Thursday, January 13, 2011

Modern Examples of School Discipline

A modern example of school discipline in North America and Western Europe relies upon the idea of an assertive teacher who is prepared to impose their will upon a class. Positive reinforcement is balanced with immediate and fair punishment for misbehavior and firm, clear boundaries define what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Teachers are expected to respect their students, and sarcasm and attempts to humiliate pupils are seen as falling outside of what constitutes reasonable discipline.
Whilst this is the consensus viewpoint amongst the majority of academics, some teachers and parents advocate a more assertive and confrontational style of discipline. Such individuals claim that many problems with modern schooling stem from the weakness in school discipline and if teachers exercised firm control over the classroom they would be able to teach more efficiently. This viewpoint is supported by the educational attainment of countries -- in East Asia for instance -- that combine strict discipline with high standards of education.
It's not clear, however that this stereotypical view reflects the reality of East Asian classrooms or that the educational goals in these countries are commensurable with those in Western countries. In Japan, for example, although average attainment on standardized tests may exceed those in Western countries, classroom discipline and behavior is highly problematic. Although, officially, schools have extremely rigid codes of behavior, in practice many teachers find the students unmanageable and do not enforce discipline at all, while others impose brutal standards of discipline, backed up with beatings and whippings.
Remembering that typical class sizes are 40 to 50 students, maintaining classroom order under these conditions can take so much effort that there is simply no time for learning, so it is common for teachers to simply ignore disruptive students and concentrate their attention on motivated students. The result of this is that motivated students, who must pass extremely difficult university entrance exams, receive disproportionate resources, while the rest of the students are allowed, perhaps expected to, fail. Given that perceptions of school quality are heavily weighted towards the proportion of students passing university entrance exams, this approach diverts resources to where they are most efficient from the perspective of administrators.
The problem, however, is that many students graduate high-school with very unrealistic expectations and little in the way of useful skills, leaving it up to employers or vocational colleges to teach the basic social expectations needed for employment or higher education. Frequent complaints of teachers at the university and college level are that students lack the concept of punctuality, consider that attendance to class is sufficient for a passing grade so use class time to catch up on sleep or email, and lack the self-discipline and motivation needed for effective study. Students frequently refuse to complete homework or class work, or even bring books and paper to class, on the assumption that high-school standards of behavior will be accepted and that an automatic pass grade will be awarded provided they do not actively disrupt classes. University administrators frequently pressure teachers to issue passing grades despite poor achievement due to constraints imposed by the Ministry of Education in relation to funding.


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