Discipline In The Classroom: Past And Present

Discipline in the Classroom: Past and Present
Throughout the history of classroom education, many different types of
disciplinary systems have been applied by teachers and other authority figures
in schools for the sole purpose of controlling student behaviour. These systems
include corporal punishment, psychological abuse or neglect, and assertive
discipline. Although two of these three topics are illegal at this time, they
were all widely used in schools across the country a short time ago.

Corporal punishment in general can be defined as the infliction of pain or
confinement as a penalty for an offense committed by a student. During the time
that corporal punishment was used by schools all over the United States and
Canada, parents did not have any say in school discipline. It was completely up
to the school authority figures on the type of punishment and the severity of
the punishment given to the student. The classroom teacher had the most say in
the matter since it was the teacher who usually administered the punishment to
the students. Because of this, some teachers (who especially liked the idea of
physical punishment) took advantage of the minor guidelines set by the principal
to protect students from excessive physical beatings. These guidelines varied
from school to school, but often included length, width and thickness of the
paddle or any other weapon used, the amount of times the student may be struck
by the weapon, and other minor details about other types of physical punishment.

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The list of weapons that were acceptable for teachers to use include long:
rubber hoses, leather straps and belts, sticks, rods, straight pins, hard
plastic baseball bats, and arrows. If at the time a teacher did not have
his/her weapon, they would often resort to punching, kicking, slapping and
shaking as ways to “get children’s attention”. Besides these common manoeuvres
of punishment, other and often more painful techniques were used by teachers.

Children in a class for the learning disabled claimed that their teacher, and
her aide banged their heads into their desks until some students were
unconscious, twisted their arms, and even tried strangulation. Another teacher
shook hot tabasco sauce in the mouths of the troublesome student and smeared it
in their faces. When parents found out about this specific act of cruelty, they
were outraged and took their case to state officials. The final verdict on this
case was that they saw nothing wrong with forcing kids to eat something they did
not like (Butterfield 1983). In the Christian schools, this kind of punishment
was related to the concept of original sin and the need to combat Satan by
beating the devil out of children. This same idea was used in other religions as
well, and children were beaten because of mental illness, or disease. One of the
most common arguments for corporal punishment is that its abolition would leave
teachers powerless to control students, especially those who might be a threat
to the teacher. Despite this, it has been proven that most corporal punishment
is inflicted against relatively defenceless students who are to small or weak to
strike back. Now that corporal punishment is illegal in almost all areas
including the Unites States and Canada, the only physical force that can be used
by teachers is in specific situations (with the unintention of inflicting pain)
such as to quell a disturbance, to protect oneself, property, or another person.

When a child is physically abused, absence from the abuser results in a
relatively quick healing of the physical wounds, but the emotional scars left by
the abuse last a lifetime. For this reason, many psychologists believe that
when a child is psychologically abused in schools, it will have a far worse
effect on children all throughout their lifetime, and quite often lead to stress
related diseases (ulcer, depression etc.) and may even lead to suicide. It is a
common mistake that a child can not be psychologically abused unless they are
physically beaten, or abused. This could not be farther from the truth.

Physical abuse accounts for only 20% of the total psychological damage left on
abused children. There were many things that were done to children by their
classroom teachers that had a far worse result on the student than any physical
abuse would ever have. The most common of these is constant humiliation. It
was not uncommon for teachers in the past to repeatedly criticize and laugh at a
particular students disability, or even creativity for the main reason of
punishing the student for a minor offense. Teacher’s did this by often reading
a student’s personal journal to the whole class, reading a students grades, and
most often apprehending and degrading the student about his or her appearance,
family, or school work in front of the whole class. This kind of humiliation is
difficult to take even as an adult, never mind a ten year old child. As a
result of this so called “punishment”, many students who were constantly
embarrassed and degraded over a long period of time suffered from psychological
abnormalities such as insomnia, nightmares, and even schizophrenia. Another
such psychological “punishment” used by teachers was seclusion. This is not to
be confused with the idea of suspension, or removal from class. Seclusion often
meant locking misbehaved children up in to small dark closets, or damp dark
basements for long periods of time. In one specific case, an eleven year old
child who slipped and fell while walking down the hall, was put into a small,
dark, wet almost cubby hole where janitorial supplies were kept. He ended up
spending an incredible twenty-eight hours in this closet before the teacher
remembered that he had locked him in with a pad lock the day before. The boy was
able to drink water because there was a running hose in the room. The parents of
the child were so scared and outraged that authorities were notified, but once
again it was decided that only the teachers can decide the severity of the

Assertive discipline is a very broad term, and can be achieved by using
many different techniques. The main idea of assertive discipline is that it
forces a student to do or carry out an unpleasant task as a punishment for a
wrongdoing. Assertive discipline is used in schools today, and does not include
any physical, or emotional harm that may damage a students ability to learn.

This does not mean that teachers can not apprehend and punish a student for
intolerable behaviour, but they can not do it by any means of inflicting
students with fear of possible abuse, or maltreatment. In this day and age,
teachers must watch carefully how they discipline their students because one
slip of the tongue, or hand for that matter may lead to criminal charges of
assault, or other related charges. Many teachers have now been stripped of
their right to teach just for a small comment to a student that may have been
interpreted the wrong way by the student. It is recommended now that teachers
always have a witness present while speaking privately, or a tape recorder to
avoid such devastating mishaps. Every public and secondary school teacher in
the world has their own discipline system. Some teachers are more lenient than
others, but each teacher should ensure that the consequences for a misbehaving
student is great enough to persuade students to think again before breaking any
rules. There are many different systems a teacher can use. Still being used
most of all is the traditional detention. In this system, if a student
misbehaves, he/she must spend a certain amount of their own free time in the
class after school or during lunch. The only problem with this is that there
are the few student who don’t care if they spend the rest of their life in the
class and may brake rules on purpose just to achieve this. This is often due to
unpleasant home or social situations. Another system that is still being widely
used is the “Write Out” punishment. This includes writing certain things out
1000 times, to copying a page of a dictionary for homework. This is an all
around unpleasant thing to do, and is probably one of the better systems used.

Throughout all the different discipline plans, each teacher must be positive but
stern while punishing students. Verbal apprehensions in private also may have a
positive effect on misbehaving students.

Of all the different types of discipline studied, Assertive discipline has
the most positive results on students. It has been proven to be better at
stopping students from unacceptable behaviour, as well as not damaging them
emotionally, or physically. Both Physical and emotional abuse have a very
negative effect on students at the time, and the emotional scars created last a
life time.

Canter, Lee and Marlene Canter. Assertive Discipline. Santa Monica, CA:
Lee Canter and Associates, 1992
Hyman, Irwin A. Reading Writing and the Hickory Stick. Toronto: Lexington
Books, 1990.

McManus, Mick. Troublesome Behaviour in the Classroom. New York: Nichols
Publishing, 1989.

“World Book Encyclopedia”. Toronto: World Book Inc, 1991 edition. pp.88-