Educating in Nature
Ch 11 On processes and competences
And to start this section on processes and competences I am going to talk about discipline. When someone lives alone they require discipline to live in life, to get up feed themselves, wash whatever. There is a discipline in being an acceptable social human being. Most people live in families, and in the home there is an agreed discipline of how to live together - mostly. Without that agreement the home would be chaos. And it is the same for the classroom, if you are going to have so many people in the same room they have to agree to a code of conduct or discipline. Traditionally this was not an issue as parents sent children to school, and they behaved as the teacher told them; and if they didn't the teacher caned them.
But in the 60s schools began to change. Parents and students began to reject what they were being taught, and at the same time teachers were told they could not use the cane. Gradually this situation has worsened. Once the bubble had burst and people began questioning the validity of what was being taught, disruptive behaviour increased. Not every act of disruption could be attributed to this lack of agreement with what was being taught, but once some people are disruptive others follow. Sometimes this is because the students enjoy the disruption, and other times they follow the behaviour of powerful students who intimidate with charisma or violence. The point here is that we need discipline and once one student becomes out of control others follow.
I can think of many examples that illustrate this but here is one particular one. We were working up to exams in a boarding school. Lessons had finished and students were revising. I was Head of Maths not administration but the owner of the school suggested I run an exam centre - in the previous year I had looked after the exams and she had been impressed. This exam centre involved perhaps 50 year 11 students, and we sectioned off one area of the school (3 classrooms) and no other students than year 11 were allowed there. I was na?ve in expecting cooperation from administration but I always tried. I drew up a code of conduct which included 3 strikes and you were not allowed to use the study centre. This was practical as even though this was a boarding school the students lived in the city, and could be sent home after they had sat exams. There was one girl who the students accepted would not cooperate, this did not matter to them. Now this girl quite clearly had no desire to accept the code of conduct of this exam centre, so defied the rules from day one. After repeated efforts to get her to cooperate, I sent her to the admin to deal with the problem. Admin was typically two-faced. She had agreed the code of conduct but when this girl was sent to her she didn't want to deal with the matter. She initially kept the girl in her classroom whether she had classes or not but when the girl began disrupting her classes she sent her back down to the study centre. The girl should have been sent home but admin did not want to do their job and deal with the parents.
Once the girl was sent back down to the study centre discipline was lost. Other students who did not want to cooperate with the study centre had allowed this girl to test the teeth of the policy, and when they found that the policy lacked teeth they began to disrupt. Several difficult boys then began confronting me on all aspects of discipline, and in the end I gave up. We reached an agreement that the good students would work in one classroom, and they would keep away from that classroom. However as a whole the policy failed because the admin allowed one student to break discipline. The good students would have worked anyway, the advantage of the exam centre was that it would have provided the conditions for less disciplined students to study. Those students were lost and there was much disruption. Admin ignored the disruption.
Now exam time is the best time of year as most students want to do some work. But if one student disrupts it affects all the students. Being motivated is not enough, if students have to work together there needs to be collective agreement and discipline. There are no education proposals that can work unless there is an agreement to accept discipline. Even when there was caning students accept that they should be caned - whether some people agree with caning or not. The problem with discipline now is that it is blamed on bad students and poor teaching, this is not the case. Caning dealt with the growing discipline problems, and it has never been replaced. Detention provides some respite but parents don't like the inconvenience. For me this is a failure of parents to recognise their responsibility, but again the admin at the school let the parents get away with it. Some of the parents argued with the admin that their children didn't have to do detention, and the admin capitulated.
But detention doesn't solve all the discipline issues. If you follow up a threat with a serious detention then most forms of poor behaviour will be controlled. However some poor behaviour are caused by some form of emotional hiatus, problems at home, bullying that the teacher doesn't know about, and other forms of emotional reaction. Now maybe the student would generally agree if the motivation was good but on occasions the student needs to be brought into line. This is a basic requirement of classroom learning, that discipline can be maintained. In order to facilitate this learning immediate control is required. This used to be maintained through corporal punishment, whether corporal punishment would work now is debatable. I used to send students out of the room for a cooling off period, and this helped. Admin always complained about this but they never offered any solutions so I did it anyway. If you cannot have discipline you cannot teach, and students cannot learn.
