Episode 7 - The System


(24 Oct 1974) 55-3-7

Writer: Jeb Rosebrook.

Director: Harry Harris.

Music: Alexander Courage.


"When I was growing up on Walton’s Mountain, the word 'honor' was hardly ever used, but its meaning was well understood. Honorable behavior was something that was expected in my family. Therefore, I found it strange when like every other freshman at school I was told that honor was a tradition, and that the heart of it was to be found in a system that governed our lives as students, and one that if ignored could end our days as members of the student body.”


The blackboard in Professor Emory’s class states that the Friday Test on “Feudalism vs. Principles of Roman Government” will consist of “1. Emergence of Towns & Cities, 2. Self Governing Republics”. The teacher asks Walton and Povich to stay after the class. To maintain his record of never failing a scholarship student, Emory asks John-Boy (academic scholarship) to help Tom Povich (football scholarship) study for the test, since Povich is close to failing. John-Boy agrees. Tomorrow being Founder’s Day they have the entire day to study. After his last class at two o’clock, John-Boy watches Tom practice football, amazed at all the energy expelled. Afterwards, John-Boy asks Tom to stay at the house, so they have more time to study. Living in the dorm, Tom agrees.


Zeb sneaks up on Esther and kisses her on the neck as she exits the chicken coop with a chicken in her arms. The surprise causes her to lose “supper” as the chicken flies off. Grandma is upset that he would do such a think in broad daylight. Grandma tries to catch the bird as the children watch. Elizabeth wonders why Grandma is talking to a chicken. John-Boy and Tom drive up. Grandma is too irritated for a proper greeting, but Grandpa gives Tom a warm welcome. Before supper, Tom shows the boys a few football plays. Later, they play a football game. In one play, Jim Bob catches a pass from John; while in a later play, Jim Bob intercepts a pass from John-Boy intended for Grandpa, and eventually Mary Ellen runs it in for a touchdown. At that point, they quit, exhausted by all the exercise. Tom tells John-Boy, “I could eat a cow”, but John-Boy says, “Not ours!” At supper, the conversation centers on football. Tom says a professional player could get eight hundred dollars a game. Grandma doesn’t understand why he has a football scholarship, but doesn’t want to be a professional football player. Tom says he practices about four hours a day, must maintain a “C” average, is from a small coal town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where his papa works in the mines, and they live in a company house. John comments that a company house is like the ones over at the soapstone quarry. John-Boy and Tom leave the table to begin studying. In the bedroom, John-Boy doesn’t have his glasses (being repaired) and Tom is exhausted. He mentions he also has a part-time job coaling the furnaces for several fraternities at 5:30 am. They decide to start studying first thing tomorrow. John-Boy learns that Tom wants to become a lawyer so he can represent the miners in his hometown, but is worried that he may be one of those miners if his grades don’t improve. John-Boy leaves the room to find Jason listening at the bathroom door. Ben is inside rolling a cigarette, but abruptly leaves when John-Boy wonders what is going on inside.


Jason spies again on Ben while he walks through the barn, and out the back. Ben finally catches his brother and wonders what he is doing. Grandpa interrupts the conversation, wondering if either one is playing hooky from school, in order to go fishing. But, neither one had such plans, much to the disappointment of Grandpa. After Ben leaves for school, Jason asks Grandpa if he’s noticed a change in Ben. At the same time John-Boy and Tom discuss Charlemagne’s rule of Europe and the Barbarians eventual overturn of the government. The stop for lunch, then talk about the Greek civilization around the time of 900 b.c. to 500 b.c. Tom is gaining confidence, and thinks he’ll pass the test. Grandma walks down into the cellar, where Ben is rolling another cigarette. He puts it away just before Grandma discovers him. She insists he go outside into the sunshine, but wonders why he is down there.


At ten o’clock, John-Boy and Tom walk into the classroom for the test. The honor system dictates that the professor leaves the room during the ninety-minute test, and each student will watch the other students. In the middle of the test Tom doubts one of his answers and looks at a neighboring students paper. John-Boy sees him, and Tom sees another student looking at both of them. Tom signs his test that he received no help on the test. Outside, Tom tells John-Boy that he must report him to the Honor Committee because Townsend saw both of them. Reluctantly, John-Boy reports his friend. At a meeting of the council, the members accuse Tom of a major offense of the honor system. John-Boy offers to defend his friend at the hearing, saying he was obligated to report his friend, not wanting to do so. Tom’s plea of guilty will stand, and the hearing on Monday at two o’clock will determine if Tom will be permanently expelled. The Council President tells Tom that his parents will be notified, according to the rules of the honor system. Tom tries to stop having his parents notified, but it is out of his hands. John-Boy asks Tom if he would like to stay at the house while they plan his defense. He agrees, saying he will tell the Waltons what he did.


