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Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?

My mom always told me, “Tell the truth or else.”  While I knew what the “or else” meant and certainly didn’t want to face the wrath of my father, I realized the importance of telling the truth.  As a father myself, I tell my son that the truth will bring about safety and less or no consequences.  Lying will lead to no good, is what I tell him.  As a parent, I want to instill the value of honesty within my son.  I want him to realize that the truth will set him free.

Is honesty always the best choice?  Sometimes in the classroom, I use reverse psychology or mind games on my students to help motivate them.  Is this ethical?  Is the complete truth always necessary?

In Science today, we began working on the final phase of our unit on Rocks and Minerals.  The students needed to evaluate their understanding of the knowledge they had acquired regarding the content of the unit.  I generated four critical thinking questions that will allow them to reflect on how the knowledge they gained regarding rocks and minerals fits into their life and the greater context of the world.  They are higher-order thinking questions.  While most of my students will be able to address these issues in written form, exceeding the objective for this assignment would be difficult for many students.  To emphasize the difficulty of this assignment based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, I informed the students that most of them will have difficulty meeting this objective.  I told the boys that this is a hard task.  Critical thinking is an abstract skill most sixth graders are still in the process of developing.  I didn’t want the boys to think this is a fluff assignment.  I wanted them to realize the value of the task at hand.  Do I think that most of my students can meet the objective for this assignment?  Yes.  Do I think many of my students will be able to exceed this objective?  No.  This is a difficult assignment.  I structured it that way.  I want my students to see the value in critical thinking and problem solving.  I want them to see the relevance in what we are doing in the classroom.  I want the boys to reflect on the purpose of learning science content.  I want my students to understand why they need to learn to think and act like a scientist in order to be an effective global citizen in our world.

So, did I lie to my students by telling them that many of them will have a difficult time meeting the learning target?  Yes.  Did I motivate them to put in extra effort to attempt to demonstrate their ability to meet or exceed the expectations for the assignment?  I hope so.  Sometimes, the line between truth and fiction needs to be blurred in order to inspire and motivate.  Challenging students to be and do their best at all times, is a difficult task.  I want my students to always expect the best from themselves no matter what.  If I had not described this assignment as difficult, would students put forth the same great effort I saw in and out of class today?  I don’t think so.  Presentation can be an important aspect of teaching.  As I begin to read through my students’ evaluation paragraphs, I will again reflect on my delivery of the assignment.  Did my tangling of the truth help motivate my students? 

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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