Friday, July 20, 2018

Honor amongst Thieves: Debunking the National Honor Society

by sanity check (writer), Maryland, June 01, 2007

About this time of year, high school students and their parents are subjected to the National Honor Society application process. According to the Web page at NHS, The National Honor Society is the “nation's premier organization recognizing outstanding middle level and high school students who demonstrate excellence in the areas of scholarship, leadership, service, and character”. NHS is supposedly a feather in the cap of deserving young men and woman who have earned membership in this prestigious organization that boasts “honor” as it’s cornerstone. While many communities, most notably those in the Northern United States strive to make the NHS selection process as impartial and fair as possible, many schools in other parts of United States treat NHS like some sort of country club where the selection process is subjective, unfair and downright mean-spirited. For a parent coming to grips with NHS for the first time, a little information can go a long way in separating fact from fiction.

How it’s supposed to work. In theory, each school is supposed to provide NHS information to each student outlining the requirements for membership in NHS. In addition to good grades, each student is supposed to demonstrate leadership, good character, and service to his/her community and school. Once or twice a year, every student that meets the academic standards for NHS membership is supposed to receive an application and invited to apply for NHS membership. At each school, a panel or council composed of five teachers form the NHS selection committee. This panel is appointed by the principal and makes the decisions for NHS membership based on the aforementioned requirements previously provided to the students. The panel’s decisions are reviewed by the principal. Those accepted for membership receive an invitation to join. Disturbingly, those not accepted for membership often receive nothing.

In some schools, teachers exercise an inordinate amount of control over the NHS selection process. For some unexplained reason, school boards and administrators allow teachers great latitude in the NHS selection process while offering virtually no guidance or regulation. Under these conditions it’s not hard to understand how the selection process was corrupted. In some schools, the selection panel meets in secret and their minutes are never divulged. Other schools use “highly subjective” criteria which is a not so clever euphemism for favoritism. Still others employ teacher recommendations that are secret and never divulged to students or parents. In many cases, students are never told precisely what they need to do, to attain NHS membership. The NHS facts actually present a slightly different and sometimes surprising situation

Fact: NHS offers NO GUIDANCE or standard definition for: Leadership, character, or service. Ostensibly, NHS Headquarters defers definition of these “traits” to the local chapters. This ploy is more a legal move than anything else. In passing the definition of these traits to the local chapters, the National organization is attempting to circumvent it’s exposure to litigation. Quite the paradox actually. An organization that supposedly stands for Leadership, character, service and scholarship, yet the only standard they have is a 3.0 GPA. That’s right, the only hard requirement for NHS membership is a 3.0 GPA.

Other schools around the country have developed very nice NHS evaluative criteria to quantify leadership (point system, based on hours and number of individuals led), service (points based on number of hours of service rendered,) character (disruptive in class, fighting, good attendance, criminal activities, citizenship grades, letters of recommendation). Simply stated, NHS guidelines provide a number of wonderfully simple and objective ways to evaluate students. Why some schools opt for highly subjective means speaks more to the lack of character of the educators than the students.

Fact: Many schools resort to things like secret teacher recommendations, or selection committees that keep their processes and information secret. In these cases, the criteria are stated to be “highly subjective”. This is in fact, against NHS bylaws which state that all requirements for membership must be published in some form that the students have access to, well in advance of the application process. Requirements are to be clearly defined. All this means is that the students have a right to know what they are required to do in order to get into NHS. Conversely, it removes the subjective nature of the decision process from the hands of teachers. In a perfect world, everyone sees the benefits of just such a system that frankly, is what NHS envisioned in the first place.

Fact: The NHS selection process falls under the direction of the school’s principal. No surprise here when one considers NHS was created by the Association of Secondary School Principals. What many parents do not know: the school principal can override any decision of the NHS selection panel. This override mechanism is written into the NHS National bylaws and may not be changed at the local level. In any normal system there are checks and balances to handle peculiar or special circumstances. The principal operates as the avenue of appeal in the NHS selection process. When the principal refuses to get involved, students have no avenue of appeal and the selection committee has no oversight. This is extremely unfair to the students as the selection committee literally answers to no one.

Fact: School boards can direct any superintendent to standardize NHS membership policies at any school. Principals answer to the superintendent. It’s a very simple chain of command yet when a dispute arises, few outside of the principal will get involved. School boards do not like negative publicity and the fastest way to implement change is gather some parents and attend a school board meeting. This is something that can be fixed very fast. Elected officials love quick fixes.

Fact: it is simply stupid for any NHS chapter to set standards far above the norm or deny membership to students that could quite easily achieve membership at another school. First and foremost, these students are our children and we have an obligation to help them as much as possible. NHS membership can affect college admission and scholarship monies. What possible reason could a so-called educator give for denying a child the best chance at higher education? NHS is NHS and the school is secondary. There is no NHS rating of which schools are harder to get into and frankly, that would be stupid. So why would a community allow any NHS chapter to set standards above the norm? What purpose does this serve? The only people hurt are the kids. NHS doesn’t care what your school’s standard is, so why set it higher than everyone else is?

Fact: Any Honor infraction involving an NHS member should be investigated by the local Chapter and result in expulsion if the member is guilty of the infraction. This includes academics. If a student’s GPA falls below 3.0, he/she is no longer qualified and should be dropped from NHS membership. As a practical matter, the lack of meaningful oversight in tandem with school politics encroaches on the monitoring aspects of NHS. The National headquarters will get involved in disputes but only if the local chapter requests assistance. If a parent reports a problem, NHS headquarters will contact the chapter, read them chapter and verse from the by-laws and ask if they need assistance. It goes without saying, the NHS Headquarters is less than helpful in these issues.

It is scary that in 2007, there are adults masquerading as advocates of our children who serve on school boards and as educators that see nothing wrong with the NHS policies. There is an easy way to fix this problem but the parents have to get together and show up at the school board. Unfortunately, many parents try to solve this problem by themselves and end up frustrated.

About the Writer

sanity check is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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