At the house, Jason finds Ben smoking in the smokehouse. Jason tells Grandpa, who agrees to deal with the problem. Jason remembers when his Daddy made him eat a whole cigarette when he was caught with cigarettes. Grandpa says that smoking is an expensive and nasty habit, like making a “chimney out the top of your head”. Grandpa grabs two fishing poles and asks Ben to go with him. While at the fishing-hole, Grandpa lights up a cigarette much to the surprise of Ben. Grandpa offers Ben one of his cigarettes, telling him it’s about time he learned to smoke on something other than cornsilk. Grandpa makes Ben deeply inhale and then blow smoke rings. Grandpa admits this is the first time that he’s smoke, since his father did what he just did to Ben. Ben suddenly becomes ill.


They return home to find Tom sitting on the porch with Reckless. He thinks Ben looks a little sick. Tom tells the family what happened. Later, John-Boy learns that there are two offenses: major and minor. And minor offenses are not punishable by being expelled. He wants to learn what constitutes a minor offense. On Monday morning, John-Boy and Tom leave for the hearing. Soon, Tom’s father walks up to the house. He introduces himself to John, and John agrees to take him to the hearing. At the hearing John-Boy says he will not dispute the contention that Tom is guilty. Rather he requests that the offense be reduced to minor, under extenuating circumstances. While driving to Boatwright, Mr. Povich says he will take his son home, not believing he should be in college. He remembers when Howard Eckard went off to college, and now he only returns home once a year, acting fancy with his fancy wife.


John-Boy contends that Tom must practice football over four hours a day, five days a week, hold down a part-time job, and if he should get hurt would lose his scholarship. He says that Tom is being pushed academically and athletically. John-Boy says Tom has a dream to become a lawyer so he can represent the miners who have no one to speak for them. John-Boy hopes the council will not ruin an honorable man’s dream because of a moment’s lack of judgment. Tom recounts the test: he began to doubt an answer, looked at the neighboring student’s paper, but did not change his answer. The council president does not believe him, but Mr. Popvich states that his son does not lie.


The council returns its decision: Tom is guilty of cheating and lying by a unanimous vote, but, by a majority vote, the offense is reduced to a minor one. Mr. Povich admits to John that his son should remain in college. Tom gives his word that no more offenses will occur. He is given a one-week suspension from classes and campus. John-Boy gives a sign of relief. At the house the family and the Povichs celebrate. Tom then drives his father to the bus station so he can return home. That night John-Boy writes in his journal about his expanding horizons.


"The experience with Tom Povich was one of many I was to encounter as my horizons widened beyond Walton’s Mounain. They were to expand my own vision, and increase my understanding of what I'd already been taught from the time I'd been a child. And while I was a college man, and my horizons were expanding, it was still a comfort and a strength to return each night to that house, and to go to sleep to the sound of those voices whispering goodnight."


Jim Bob: Goodnight, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Goodnight, Jim Bob, goodnight, Ben. GOODNIGHT, BEN!

Jim Bob: He's in the bathroom.

Bob: I don't think so.

Elizabeth: How can you tell?

Jim Bob: Because he's got his tobacco sack hidden out in the barn.

Olivia: John!

John: Go to sleep, Liv.



Ben throws the football with his left hand.

The Povichs are from Bridgetown, Pennsylvania.

Mr. Povich began to work in the mines at age eleven.

Dennis Redfield appeared as Mike Paxton in The First Day (Season 3 episode 2), and The Obstacle (Season 7 episode 14).


Also appearing:

Thomas “Tom” Povich (Richard Masur); Victor Povich (Jacques Aubuchon); Council President (Dennis Redfield); Dr. Emory (Tom Lacy), Coach (Don Matheson), Faculty Member (Glen Gordon), Townsend (Tim Haldeman), Council Member (Stuart Taylor), Council Member (Barbara Litsky).