Discipline and disciple (which means “pupil”) have the same roots for a reason. Without discipline, you cannot be a pupil, you cannot be a student, you cannot learn. Proper discipline, especially self-discipline, is what gives us true freedom. Liberty is not libertinage. Freedom is not chaos. Freedom is the golden mean between order and chaos — it is arrived at through discipline.
Jonathan Haidt observes that today’s students are taught that everything should be interpreted through the lens of power. A real irony of that is those who teach the religion of power all claim to get it from Nietzsche, who himself argued in favor of perspectivism. His ideas on power are much more complex than the power-worshipers of today think it to be.
That being said, consider what Haidt says about his own education:
“When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.”
This is the fundamentals of a truly interdisciplinary education. A multidisciplinary education gives you a variety of perspectives through which you can interpret the world. There is no One True Way, as students are currently taught. But an interdisciplinary education takes the multidisciplinary education a step further, and shows you how those perspectives are themselves integrated in a unity-with-variety/variety-with-unity way.
I’m optimistic, but only because one of the models I use to understand the world suggests that we are at the end of a great social cycle, and the beginnings of a new one are being laid by people like Haidt.
Oftentimes we believe something — understand what it means in theory — but don’t really know for certain, since we don’t have any actual evidence for it. For example, I understand that disruptive students severely harm the educations of their fellow students. If there is but one in the class who will not be quiet, who is rude and disruptive and a showoff and won’t sit down and won’t do his work, then that prevents his fellow classmates from doing well. I understood this in theory. But then, about a decade ago, I had a class that proved it.
I once taught a 7th grade English class that has a student who is exactly this way (loud, rude, etc.). I had been reading Aesop’s fables to teach my students the very basics of storytelling. I read them one, then ask them 1) What happened? 2) Who is the protagonist? 3) Who is the antagonist? 4) What is the setting? 5) What could you learn from this fable? They do the work in class. I have done this several times already. Let me give 1) the statistics for the two days this student was in class, then give 2) the statistics for two days he was suspended.
1) Day 1:
Average grade = 24
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all, out of 24 students) = 14
Average grade without counting zeros = 58
Average grade = 34
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all) = 11
Average grade without counting zeros = 62
2) Day 3:
Average grade = 64
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all) = 6
Average grade without counting zeros = 87
Average grade = 81
Number of zeros (did not turn in work at all) = 2
Average grade without counting zeros = 89
That’s right, the average grades doubled with the absence of this student. More, this absent student has a friend in my class. Here are his grades, from day 1 to day 4: 42, 10, 100, 90. He went from a 10 one day to a 100 the next day. Am I really to think that he suddenly “got it” within a day? That’s not an impossiblity. However, his highly disruptive friend was not there — and his grades leapt up. And guess what happened when his friend returned. That’s right, the grades plummeted again.
What does this mean? Should me just get rid of some students, count them as a lost cause? Perhaps not — I’m not quite so pessimistic as that. However, this does indicate that one major problem with our schools is the very presence of such students. How to fix it? How does one fix bad parenting? Or poor societal influences?
What we can do is reintroduce actual discipline to our classes (I have discovered that the only students detentions work on are those who don’t get them — those who do, their own parents don’t want them around, and those parents are happy to get rid of them an hour earlier). And we need to have strong discipline from early on. That means having strict, strong principals in our schools, but it also means we need to do things like teach manners, ethics, posture — things we have abandoned long ago. These will lay the foundation of good behavior later. Will this mean there will be no bad eggs? Of course not. But there will be many, many fewer — and those we do still have, we can remove from the classrooms more easily and put them in classrooms together, away from the rest of the students, so the rest of the students have a chance to become educated.
There are many reasons to love teaching, and there are many reasons to hate it. When you have students who love to learn, there are few better jobs to have. But if your students don’t care, it can be among the worst.
I don’t know why I take it personally, but I do — students’ refusal to do their homework, to study, to listen and learn. Perhaps it is because education is a gift, and I, as a teacher, wish to bestow this gift on my students. Who would not be insulted, offended, hurt if their gifts were turned down and even disdained?
Imagine offering a gift of great value to someone and they turned up their nose at it, sneered at it, threw it back in your face? How would you feel? That, indeed, is how I feel when students don’t want to learn, don’t want to work, disrupt class and talk and refuse to listen when I speak.
That is why I take it personally when students won’t do everything they can to accept the gift of education I offer. To refuse a gift is a hateful thing indeed. That is why I feel my anger is justified. That is why I take it personally.