What Is Honesty?

While practicing law, Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.” This mindset earned Lincoln the nickname ‘Honest Abe,’ which stuck with him throughout his legal and political career. Even Lincoln’s chief political rival Stephen Douglas admitted that Lincoln’s honesty and integrity were some of his biggest assets as a politician: “He is as honest as he is shrewd, and if I beat him my victory will be hardly won.”

Honesty is the virtue of telling the truth.

While honesty may be an obvious virtue for students to learn, it is no less crucial for being so. Students at Great Hearts discover what it means to show honesty in and out of the classroom, with each other and their teachers, at lunch time and during daily dismissal. Students can show honesty by admitting an error in judgment, responding “I don’t know” to a question rather than guessing, or even by confessing that they need to apologize to another person. Honesty, like every other virtue, demands courage at its greatest testing point, and we are proud to help our students grow in understanding the importance of courageous honesty, both in school and at home.

Examples of Honesty from the Great Hearts Curriculum

In Kindergarten, students hear and discuss the legend of George Washington and the cherry tree. Famously, a six year-old Washington receives a hatchet as a gift. While playing with his new hatchet, the boy damaged his father’s favorite cherry tree. When his father demands to know what happened, Washington proclaims, “I cannot tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” While we do not hide from even our youngest students that this story is apocryphal, it is nevertheless a helpful moral tale about the value of honesty.

Also in Kindergarten, students learn about honesty in The Empty Pot. In this story, the young Chen is asked to tend a seed for a year and to present the plant to the emperor. Chen then must admit to the emperor that, despite his best efforts, he has been unable to make the seed grow. At the end of the story, the students discover that the boy’s honesty is what the emperor was measuring all along, and Chen is pronounced the next emperor.

In First Grade, our students hear the story of Almonzo, a young boy who grows a milk pumpkin that wins first prize at the county fair. Almonzo is wracked with guilt at first, wondering whether using milk to grow a large pumpkin was unethical, and he then confesses his strategy, only to be assured that he had not only followed the rules, but also demonstrated honesty by letting the judges know what he had done.

In Fourth Grade, students read The Princess and the Goblin¸ in which Princess Irene shows honesty by holding fast to the truth of her vision, even when pressured by her nurse to say that it was merely a dream. Irene’s refusal to compromise on the truth leads her into great adventures in the nearby mountains, during which her honesty becomes more important than ever.

Core Virtues