Discipline or direction?


Indumathi S.

This reflection comes in the context of the notice issued by the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) to the Ministry of HRD that elements of Sainik School – such as discipline, physical fitness and patriotic outlook – be promoted in other schools (Indian Express, July 21st). It appears that the state is using schools to promote their agenda and controlling what ought to be taught and learnt. In this article, I would like to discuss how discipline is understood and whether schools need to promote discipline.

Discipline is defined as the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour. In this definition, the power and authority connotations are clear. Discipline seems more like indoctrination. In this case, one can ask – whose rules, rules for whom, or what behaviour, obey whom and so on. One wonders why and how schools started taking this role of disciplining students. Is discipline something schools need to promote? What is the purpose of schooling and education?

I discuss two situations below where discipline and norms are dealt with in classrooms or the school scenario.

Case 1:

Students wear uniform. As they enter school they are checked to see if they are wearing tie, shoes,  and school identity card, amongst other things. They are punished or questioned or given warnings if they fail to adhere to it. The school has rules on how students should walk up and down the stairs, how teachers need to be greeted when they leave or enter the class, where and how they sit and so on. The rules are ‘must’ and ‘should’ and such rules are mostly framed by the school authorities. I guess most of us would be familiar with many such rules in the school and come across such situations.

The belief is that such kind of disciplining helps in behaviour or character formation. Does this belief need to be questioned? Do imposed rules lead to character formation? Pupils tend to follow such rules as they come from teachers for the fear of punishment or consequences if they are broken. Often, one comes across students who behave differently when teachers are around and they are not offered opportunities to know their true selves.

Case 2:

Few students were bullied in class VII. They brought it up a few times to the notice of the teacher. The students and teachers sat in a circle during the assembly and the teacher raised the issue in the classroom. Most students felt that they were bullied. The teachers asked them to share some of the instances without naming their friends. Students shared examples and how they felt about it. The teacher asked them to think for some time and come up with a solution. The students came up with a few solutions and norms. The teacher asked if they could choose one norm and follow it.  Many said that name calling would not be accepted. Teacher asked if everyone would agree with following this one norm for a month. The students – at least 90% of them – felt so. The teacher then posed what would happen in the class if someone would not follow this norm. The students mentioned that they would remind the other person and if their friends still continued to call names, they would not cooperate or include that person in the team game.

The teacher could have just said that there would be no name calling in the class and if anyone found so would be punished. Would this have helped to control bullying? In this situation, there is no imposition from the teacher. The norms are discussed and laid by the students. Are the students moving towards some norms for themselves to operate, or to work and learn together in the classroom?

But this situation also has its challenges. Bullying might not stop completely. One or two might continue to bully or falter. The students could bring it to the notice of the teacher and the teacher might have to have a conversation with the student. He/she might have to understand what is going on in the child’s life, what prompts the child to call names and address the root causes. But is this possible in every class with 30 students? This might be possible if trust and dialogue are built into the school culture. It is a continuous process.

The words direction and order are also synonyms of discipline. Direction and order appeal more to me than the idea of discipline. Schools can foster direction and order. Order and direction are required for effective teaching and learning. I am not saying that rules be done away with. It is about the process of how rules and norms evolve and are followed. The way it can be done is more through dialogue and reflection. Rules and discipline, if imposed from outside, might remain only as rules to be followed for the sake of someone and not as value for oneself.

 Indumathi S. is a teacher educator at IAAT. Questions on gender and science intrigue her and she likes to write on education.

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