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Is 'Discipline' Necessary for Learning?

Although learning can take place in classrooms that differ widely in atmosphere, I maintain that certain conditions are indispensable ("The Unintended Consequences of Taking a Hard Line on School Discipline," The New York Times, Oct. 2).  

The word "discipline" is typically used to describe the issue, but I prefer the word "rules."  That means students respect their teachers and the opinions of others, even if they disagree.  When I began my 28-year teaching career at the same high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, students would always address me as "Sir."  I tried to instill in them the importance of extending the same courtesy to their peers in their own language. Those were the best years of my career.

During that time, I never had to refer any student to the dean.  But when the district changed its policy for attendance, I immediately noticed a dramatic difference in how students spoke to me and to each other.  That translated into a lack of basic decorum and ultimately into less learning.  Perhaps it also accounted for the increased stress that teachers at my school began to report.  It led to an increase in suspensions and, in rare cases, in expulsions  ("What Do We Know About School Discipline Reform?" Education Next, Winter 2017).

I've always believed that it's the responsibility of parents to impress upon their children the importance of education.  That means making sure they have a good night's sleep, a nutritious breakfast, and a respectful attitude for school.  Even the best teachers are no match for what parents should be doing.  When I read about students bringing guns to school or mouthing off to teachers, I realize how fortunate I was to have taught during the halcyon era.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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