To deal with discipline there needs to be agreement from all parties. It needs to be accepted that in a classroom discipline is required, and parents should help with that discipline. In practice some parents cannot help - not that they refuse to help it is that they have lost control themselves. This issue cannot be ignored, it is real and affects the learning of so many students in Inner City schools and elsewhere. How do you deal with a school refuser - a student who is unwilling to accept discipline no matter what the curriculum or discipline system?. With an appropriate curriculum of autonomous mastery, meaningful process and competences valuable in daily life, these refusers will become isolated but they will not go away - they will still exist. Good education requires a means of dealing with their refusal. When you have a system where such students are given the opportunity to develop their own interests then they might well stop refusing and cooperate driving themselves to an appropriate course of learning. This is not a pipedream as most refusers are intelligent but just do not fit into the academic mess we call education now. However some mechanism or system needs to be in place to deal with such refusal because one student can disrupt a class of keen workers.
Now I began with discipline because discipline is a basic. Without discipline no system of education can work. And this leads me to basics in general. The whole of education cannot be about process and competences. No matter how well motivated a student is, their autonomous mastery will not always mean they learn all that is needed for a functioning society. I have already spoken of WARC - Writing, Arithmetic, Reading, Computing. There will also be a civil proponent. In the US they have allegiance to the flag together with understanding the constitution and political framework. I could imagine that now such lessons are treated with complete apathy but in an educational environment in which students predominantly work in their own direction (autonomous mastery) imposition of such a social requirement would be accepted. It is not accepted now because the students in general don't agree with what they are being taught, and the only rationale they have of meaning is exams, and such political and social understanding is not now examined. In Thailand students are taught to respect the King, this is completely socially acceptable as Thai people in general love their King. But if such a curriculum were required in the UK it would cause an uproar. Such a civil proponent would depend on how the society functions.
But there is one glaring absence in most curricula - morality, students are not taught the meaning of being moral. Depending on your society being taught to be moral can be difficult. What about "stick it to the man"? In the US this is socially acceptable because "the man" oppresses, bosses are not reasonable, and people work for unreasonable wages. Yet in other countries people work longer hours for far less wages. In some countries religious custom asks that women cover their head or face, yet in the West this is considered an infringement of civil liberties. In some countries it is considered appropriate to stone someone to death, and yet people in the US argue that this is unreasonable whilst keeping criminals who have been found guilty of murder in death row for many years before actually executing them. Then they are killed and it is claimed that the manner of killing is humane. So many aspects of morality are not absolutes.
So to teach morality it is necessary to define aspects of morality that people can agree on. What about:- Consideration for others?
Respect for parents and the elderly?
Respect for partners in relationships?
Fulfilling family duty?
Religious tolerance, not religious agreement?
Religious dogma could be addressed within a moral framework. If the 5 suggestions are agreed then how do we consider the 10 commandments? Thou shalt not kill in Christian countries with the death penalty contravenes moral consideration, does that mean it should not happen?
As it stands social and legal frameworks will be brought into question when studying morality, but if our societes cannot survive the scrutiny of those basic 5 tenets should we not be questioning the society rather than the tenets? At present our students are allowed to question teachers because teachers are expected to deliver a cirriculum that is not relevant to students. Is this not a diversion when students through a moral framework would be questioning the laws and practices of a society? Is this not a diversionary tactic of dictatorship?
What is essential is that students leave school knowing what is morally expected of them in society. Thye should know how to behave, and even if they don't behave that way they know that society does not accept it. Does this happen at present? How can it? In most societies there is one rule for the rich and one rule for the poor, is this moral? Consideration for others does not depend on the size of your wallet. Is a legal system fair when you can employ denizens of lawyers to find loopholes in a legal system so that the judge cannot make a decision based on the morality of actions. Is it any wonder that young people do not grow up respecting moral action when they see adults breaking the law with impunity because they are rich.
And what about moral conduct in relationships? How can our children grow up caring for others when parents put their homes under threat simply so they can have a quick lay? Is it any wonder that most young men grow up seeling sex out of a relationship without considering the happiness of the woman concerned. Is it any wonder that women then conduct themselves in relationships deceptively?
Societies cannot function without a moral basis to them. Traditionally