From the Desk of Jay Rainey – April 1, 2022

I was astounded to learn from an essay published during the opening days of spring break, approximately one month after the end of the disruptive truck blockade at the United States-Canada border, that for every 100 people who began work in 2019 as long-haul truckers, 91 decided to quit. Among the reasons for driver disaffection is their subjection to constant camera and sensor surveillance on the job. “Trucks are such personal spaces because of the length of time drivers are in them,” notes Karen Levy, a Cornell University sociologist. “Privacy invasions in that context are felt in an acute way.”

The Hawthorne effect is defined by organizational psychologists as the change in behavior that can occur when someone knows that they are being watched. The “organization” of a family provides many examples: the table manners that improve when dessert is at risk; the conversation that elevates when guests arrive; or the cell phone that disappears—and the homework that suddenly resumes—when a parent approaches. (Respecting my own habit of concealing the Five Guys bag deep in the kitchen trash can to avoid tough questions from Ruth about my diet, I will leave it to you to determine whether this is also an example of the Hawthorne effect.)

I love the fact that the Honor Code at MICDS is expressed in positive rather than negative language. We do not define honor in terms of behavior that we reject; we do not say, “I will not lie, cheat, or steal.” We define honor in terms of behavior that we embrace. Each Beasley student aspires to “treat other people as I would like to be treated” and “always do my best.” Each Middle School student pledges to “live by the principles of trust, respect, responsibility, and honor.” Each Upper School student seeks to uphold the promise of the MICDS Mission to “stand for what is good and right,” and therefore “to act with respect, responsibility, honesty, and compassion.” Our Honor Code at MICDS is not a threat born of our mistrust of fundamental human weakness; it is an opportunity born of our trust in fundamental human strength.

Our lives today are endlessly surveilled, and, increasingly, we surveil others as well. Cameras and microphones inside and outside our homes, wireless tracking devices, and cell phone location apps empower us to observe the comings and goings of strangers and loved ones alike. There is no going back to a less monitored world; but we would be wise to acknowledge that as the influence of these technologies grows, so too does our vulnerability to the Hawthorne effect. The strength both to resist the temptation to surveil others and, when we ourselves are surveilled, to resist the temptation to change our behavior—these are both essential to good character in the world that we suddenly inhabit, and the world that our MICDS students will inevitably inherit in the years to come.

I learned recently that the word “lightfastness” describes the resistance of a dye or pigment to photodegradation—to fading when exposed to light. I like to think of our MICDS Honor Code as strengthening the lightfastness of our students. Whether observed or unobserved, they learn to stand steadily for what is good and right. The Hawthorne effect has no effect at all. Their true colors do not fade.

Always reason, always compassion, always courage. I wish you and your families a very happy weekend ahead.

Jay Rainey
Head of School

This week’s addition to the “Refrains for Rams” playlist: Galacticana by Strand of Oaks (Apple Music / Spotify)