Judy Brandon: Religion columnist
The third grade is when I learned that a good conscience is really worth its weight in gold.
The lesson came from an unlikely episode. I was in Mrs. Hood’s third-grade class at Highland Elementary School in Clovis. Mrs. Hood had a routine for spelling. On Mondays, we were introduced to the new spelling words. On Tuesdays, we wrote the words three times each. On Wednesdays, we made sentences out of those words. On Thursdays, we had a spelling bee, and on Fridays, we had a spelling test.
On one of those Fridays we were having a spelling test, and Mrs. Hood was calling out the spelling words. We students dutifully wrote each word as she said it. But even though I had studied the night before, I became confused about the spelling of a certain word. I wrote it one way, erased it and then wrote it again. Then suddenly the fire bell rang. We third-graders all quickly stood up, assembled in a line, walked down the hall, went out the building and lined up on the grass in front of the school. When the bell rang to come back in, we headed back to our rooms. I sat down at my desk and focused my thoughts once again on that word that had me stumped.
Mrs. Hood was out in the hall talking to another teacher, so I had an idea. My spelling book was in my desk. I didn’t think it would hurt anyone to quickly look at the word so I could only see if I got it right. When I saw that Mrs. Hood was not about to come in, I did just that. Quickly I bent down, grabbed my spelling book, flipped through the pages, and found the word. I had misspelled it.
Now I had a personal ethical dilemma — should I change the word on my paper? I rationalized that I had studied the night before and had been temporarily confused so it would be OK to change the word to the correct spelling. So I did. Mrs. Hood came back into the classroom and finished giving us the test. Then she told us to pass our papers to the person behind us to be checked. Once graded, we all got our papers back. My grade was a 100. On any other day, I would have been elated, but was not happy. I was only thinking about how I got the 100. All afternoon and that night I was bothered about what I had done so I decided to tell daddy about the spelling world episode.
After our talk, I decided to go to Mrs. Hood and confess on Monday. I went in to see her before school and told her. She listened, made no comment and changed my grade from 100 to 96. But the 96 did not matter. It made no difference. I was finally delivered from the terrible ache of guilt.
Guilt can haunt us, worry us and make us sick. A guilty conscience can hinder our efficiency and cripple our spirit. That lesson of long ago was a good one for me. If I had not had the guilt, I would have never known what a treasure a good conscience can be. That feeling is spelled P-E-A-C-E.
Judy Brandon is an instructor at Clovis Community College. Contact her at: