By Dr Philip SA Cummins
One of the real challenges that we face in our understanding of behaviour management in schools is the blurring of the line between the concepts of discipline and punishment.
Do we find ourselves saying things like the following without really understanding what they mean?
“If only kids today were more disciplined!”
“That kid needs disciplining!”
“Our best students are characterised by strong self-discipline.”
Distinguishing discipline from punishment
Discipline usually involves the application of skill, attitude and delayed gratification towards an intended outcome. It should serve as an incentive for appropriate behaviour, as it acts as its own reward. Classic theory has us begin with the imposition of norms of discipline by an authoritative and knowledgeable coach or teacher until such time as we have learned to behave in a desired fashion and acquired our own self-discipline to continue these habits of our own volition. Ultimately, we strive to coalesce individual efforts into the collective discipline that a team or group exhibits.
Punishment, however, is the consequence of last resort for most of us. It should be the imposition of a negative sanction as a consequence for what is seen as negative behaviour. We would like to think that punishment, when imposed, has at its heart a rehabilitative effect. By asking students to reflect on cause and effect, we seek to shape and correct their behaviour. In addition, we can also intend punishment to have a moral imperative – poor behaviour merits an indication that we disapprove of it and will not condone its continuation. In this sense, punishment can also be intended to serve as an example to others.
So why does punishment fail so often?…’