BK History

I recently exchanged e-mails with a Hyde parent who was seeking a deeper understanding of the concept of Brother’s Keeper to help her son who is struggling with it.

There’s a fair amount of history to the whole Brother’s Keeper (BK) discussion. I was a student in the earliest days, back before they even called it BK. (It was initially called the Honor Code.) I remember how we would turn kids in for lying, cheating, and stealing, because we genuinely thought those things were wrong…. BUT we were reluctant to do so for alcohol, tobacco, and drugs because we saw those things as “the school’s rules” and not inherently wrong. Not only do today’s kids not want to turn their peers in for anything, but I’ve encountered parents who would rather have them stealing than smoking pot.

“Back in the day” it all came to a head in 1970 (my sophomore year) during an event known in Hyde history as “The Student Bust.” Up to that point, kids were expelled for breaking ethics. During The Bust, it came to pass that over 100 of Hyde’s 120 students were guilty of something. Faced with choosing between sticking to precedent (and thereby closing the school!) OR looking at things differently, the faculty chose the latter, and the whole notion of BK began to take on its present form.

I’ll never forget the time a distinguished New England head of school came to visit Hyde ready to do battle over what he perceived to be Hyde’s “harsh, unforgiving” disciplinary program. At the end of his visit, he exclaimed, “This is the most forgiving school I’ve ever seen! It’s definitely more forgiving than my school.”

All kids fight BK. However, most come to realize that it works at Hyde precisely because Hyde is an incredibly forgiving place. (Although I grant you, it may not feel like it when you’re out raking leaves on a cold New England fall day.) At traditional schools, BK would have trouble working because such schools cling to an archaic policy of expulsion. Kids aren’t going to turn their peers in because they fear that they will be ruining their lives. If the schools will change, the kids will follow suit.

Sadly, the whole notion of work is regarded with such disdain that kids perceive work crew as “cruel and unusual punishment.” That’s too bad, because a great work ethic is so critical to future success. As an aside, one need only spend some time with some of Hyde’s Asian students to see that kids in other parts of the world are ready to get busy.

Onward, Malcolm