Discipline and Punishment

Posted: November 8, 2014 in Education

berry cartoon school discipline

There is a difference between discipline and punishment.

As a teacher (and as a parent too, so I hear), it’s important to understand the difference between those two terms. In an age of “helicopter parents” and “bulldozer parents,” correct consequences for behaviour is very important to the character-building of a student.

I want to focus on four areas of both terms: 1. purpose, 2. focus, 3. attitude, and 4. resulting emotion (focusonthefamily.com). Essentially, these four areas are different depending on the term being discussed (either discipline or punishment). The purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offence, whereas the purpose of discipline is to train for correction and maturity. The focus of punishment is on the past misdeeds, whereas the focus for discipline is on future correct acts. The attitude of punishment is hostility and frustration, whereas the attitude of discipline is love and concern. Finally, the resulting emotion from punishment is fear and guilt, whereas the resulting emotion from discipline is security and understanding.

It is quite clear which one has a positive effect and which one has a negative effect.

The word discipline is still often seen as negative. Personally, as long as the consequence correctly matches the misdeed, then discipline can help to mould and shape young minds who will, inevitably, make poor choices. Whether my students want to admit it or not, they crave discipline and structure. The human mind works on conditioning – this is why our immediate belief is that if I’m not receiving a consequence for an action, then the action must be permissible. This is dangerous. Students need to be shown a clear line between what is permissible/acceptable behaviour and what is not.

In my grade 10 course, we talk a lot about consequences (theme of the course is [in]justice). I give my students this example: Sam walks into class with his baseball hat on and I don’t bother telling him that it’s not part of our uniform. Tomorrow, Brad walks into class with his baseball hat on and I ask him to remove it because it’s not part of our school uniform. It’ll only take seconds for Brad to realize how unfair that is. Just yesterday he witnessed Sam not being told about his hat, so Brad was under the impression that it was acceptable to wear his – no one can blame him for that –> that’s how our brains work. Therefore, it is crucial to be consistent with our rules/structure in order to draw that line for students.

These days, the issue that is constantly discussed is how students are being coddled and protected from making mistakes and when they do, the “consequence” often doesn’t fit the misdeed – it’s not too harsh, it’s too soft.

Example: A student approaches a teacher and admits that they didn’t study for the test because they had sports the night before. The student bombs the test. What is the appropriate action on the part of the teacher? Are they to simply allow the student to accept that mark? Should the teacher allow the student to re-write it? Is there a third option? Certainly there are times when the why a student hasn’t studied is a bigger issue – in those situations, our professional judgement is required. However, shouldn’t the student in this case simply deal with the fact that their poor mark now reflects their lack of organization and preparation? Is the hope not that they will better prepare for the next test? I think so.

I was going to comment on the four types of parenting, but I’m not a parent and therefore don’t feel like it’s right to comment on that front. But I will say this, it’s okay for students to fall because they will learn to pick themselves back up. Punishment keeps them down, discipline helps them learn. Allow your kids to make mistakes and what’s even better, allow them to make mistakes early! Let’s fail those tests, fail those courses, lose in sports, and act inappropriate NOW! In high school is when your child will have teachers that care enough to build them up, as opposed to University or college or the workplace when very few people will be interested in their well-being enough to try and develop their character.

They say that the single raindrop never blames itself for the flood…maybe it should.


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