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Opinion: Everything Wrong With National Honor Society

National Honor Society’s ideals are at war with themselves.


Since I’ve been inducted, I’ve heard the standard NHS spiel time and time again. It is printed at the top of the current chapter bylaws, marked as Article 1, Section 2: “The object of this chapter shall be to create an enthusiasm for scholarship, to stimulate a desire to render service, to promote worthy leadership, and to encourage the development of character for all students of River Hill High School.”  I believe, very strongly, that our chapter of NHS has lost sight of this worthy goal. In fact, the current actions of the NHS sometimes serve to even countermand this mission statement, as broken down below:

“To stimulate a desire to render service…”

The problem with any successful organization is, eventually, it grows large. That has certainly been the case with River Hill’s NHS, which has been bolstered by an influx of intelligent and dedicated students into becoming a massive group. During attempts to handle this overstock of members, NHS’ worst tendencies are exacerbated, and it falls into the same traps River Hill has fallen victim to: Valuing quantity over quality.

At one point, somebody in some NHS Meeting or Induction said something truly amusing about the organization teaching students to perform service without expecting recognition. This assertion is forever burned into my memory due to its sheer ludicrousness. National Honor Society has developed into a resume-builder, dancing around the bare minimum and limiting students with inane rules and regulations.

Rather than considering students as individuals, and working with them to foster projects and ideas that work for them, NHS ensures that they have to jump through hoops to get to 15 hours. Students can’t receive more than a certain number of hours from aiding a teacher, instead being encouraged to attend the mechanized, chaotic, and occasionally busy-work defined Beautifications, (which thankfully are no longer their own category at least). Meanwhile, students may only offer 5 hours of service to other organizations outside of school and must make sure they have their project approved well-beforehand (a confusing demand, as it is unclear whether this means before their project or before hours are submitted). The process for creating one’s own, more personal project thus becomes unwieldy and difficult. Instead of encouraging students to focus on improving their community, an unhealthy focus is placed on completing easy tasks within the school in order to accumulate hours quickly. Again— quantity over quality.

“To encourage the development of character…”

At River Hill, grades are often viewed as more important than actual learning, leading to a culture of academic dishonesty so powerful the Honor Council actually had to shut down. By similarly emphasizing the end point of 15 hours over the journey of actually helping people, NHS further contributes to the toxic reward-oriented atmosphere which is ruining education. “Character” is one of NHS’ Four Pillars, yet ultimately the organization would rather “tell” its members about this trait through a meeting than actually encourage students to “show” it through their projects and actions. The saying goes that actions speak louder than words, and in this case, I believe it is true.

The mandatory meetings and inability to easily create individual projects is indicative of a wider lack of trust between the organization and its members. These students were seen fit enough to be picked as members, yet they are controlled and policed ruthlessly throughout their time in the organization. Perhaps if National Honor Society truly valued individual character, they would be more understanding of the unique circumstances and barriers that cause students to miss meetings. Perhaps the next time a member misses over half, NHS should ask “why is this happening, and can we help make it stop?” instead of sending messengers with threats of a faculty council. Scare Tactics don’t show great character.

“To create enthusiasm for scholarship…”

If there’s one thing this school could stand to back off on, it is promoting scholarship. As mentioned earlier, River Hill is currently inundated in an epidemic of academic dishonesty, precipitated by the stressful expectations from admin and parents who value test scores over learning. Students at this school are overscheduled, stressed, probably a little depressed, and doing their best to keep going; But this lifestyle results naturally in many, many conflicts. It is appalling that NHS recruits students based upon their placement in this environment of academic rigor and then punishes them for it when they have to put their homework, mental health, or resume-mandated extracurriculars first once in a while. Many, if not all, still get their 15 hours done- but even if they get their absences excused, this is not enough for National Honor Society. They are placed on probation and refused any further absences.

I missed several meetings towards the beginning of the year, and nearly all were unavoidable- I had pinkeye, or a school activity I couldn’t miss, and while it is unlikely I’ll have the same problems during the next semester, I refuse to be punished if I run into something else unavoidable. Everybody in NHS is smart, and they’re all working, really, really hard… it would be fantastic of the organization could recognize that past their appointment.

“For all students of River Hill High School.”

This is NHS’ final sin, and perhaps their most egregious- their refusal to accommodate the Neurodivergent. According to Article II, any students with a disability must bring it before the executive board, which is made up of students. Do you have any idea how humiliating it can be to stand up in front of your peers, even in this day and age, and say “there’s something different about me”? To admit that sometimes, you can go to a dark place, and sometimes, you need a little bit more help? These days, students freely joke about OCD, “triggering” people, and demand their friends “kill themselves”, so it is insane that members are expected by the bylaws to inform the executive board of their condition rather than a teacher. Not to mention that, even then, the bylaws mandate that 15 hours are still reached— another hilariously disappointing instance of the numbers game National Honors Society plays. It’s not about the means, it’s about the ends, and that is such a wrong message for a service organization dedicated to educating students to be conveying.

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