AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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HONESTY

Honesty is telling the truth, even when it is difficult to do, and living your life with integrity.

"There can never be any solid friendship between individuals, or union between communities that is worth the name, unless the parties be persuaded of each other's honesty." –Mitylene's Envoys to Athens: Thucydides' Peloponnesian War, III.10.

How does one teach honesty or cultivate in students a disposition to be honest? Simply stated: Take the task seriously. In other words, it is more than "Honesty is the b est policy"; a phrase we all grew up with.

Honesty is a fundamental condition for human flourishing, for friendship, for all genuine community. Honesty goes hand in hand with integrity. People with integrity are admired by others. Integrity lends a certain sort of efficiency and security to the other things we do. A person who is honest, who has integrity, doesn't have to be on guard against being found out and can afford to be the same person both in public and in private. Life is psychologically smoother for a person with integrity.

Integrity can be taught and cultivated. Students must take themselves seriously, and the first way to do that is for teachers and administrators to take them seriously. "Don't let me catch you doing that again" isn't an effective way to help teach integrity. Students should not be unclear about what the teacher's primary concern is—the student's character—or winning in a game of "catch me if you can." Teaching honesty should not be an exercise in cost/benefit analysis or of convincing students that "honesty is the best policy." It is better to teach that "honesty is better than all policy," as Kant put it toward the end of his life in Perpetual Peace.

Examples of honesty from history and literature:

  • Abraham Lincoln – "Honest Abe"
  • Diogenes
  • The Boy Who Went to the Sky (Indian folk tale)
  • War and Peace
  • The Brave Little Tailor

Classroom Activities