In the Discipline: You can Leave Your Hat On….

evertsonDear Outsiders–this week the blog will focus on the concept of “discipline.” I hope to explore this idea from several angles: discipline in the classroom, self-discipline within your chosen field of studies, the work of building expertise within a discipline and, finally, the idea of integrating disciplines (or being “interdisciplinary”).

Part ONE: “You Can Leave Your Hat on…”

I often “discipline” my writing students when they begin a paper with “Webster’s Defines…” (insert topic or idea here). This is possibly one of the lamest ways to start an essay–but, as the maxim goes: do as I say, not as a I do:

Google Defines “Discipline” like this:

discipline

So what do you think? Many of you reading this blog are educators, plan to be educators, or are currently in classrooms with all sorts of educators attempting to impose “discipline.” What IS our role in regards to discipline the classroom–particularly the ENGLISH classroom, which (I know it is hard to believe) is not always the most enthralling environment for some students. What frustrates you in your learning environment–either as a student or (potential) instructor? Texting okay? Snapchat? A noisy classroom is a sign of “learning in progress” we are often told–is this true, or an excuse for chaos? Those students chatting in the corner–disruptive? Open debate and discussion with no ground rules–should we raise hands? Pass around a conch?

And what about that guy over in the corner with the hat on? (here I would link to the titular Joe Cocker song, but it will bring up a clip from 9 1/2 Weeks, which introduces up all sorts of disciplinary problems for this blog, and perhaps disciplinary action against the blogger).

The reason why I bring up the HAT is that I know some teachers who simply cannot abide such cover in the classroom–and it struck a chord with me this weekend when I listened to an episode of This American Life that was devoted to the idea of classroom discipline. Here is a link to the episode:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/538/is-this-working

In the opening anecdote, a middle school student has been asked to remove his hat. He refuses. Several teachers then share their views on how the situation should be handled–from a sharp look to throwing a shoe, and everything in between. The episode explores many issues related to classroom discipline–from what seems to be a pretty clear connection between race and discipline, to comparing and contrasting “zero tolerance” approaches vs. more discuss/redirect approaches. What is the best way for a teacher to manage a classroom? Listen to the program to find out. (Spoiler alert–there is no right or wrong approach…).

Which brings us back to Webster’s, er, Google–and that dictionary definition. In viewing the concept as a verb, we discipline our students, our classmates–maybe ourselves–by training to obey rules or codes of behavior, usually with some sort of punishment. As a noun, we think of discipline as that  “practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” Whether an action or a thing, neither one of these sounds too pleasant. But what of that second definition: “a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education”? As English Majors and Minors, teachers and students, and general lovers of the written word–can we separate the two? Can we advance in our discipline without discipline? How much of our work within the discipline will involve “obeying” and “rules”? As a teacher or a student–how much do we enforce one to support the other?

“Tune in” for the next blog, which will explore this question further.

Dr. Evertson

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One thought on “In the Discipline: You can Leave Your Hat On….

  1. “Spoiler alert–there is no right or wrong approach…” Hmmm. Really? Wouldn’t capital punishment be a pretty clear case of a wrong approach to this pedagogical issue?

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