Challenging Cultural Attitudes About Discipline

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At a gathering of friends BCP (Before the COVID-19 Pandemic), a group of professionals in the education field talked about the importance of discipline in schools and how different schools maintain discipline. Everyone agreed that it was a hard battle, but we couldn’t reach a consensus on the best way to instill discipline in our schools.

A senior teacher commented on how things were better in the olden days when teachers could be ‘super strict.’ “Students were afraid of being hit or of the call home. It was quite effective in keeping order in our schools.”

Unfortunately, in Indian society, there is a common misconception that not hitting children is the same as mollycoddling them.

Some of us disagreed strongly, while others thought maybe it was time to bring back corporal punishment. Even though corporal punishment is banned in India, it is still widely used in many schools. People offer proverbs, codes from religious books, and personal narratives (My teacher hit me, and I turned out okay) to justify beating children.

In a country like India, we invest a lot of respect in figures of authority. Authority given the power to use physical punishment is never a good thing in any context. Unfortunately, in Indian society, there is a common misconception that not hitting children is the same as mollycoddling them.

Studies have shown that physical punishment does not deter children from negative behaviours, nor does it teach them appropriate behaviours. Children either rebel outright, or they learn not to get caught.

When we demand discipline from students, they do not see what they gain from following rules or exhibiting self-control. The adults must help children understand from a young age that we expect them to follow rules because society functions smoothly when everyone follows the rules and not because it makes adults’ lives easier

Children must hear us acknowledge that no one can follow rules all the time, and mistakes do happen. These mistakes are part of the learning process.

A strong parent-school partnership is necessary to guide children through this learning process. Parents and teachers must accept that students’ learning, attention, and emotional needs play a role in developing self-control. 

It sounds like a cultural shift in our attitudes towards discipline in schools, and self-control. Are we Indians ready to accept the challenge?

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