Education & Discipline

Somehow or the other, the term discipline always comes riding piggy-back with Education.

Teachers contend that unless they are given well-behaved, discipline, rules & regulations-abiding students, they cannot teach effectively. It has always been a contentious issue as to who will break the child into this ‘well-behaved’ mould. Teachers hold that parents and school administration should take care of training the children in attitudes & behavior skills, while guardians hold that it is the teachers who should do this job. There are sufficient arguments to bolster both the lines of reasoning.

Some learned ones however say that what is more important is to identify and remedy the causes of behavior problems in our students. Let’s look at a small story.

A small boy was accompanying his mother on the beach. Given below is the conversation between them:

Boy: Mummy, may I play in the sand?

Mummy: No, darling. You will only soil your clean clothes.

Boy: May I wade in the water?

Mummy: No, don’t. You will get wet and catch a cold.

Boy: may I play with the other children?

Mummy: No. You will get lost in the crowd.

Boy: Mummy, please buy me an ice-cream.

Mummy: No. Ice-cream is bad for your throat.

The little boy started crying. The mother tells her friend who is also nearby, “For Heaven’s sake! Have you ever seen such a neurotic child? Always throwing a tantrum! Can’t keep still a minute.”

Now, isn’t the reason for the child’s strange and rebellious behavior, clear to us? A famous Jesuit Educationist once said, “Before punishing a child, ask yourself if you are not the cause of the offence.” We ourselves are the root cause of student-indiscipline in most cases. How? There is a gap between us and our children, mostly. We seem to be unable to grasp the feelings of our own kids. Added to that, we labor with the misconception that ‘Understanding’ actually means ‘Imposing’. We are adepts in imposing our views on our children. Rarely do we find a grown-up person, be he a parent or a teacher, who tries to see from the child’s point of view.

James Baldwin [1]once famously said, “Our children seldom listen to our advices, but they also seldom fail to imitate us!”

Communication is the crux of the teacher-student relationship. Alas! When we are unable to establish decent channels of communication with our students, we resort to the despicable means of ‘controlling the kids by fear’. In most cases, teachers equate ‘Communication’ with ‘instilling fear’.

There was once a couple who had trouble handling their son. There was no way they could convince him that paper should not be torn. He had developed a strange habit. Wherever and whenever he got a piece of paper or a book or a magazine, immediately he would tear it to bits. They had consulted educational experts, counselors, doctors and even psychiatrists, but to no avail. One day, a good friend of the boy’s father came to their house and stayed with them for a week. During that time, the boy became very close to this man. One night, after dinner, the parents explained their dilemma regarding the boy’s inexplicable behavior to this man. And from the next day, the parents found that the boy had stopped tearing paper! They were shell-shocked. Where experts in the field of education and medicine and psychology had failed, this ordinary man had succeeded. They asked him about it. His reply is note-worthy. He said, “I took him on my lap, looked him in his eye and told him, ‘Look here, son. Don’t tear paper. You should use paper to write.’ You see, what happened with him is, all of you tried to do so many things with him, except tell him directly not to tear paper. If only one of you had told him explicitly what to do, the problem would have stopped long ago.”

Years upon years in the teaching profession tends to make us teachers immune to the ‘life-component’, to the living aspect of the children. I feel that is one of the deleterious, desensitizing effects of this most noble profession. Even the best of us are not immune from it at some point of time in our careers. James Baldwin once said, “The first duty of a teacher is to consider that the student is a human being…A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him.” The student is a living being with whom we can connect, with whom we can talk and reason and interact. Hence some argue that there is need of more love than law while dealing with students.

Swami Vivekananda says that the best teacher is he who can come down to the level of his student and teach him. When this is done, the student feels comfortable with the learning process. What then is the scheme for evaluation of the teaching-learning process? The ideal scheme should be evaluating the quality of life that the student leads. A teacher may have taught his students all the English and Sanskrit and Physics and Chemistry, but if the quality of the student’s life has not improved, all that teaching has been but superficial.

Once a burglar had an apprentice, who was learning burglary from him. After some months of training, one night, both went into a house and started to rob the house. Suddenly the teacher-burglar dropped some vessel, creating a loud noise which woke up the entire household. As soon as they heard footsteps, the teacher-burglar ran out, locked the room in which the apprentice was hiding, from outside, and escaped. After some hours, the apprentice came back with a huge booty, full of enthusiasm and wanted to explain his adventure. The teacher-burglar simply said, “Son, what need is there to explain how you did it? You escaped from them and are here in front of me in flesh and blood. That is sufficient proof for me that you have graduated in the trade of burglary!”

Swami Vivekananda said that true Education is that which makes a man stand on his own feet.

Some of us argue that we are academic teachers. We are not duty-bound to train our students in the behavioral aspects of their life. That is the purview of their homes. But let us try to understand that the difference between home and school is non-existent in the young child. The entire phase of childhood is one continuous learning process. The child does not make much distinction about the source of his learning. All that matters is who has the stronger hold of love over him. It could be a parent, or a teacher at school, or any other mature person who has access to him. And we find that when all these elders become impersonal, distant from the child, unable to establish meaningful links with the child’s psyche, the child will fall back upon his/her peers. These peers, being as immature as the child itself, are ineffective in giving any shape to the life of the child. Then the child’s behavior starts being classified as problematic. He/she then starts having discipline problems in the eyes of the elders. Seldom do the elders realize that the root cause of those problems have been their own indifference to the child’s needs, especially emotional and social needs.

So, it has been seen in many societies all over the world, that while the parents and teachers have been busy arguing as to who was responsible for the child’s indiscipline, the child however has been deteriorating further at a very dangerous rate.

An African proverb says, ‘It takes an entire village to educate a child’. Every mature person in society has a role to play in the training and education of the children. Can’t we atleast learn something of value about this from our animal-friends who co-habit this planet with us? When a young one is born among animals, the responsibility of training it is shared by every elder member of the animal group! While, we, the most advanced species on Earth, are still busy trying to ascertain whose responsibility it is to train our young ones! Pathetic, indeed.

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[1] James Baldwin (1924-87) was a Civil Rights activist and literary figure in America. His essays contain wonderful insights on education.

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Author: Swami Vedatitananda

Monk of the Ramakrishna Order

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