In my previous post, I promised to write about The Sunday Times Festival of Education, which I attended last weekend. In the day I spent there I saw a multitude of speakers, speaking on a variety of different topics, but one persistent theme which I picked up on was the issue of discipline, or rather lack of it, in today’s society.
David Starkey was one of the first to pick up on it, commenting in typically blunt style that “children are awkward little buggers and the purpose of education is to socialise them.” This at least was the classical view of education, which according to Starkey has been phased out in favour of a much more pupil-driven approach to education. But the problem with this is that while the power relationship between teachers and children has been abolished, the power itself has not been, and instead it has been transferred into the hands of the most difficult pupils. Whatever your views on discipline, this cannot be a good thing as it just allows those difficult pupils to run wild in the classroom, affecting not only their own education but that of their fellow pupils.
Starkey’s solution was to re-instate a very simple principle: that actions have consequences. When you know that breaking a rule will lead to punishment, you will be more reluctant to break it. Of course there will always be those people who delight in breaking the rules regardless of the consequences, but they are the exception. For most people, it is only when they see that nothing will happen to them when they break the rules (or perhaps when the rules are particularly stupid – no suits of armour to be worn into the Houses of Parliament? I ask you?) that they lose their respect for them.
Listening to the discussion of discipline, which Starkey argued is especially important in schools due to the lack of stability in many homes, I couldn’t help but think of the enforcement of bedtimes in my own family. In my teenage years, I was sent to bed by 9.30 (a time which I naturally found horrendously early) pretty much every night until I turned 16. Being afraid of incurring the wrath of my father (not an easy thing to do but terrifying when it happened), I was always in bed at the appointed time – I then proceeded to read under the covers for the next hour or so, but my parents had never set any rules regarding that particular practice, so technically I wasn’t doing anything wrong, right? In contrast, my younger brother, who at fourteen could easily be nominated for Sullen Teenager of the Year, has no fear of anyone’s wrath and when told to go to bed will simply reply ‘No,” and go back to shooting undead beings on his Xbox. And as long as my parents continue to let him, he will continue to do so (yes, I may be slightly influenced by petty sibling rivalry, but I don’t feel that it makes my point any less valid).
So, with properly enforced consequences, I think that rules have an important role to play in teaching us respect. However, in some circumstances, they are definitely made to be broken!