Truth + Misery = Freedom, Pt. #1

truth 2

Somewhere in the halls of each Hyde School there is a sign that reads: The truth will set you free… But first it will make you miserable.

During the week preceding spring break, we experienced a bit of both… freedom and misery… but maybe not in that order.

The misery came with the discovery that a small group of students had been violating student ethical standards – e.g., tobacco, alcohol, drugs, dishonesty – on the Bath campus.  As is our custom, we lifted the proverbial rock to take a hard look underneath.  This look unleashed yet another dose of misery in revealing that more students were involved than we had initially believed.  Specifically, as the dust began to clear, just north of 15% of our students stood in jeopardy of having their exams suspended.  Further upping the misery quotient, half of these students were seniors.

At Hyde, it is our custom to “stop, drop, and deal” when these things occur.  I’ve observed that some schools seem to place a premium on discretion and pretend not to see what is actually going on.  (Ironically, some even publicly tout a doctrine of “zero tolerance”… that is, if you’re caught.)  Some may indeed bring the hammer down hard on indiscretions – e.g., automatic expulsion or “2 strikes and you’re out” – which can sometimes actually drive the behavior further underground where a “see/hear no evil” ethos can rule the campus.  We tend to have at it out in public.

One reason we are able to have it out in public and get to the bottom of things is simply because we have virtually eliminated expulsion as a disciplinary measure.  Simply put, you’ll probably quit on us before we’ll quit on you.  When I was head of school (1987-98), I used to say, “On my watch, we may often be guilty of giving too many chances, but we will rarely be guilty of giving too few.”

If a kid professes a commitment to his or her best, we try to suspend our doubts and trust that his or her intentions are good.  (Another of my sayings: “I’d rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the man who sold it.”)  And while we are also known for coming down hard when those intentions prove not to be good, we just rarely utilize expulsion in response.

Heaven knows, we didn’t invent this mindset.  In fact, we’ve stolen a page from a man who might well be considered the Babe Ruth of New England prep school headmasters: Frank Boyden (1879-1972), who led Deerfield Academy (MA) for over 66 years (not a misprint).  He used to say, “A boy is more important than a rule.”  (Like Deerfield, we’re co-ed today, but Boyden’s principle is very much alive here at Hyde.)

This is not to say that kids are never sent home, but only that we have found greater success with what some might consider unconventional methods such as Work Crew (It has long been a source of wonder to me how the decidedly conventional act of work can be seen as unconventional, to say nothing of “cruel and unusual.”) or wilderness exploration experiences at our Eustis “campus” in the western Maine lakes and mountains region.  In any case, we focus on attitudes more than infractions and our pursuit of the truth is relentless.

As I wrap up Part #1, it occurs to me that this might be a weird topic for a school administrator to be launching out into the Internet.  I argue that it’s highly appropriate for any community striving to trust the wisdom embodied in the Truth/Misery/Freedom sign pictured above.  Our history has shown us that periodic student “busts” can actually serve to boost rather than derail student and faculty morale.  In fact, I’ve likened it to “Drano for the Hyde soul.”

Onward,  Malcolm Gauld