The Rotary Club of Hall County is one of our partners in education. For the past seven years, they have sponsored an essay contest for our fifth graders. The topic is the Four Way Test. The Four Way Test is a guiding principle for Rotarians to use in their personal and professional relationships. The questions are:
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
- Is it beneficial to all?
The questions were formulated by Herbert J. Taylor as he struggled to save Club Aluminum from bankruptcy in the early 1930s. He wrote the questions as a litmus test for his management team. When one manager tried to undercut resale prices in order to get a huge order, Taylor refused to let it happen. “A company’s reputation is all. If we treat one client better than the others, we will have the trust of none.” When he was an international director of Rotary, he offered the Four Way Test to the organization.
This essay contest is the first time these children have wrestled with big ethical dilemmas. It is a challenge to explain the concept of the Four Way Test to them. With every iteration of the contest, I have tried to fine tune the explanation. When our county adopted a new learning management system, Canvas, I created a class for the essay contest. I curated resources, including Youtube videos of other students (most of the groups conduct this contest with high school students) reading their essays. Last year, I found a wonderful video from a young woman in Canada who not only explained the 4WT, she created an amazing personal example of whether to go to college locally, or go away to school. This example brings home a concrete example that our fifth graders can understand.
The Rotary members are generous with their time, visiting our students to answer questions, give feedback, and generally offer encouragement. Google docs allows students, all of the fifth grade teachers, and myself to collaborate and offer editing suggestions. The writer is ultimately in control of which suggestions to use and which to put aside. When the essays are complete, I submit blind numbered copies to the judges. The winners are announced and they and their parents are invited to a Rotary meeting for lunch and to read their essays. The Rotarians even send a limousine to school to take the children to the luncheon.
This year’s winner, Ivan, wrote about his desire to be a police officer. The Gainesville chief of police is a Rotarian. She gave Ivan her card after the meeting, offering him and his parents a personal tour of the station whenever he likes. Experiences like this are all about the connections.
This is one of my favorite projects of the year. This is the first time these children have wrestled with big ideas of ethics and morality. I encourage them to have deep discussions with their parents. All of the fifth grade teachers give them feedback and they get to discuss their ideas with professionals from the Rotary Club. One of my winners from a few years ago said, “This is the first time that grown ups who are not my relatives really cared what I think!” I love to push them to dig deep and really think about these big ideas. They work hard and are really proud of their achievements.