Lots of things in life fall into a gray area. They are neither 100% right nor are they 100% wrong. They are somewhere in the middle. Things that we consider right can still have a bit of wrong mixed in, and the same for things we consider wrong. It’s a judgment call in many cases. That’s one reason why if you ask 100 people to judge something, some will judge it one way, and some will say the opposite. It is a gray area that is being judged.
A week or so before Christmas, though, Feyma and I were faced with a situation that was really truly a matter of black vs. white, right vs. wrong, no gray.
One night, our daughter Jean came to us and wanted to talk. It was pretty clear that she was nervous to talk to us about whatever it was that was bothering her. We reassured her that she was free to open up to us, and that we would help her with whatever the problem was.
Jean proceeded to tell us that she had been accused of cheating on a test at school. I was kind of surprised, because although I know that all kids do things that are wrong, I just didn’t think this was part of Jean’s character – to cheat on a test. I asked her to explain what happened.
Jean told us that during a test, a classmate sitting next to her gave Jean a candy wrapper and asked her to throw it away in the garbage can. Jean took the candy wrapper and tossed it into the garbage can in the classroom. Somehow, it came to be that the candy wrapper had answers for the test written on the inside. I questioned Jean about it, and she assured me that she had not cheated or even looked at the candy wrapper, she only threw it away. I told her that during a test, she should concentrate on her test, and not on throwing away other people’s trash, but if what happened was as she described, I personally did not see how that could be considered cheating.
Jean told us that the Principal of the School had called a meeting with all of the kids involved, and their parents. Of course, we attended the meeting (only 3 parents did) when it occurred a few days later. In all, there were 11 students accused of using the candy wrapper to cheat. I talked with the Principal and also Jean’s class teacher. I asked them one question:
Did the answers on Jean’s test paper match the answers on the candy wrapper?
The response from the teacher and Principal was clear… the answers on Jean’s test were not the same as what was on the candy wrapper. I asked them, how could she be considered to be cheating when her answers were different from the paper that had the answers on it? They had no answer for me. The Principal then told me that Jean had voluntarily admitted to them that she was involved with the cheating. Well, Jean had been adamant to me that she was not involved. At this point, I told the Principal that I wanted to see Jean. She told me no, that I would not be allowed to see her. I raised my voice a bit, and repeated my request. No, she said. At this point I stood up and spoke in a very stern voice that Jean was my child, and I wanted to see her immediately (I did not yell, I spoke sternly and in a slightly raised voice). Upon my third demand to see my child, they agreed and brought her to us.
When Jean arrived in the Principal’s Office, I asked her if she had admitted to being involved in cheating. She replied quite strongly that she had not. At this point, the Principal gathered all of the other 10 students together, and she asked them if Jean was involved with them in cheating. One by one, each gave the same answer – NO.
You know, if we had not attended the meeting, I have no doubt that Jean would have been considered guilty, and punished. I am glad that we went there. Don’t get me wrong, if Jean would have been involved, I would have said that she should be punished, but since there was no evidence of her involvement, there should be no punishment. Yes, she made a mistake by even touching the paper, and should have concentrated on her test, but that is a minor thing compared to cheating.
Jean had been told, before we went to the school, that her punishment would be that she would have to write a letter of apology, and that she would have to go up on the stage in front of all of the students of the school and read her apology. To me, that is demeaning of the student, especially if innocent (and it seems that there was little worry over innocence or guilt).
I think that the school administrators saw that we would not sit back and do nothing, and that our handling of the situation made them think twice. I’m glad that they decided to back off, because if they had not, I would have stood my ground as long as necessary.