Why then? What now?

Friendships, extra-curricular activities, and field trips are all amazing parts of the school experience. Ask anyone to recall their most memorable moments across the years, and they usually make mention of one or all of the above. Reflecting on my own time in the classroom these memories are the remnants of many happy times if I ignore the minor conflicts, the bullying, or being scolded/hit/screamed at by teachers.

Perhaps, it’s a function of time, appreciation, and experience, but the good does outweigh the residual frustration. This is not the case for all learners. There are some who barely survived their educations to consider alongside those who have gone on to thrive beyond them. The emotional wounds remain unhealed.

Imagine, being set apart from your friends, losing your privilege to participate in extra-curriculars, or frequent trips to see the principal instead? Imagine being hit for not having your homework completed, for misbehaving, or for being different?

It reminds me of George Orwell’s striking essay Such, such were the Joys. This text reveals as much about education as do the happier parts I mentioned in my opening paragraph. Orwell’s work centred on a British boarding school in the past, complete with constant humiliation and corporal punishment. It is descriptive and dark reminder that education was not be perfect in the “good old days”. Fast forward, it is still not perfect, but it is now getting a G for initiative.

Here’s a more recent story that did not involve the extremes outlined by Orwell;

I was taking part in some Math PD at a sister school in 2015. During lunch break, I wandered into the office and happened upon a student who was sitting at a desk writing lines. When I first saw him, he was trying the multiple pencil method where you try to hold as many pencils as possible to write as many lines at the same time. FLASHBACK to 1978 and it’s me at that desk writing line after line. I suggested he try writing the first word all the way down the page and then the second and so on. He laughed. I laughed, but on the inside I wondered what was being accomplished here?

So, I asked. “What are you in for?” The student replied, “I wasn’t listening during lunch.” I knew that, because it was all across his paper, but thought it good to ask anyway. “How many I asked?” “Two pages,” he replied “both sides.” Ouch. I wished him luck and returned to my session a bit confounded by it all.

During that brief interaction I felt sorry for this student. Somewhere in that building was someone who felt that writing lines was the answer. Yes, he had made a poor choice by disrespecting the lunch supervisor, and by not listening, but I sided with this student. It was as if someone was trying to extinguish a flame that was trying to burn brightly in this child through the exercise of power and authority. That was what troubled me. Was the act of writing lines really going to accomplish something monumental or was it merely a controlled burn?

What would you have done with this articulate, bright eyed student wearing out pencils in a pointless exercise? How could this be turned around so all parties would be satisfied and the pencils spared? Was I wrong to empathise with this kid? After our conversation, I didn’t think so.

Whether it’s 2 or 200 years ago, there are still many issues around discipline in our schools. Isn’t it time to approach it from a different angle?

In my next post I will share about Discipline being a noun and verb.  Please share and comment. Thanks for reading. It keeps me going knowing you’re out there along the journey of education. Will

Updated: October 8, 2017 — 5:30 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

Grade 5 lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, divergent, and modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 90 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/

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