Discipline and Civility

When teachers and parents discipline with stress, they are deprived of joy in relationships. Discipline, however, can be an opportunity, rather than a problem. As the French sociologist Emile Durkheim observed, discipline provides the moral code that makes it possible for the small society of the classroom to function.

Discipline is a tool for teaching responsibility. The ultimate goal of discipline is self-discipline—the kind of self-control that underlies voluntary compliance with expected standards. This is the discipline that is a mark of mature character and that a civilized society expects of its citizens. John Goodlad, one of my former professors, said that the first public purpose of schooling is to develop civility in the young. Civility can only be achieved with self-discipline.

Discipline is derived from the Latin word disciplina, which means instruction. The original meaning of the word connotes the self-discipline necessary to master a task. This is the self-discipline of the competitive athlete, of the professional musician, of the master craftsman, of the expert in any field.

Another meaning of discipline refers to our nature. We may have little control over the thoughts that spring into our minds and little control over our initial emotions. But consciously or nonconsciously (habitually), we choose our responses to both our thoughts and our emotions. This is the discipline to which Durkheim referred that is so necessary for a civil community.

In order for a society or classroom to be civil, discipline needs to be fostered. For in-depth insight on how to accomplish this, please review the information on this web site and read the books Discipline Without Stress and Parenting Without Stress. All of these resources aid in making discipline and raising responsible children much easier.