Why shouldn't we discipline children?

Students are not allowed to do what they want: Discipline, please! Salvation of honor for a term frowned upon in education

HANOVER. The term “discipline” is associated with the darkest chapter in the history of education and has since been frowned upon. It is also the elementary prerequisite for human coexistence - and indispensable if coexistence and learning are to be successful at school. Says an expert: Prof. em. Dr. Manfred Bönsch, one of the most renowned educationalists in Germany. His “Plea for Discipline”, which we are publishing excerpts here, is contained in full in the current issue of the “Grundschule” magazine.

The magazine can be ordered here and individual articles - including the full interview - can be downloaded (for a fee).

The word “discipline”, like so much else, comes from Latin (discipziplina, disciplinary) and means, on the one hand, a branch of science or a subject and, on the other hand, a behavior that is oriented towards order, conscious classification or subordination. Anyone who behaves in a disciplined manner is used to classification, is controlled and correct, and refuses to let go. There is also talk of inner discipline or it means keeping an external order that someone should or wants to keep. It is important that discipline is not an end in itself, but should serve higher values ​​and norms such as respect, friendliness, respect for the dignity of the other and the rules of living together, work, play, traffic and the corresponding use of language. Discipline is the prerequisite for pleasant conditions in almost all areas of life (e.g. family, school, job, sport; Böhm 1994).

Historical references

While the concept of discipline used to be undisputed - it naturally belonged to an authoritarian or even authoritarian pedagogy - it has been questioned more and more since the 1960s and 1970s and then almost became a taboo subject. In the course of reform-oriented pedagogy, anti-authoritarian pedagogy, even anti-pedagogy (von Braunmühl 1983; von Schönebeck 1982), discipline became a sign of subordination and oppression that should be repealed if possible. Education is always a kind of imperialism, there can only be friendship with children and young people! The child must be able to develop freely and then everything would be fine. At the beginning of the 21st century, Bueb's writing “In Praise of Discipline” (Bueb 2006) caused an outcry. There it was again, black pedagogy! To this day, the insecurities of those who have to do with upbringing have remained. You definitely don't want to be authoritarian, but without any rules everyday life can turn into a nightmare. What could / should be the right thing?

Negative and positive interpretation

Indeed, there is a negative notion of discipline. When subordination is rigidly enforced, even blind obedience is demanded, resistance arises. In very authoritarian regimes, in the military and in prisons, the exercise of power predominates. Those who resist it are severely punished, even tortured, in the worst case killed. Goffman's word of the total institution - he thinks, for example, of prisons, of psychiatry, also of school (school as a compulsory institution) - means a harsh and unquestionable submission scenario in which the individual loses his or her dignity, his ego, and becomes bare Becomes the object of violence. When a monopoly of power is overused, justified opposition arises from the oppressed. The individual wants a remnant of self-determination and dignity. In a milder form, there is also the phenomenon of overstretching disciplinary measures and thus excessive demands. Incidentally, the scope of freedom can also be overstretched. You can see that when children say in elementary school: Do we have to do what we want again today?

The primary school magazine

The text first appeared in the “Educating Together” issue of the “Grundschule” magazine. The magazine can be ordered here or individual articles can be downloaded (for a fee).

The work as a teacher involves significantly more tasks than just teaching. The overall package includes, for example, the cooperation with the legal guardians - not infrequently an enormous challenge. Nevertheless: A functioning cooperation between school and home is of crucial importance - not only for the learning success of the individual child, but also for successful teaching. In this booklet we therefore offer you theoretical and above all practical suggestions on how teachers can win parents over to your concerns. The impulses range from comprehensive concepts to tips suitable for everyday use - and they show that four aspects in particular are decisive for an educational partnership.

But then there is also a positive concept of discipline. Discipline is an elementary condition for human coexistence. For example, smooth traffic can only be maintained if road users adhere to the requirements of the road traffic regulations. Games are only fun when everyone obeys the rules. High performance is subject to very strict disciplines (talent makes up 50%, the other 50% is effort and training!). Clear regulations also provide security, reliability and relaxation. Nothing is worse than having to reinvent the world every day. Language without agreements for the language style and the choice of words quickly becomes a burden and can be hurtful. Interpersonal relationships that are not characterized by respect and consideration are a burden. A community without accepted regulations leads to chaotic ego trips. And learning without discipline doesn't get you very far. Achievement involves effort and work and that means exercising self-discipline.

Wherever there are enjoyable and enriching relationships, an individual can flourish. The relationship culture of a school creates well-being. Then you can grow with challenges, but everyone has to be able to adhere to the regulations and be able to discipline themselves. If rules, routines, rituals and territories create an external order, the possibly existing internal chaos can be lost. In this respect, agreements, arrangements, contracts are interpersonal and an acceptable disciplinary framework (regulations, structures, fixed processes).

The ways to discipline

So if the positive concept of discipline can be accepted because it is so important, the question arises of how it should be strived for in the face of often adverse conditions. In the family, as in any class, it is important to discuss and establish rules. If the children see them as meaningful or are even allowed to help formulate them, they are most likely to adhere to them. And even if you do not fully accept it in terms of content, you may see it as a compromise between different interests and follow it. Basically, the meaning of rules and agreements must be evident. Often there will be scope for taking up ideas and alternatives. But once an appointment - a contract, so to speak - has been made, it applies and must be followed by everyone. Rules can be changed, but as long as they apply, they must be adhered to. Consistency is an important element on the path to discipline. The communicative clarification of rules and regulations has the advantage that adults can see themselves as advocates of decided rules, the insistence on their observance no longer needs to be understood as arbitrariness and the exercise of power. The helpful framework of the school system and the regular daily routines stabilize the framework for action.

On the basis of this basic approach, one can then flexibly deal with the postulate “comply with obligations and rules”. Memories of agreements are often enough. But there are also situations in which the admonitions become more urgent. A group of indiscipline (aggressive insults, physical violence, theft) must be strictly forbidden.

The magazine can be ordered here and individual articles - including the full interview - can be downloaded (for a fee).

Prof. em. Dr. Manfred Bönsch taught school education at the University of Hanover. After graduating from high school, he first completed a PH degree and then worked as a teacher at primary and secondary schools for six years. He completed his second degree with the title Dr. phil. from. He took over a professorship at the PH Berlin, then at the University of Hanover. In the meantime, further appointments followed at several universities (including Wuppertal and Tübingen). His work focuses on heterogeneity and differentiation, concepts of internal differentiation, school social work, promotion of independent learning and competence-oriented teaching.

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