Ancora Imparo - I am still learning

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Discipline and Child-Directed Learning

This week's college discussion board was over how our educational philsophy affects our disciplinary procedures. Very interesting.

Discipline is an area of huge concern to teachers and school administrators. Discuss your personal educational philosophy and how it would influence discipline in the school. Choose an educational philosophy different from your own and discuss how that philosophy would approach discipline differently.

I am a huge advocate of child-directed learning. My educational philosphy most certainly does affect discipline - in a positive way! Child-directed learning encourages students to take ownership of and responsibility for their behavior. They not only learn what is and is not appropriate behavior but also why it is or is not appropriate. They learn empathy for others. They learn to treat others as they like to be treated. In my childcare (which is run a lot like a progressive school), we begin our time together by setting rules that we should abide by. The students set the rules, and I also think of a few. We write them down to remember them. I also believe it is so important that children be able to apply what they have learned. In the same respect, it is also important that children be able to know why right is right and wrong is wrong. If my four-year old son hits another child, I have the choice of hitting him back (spanking him), which is really defeating the purpose and teaching him it's really okay to hit others; or I have the choice of asking him how he would like to be hit. I can say I have never had a child say (s)he likes to be hit. I then ask my son, "Why would you want to hit someone else, then? How do you think (s)he felt?" This approach makes the child think about why it is wrong to hurt someone else and results in an apology. Another effective method is having the child that has been hurt explain to the child who caused the hurt how (s)he felt.

If, for some reason, the behavior continues, I give the child a warning that if it does not stop, there will be a consequence for his/her action. We have already discussed why the behavior is inappropriate. If the inappropriate behavior involves another object such as a toy, the toy will be given a "time out." If the child is just displaying aggressive or argumentative behavior, I will bring the child to sit down with me for a few minutes to "cool off." As a last resort, I do use a time out given to the child. It usually does not get to the time-out stage.

I do not feel that a student in a school should be given a "zero" or have recess taken away. These methods simply make children feel as though they are not important. The methods listed above do work even with older children. The Love and Logic books explain in detail how giving children some control at younger ages results in individuals that are ready to be responsible when they have more control as young adults.

Many are critical of child-directed methods. I can only hope that time will prove these methods. I also was skeptical for many, many years of progressive methods. Then I discovered with my own sons how well they work. I also use child-directed, progressive methods of education and discipline with the children in my childcare. These children range in age from two to eight. I believe the reason more educators and parents do not use child-directed methods is they are not a quick fix. A child who is learning from rote memorization is going to show "progress" more quickly than a child who is allowed to learn and explore and discover. I must ask, though, is rote memorization truly progress? The idea that if children progress at their own pace, in their own way, that their learning cannot be measured is prevalent. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Measuring success simply requires more ingenuity on the part of the educator. Instead of simply being able to give a letter grade, measuring one student against another; the educator must truly evaluate the student's progress - and here's the key - based upon that individual. Not everyone learns at the same pace. Using child-directed methods, the students are not in competition against one another. They are allowed to learn in ways that work best for them, at their own pace. They are only in competition with themselves - or in competition with no one, depending upon each student's personality. Learning is a natural process.

The same is true with child-directed, low-control to mid-control methods of disicipline. Every child is different in learning styles and in temperament. This is why teaching empathy is so important. Again, it is not a quick fix. Spanking a child is going to get much quicker results than gentle discipline. But which is the most effective in the long run - a child who is scared to misbehave because of the consequences or a child who does not want to misbehave and hurt another? I believe the latter is the most effective, which is exactly why the greatest commands of all are to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39).

Lastly, something that I plan to begin encorporating into my son's homeschooling days and the childcare lessons is the use of critical thinking questions. I recently received a catalog from The Critical Thinking Company and have found some of their methods to be intriguing. One that I definitely want to order and use would be appropropriate for a circle time. The students are given questions such as "What do you think would be the most appropriate response to a neighbor kid who is mean to you?" Would you act the same way, ignore the problem, or treat that neighbor kid in a kind way? What do you think would happen (depends upon the response)? (no author given, 2009, pg. 22). I also believe that incorporating specific Biblical teaching is important with excercises such as this. This type of exercise teaches much more than rote memorization of specific Verses could.

A philosophy that is opposite of mine is traditional, essential/perennial education. Traditional education depends upon rote memorization of facts and dates and upon drilling the students. I was in a traditional setting from second grade (when I began attending a private, Christian school) through my highschool graduation (from homeschoooling). I know first-hand what traditional education is like. And it worked for me. I am a traditional learner. Not all children are. Traditional education appears to the student to be based upon following rules for the sake of making new rules. Little emphasis is placed upon why the rules are important. Rules are made by those in authority with little to no student input. Enforcement of rules is also not child-friendly. I remember several of the students that I went to school with in the Christian school I attended for three years being disciplined by a teacher with a metal yardstick. One was a little girl was was legally deaf and partially blind. Another was a boy who ended up being expelled from the school for beating up a classmate at recess. Another was girl who would have been in special education had she been in the public school system. Instead the teachers at the private school put her in a box made of partitions where she spent the majority of her days.

What is meant by the term "power distance dimension" in Chapter 15 of Foundations of Christian Education (Braley et al.)? Have you seen it demonstrated in a classroom?

The "power distance demension" refers to the acceptance that power is distributed unequally. In small power distance cultures, respect for all is valued. In large power distance cultures, respect is based upon status and age (Braley, Layman, White, 2003, pgs. 260-261). I definitely have seen a large power distance dimension displayed in the classroom (and in the workplace). I believe this is what postmodern educational philosophers refer to as the hidden curriculum. In some classrooms, those students who get good grades, whose parents are friends with school administrators and/or teachers, who are athletes, who have more money, the list could go on - are more respected than those who do not fall into those categories. This is certainly not appropriate. Educators should respect all students equally, as human beings in their classrooms.


Braley, J., Layman, J., and White, R. (2003). Foundations of Christian School Education. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Purposeful Design Publications.

No Author Given (2009). Critical Thinking in Core Subject Areas 2009 Parent Catalog Grades PreK-12+.

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