I had stressed the need for honesty, explaining to my students that many times we don’t even know our integrity is being tested. I had shared with them experiences like Mr. Larkin’s at the corner drugstore. He had told me that Alfred could not be trusted.
“How do you know?” I inquired.
“Well,” he said, “often when I have lots of customers and I’m the only salesperson in the store, I let young people make their own change from the cash drawer. I started coming up short, so I carefully counted out the cash before and after several youngsters had made their own change. They were all honest with me except Alfred. I gave him two chances, and he failed me both times. So now I know that Alfred can’t be trusted.”
“Have you told him?” I asked.
“No, I never have. I just watch him very closely. I hope he never asks me for a job or for a recommendation.”
So my class should have been prepared for the snap quiz I gave them that Thursday afternoon. It was a twenty-question, true-or-false test covering material we had discussed during the week. They finished the test just as the bell rang for dismissal.
“Please pass your papers to the center of the aisle,” I instructed.
Later that evening I very carefully graded each paper, recording the score in my grade book but leaving no marks on the papers.
When the class assembled the next morning, I passed the papers back and, as usual, asked that each student grade his own paper.
I read each question aloud and with a word of explanation announced the correct answer. Every answer was accompanied by the usual student groan or sigh of relief at having given a wrong or right response.
“Please count five off for each one missed and subtract the total from one hundred,” I instructed.
“Your scores please.
The response could hardly be heard: “45.”
I went on, putting the grades in my grade book, carefully recording each oral report next to the grade I had recorded the night before. The comparison was revealing.
A stillness settled on the class when I explained what I had done. Many did not look up from their desks; others exchanged furtive glances or quick smiles.
I spoke quietly to my students. “Some of you may wish to talk to me privately about our experience here today. I would like that.
“This was a different kind of test. This test was a test for honesty. Were you true or false? I noticed that many of you looked at Mary when she announced her score of 45. Mary, if you don’t mind, would you please stand up? I want each of you to know that in my book Mary just achieved the highest score in the class. You make me feel very proud, Mary.”
Mary looked up rather timidly at first, then her eyes glistened as she broke into a smile and rose to her feet. I had never seen Mary stand so tall.