and academic honesty will continue to be present and may never totally be solved. As long as we have stated rules in the student handbook, we can use those rules as building blocks to make our community stronger.

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