If you’re going to talk education, then the most serious thing to address is lack of discipline. I don’t care what else you’re trying to do in a school, if you cannot keep the students orderly and safe you cannot teach them.

The Gallop Polls of Public Attitudes Toward Education
shows that since its inception in 1969 Americans say the biggest problem facing schools is lack of discipline or a combination of discipline related areas. Let me be specific: if you combine Lack of Discipline with Drug Use, and Fighting/Violence, this triumvirate takes the top spot 37 times in 40 years of asking, “What is the major problem facing schools?” It is not until 2005 that Lack of Financial Support wins out over the combination of disruption factors. This has only happened 3 times in the past 40 years, and all 3 of those years have been during our recent recession: 2005, 2007, & 2009. Otherwise- DISCIPLINE combined with its related issues takes the lead.

Gallop Poll Quality of Education Questions: Section 3 Question 1: What do you think are the biggest problems that the public schools of your community must deal with? Click the table for a link to the Gallop Polls.

Since schools lack discipline (the common belief) they  are more dangerous now than in years past.

Recent School Discipline Incidents Highlight Crazy New Approach (click image for link to story)

Media hype will try to tell you schools lack discipline and as a result are out of control, but this is not true. Might I direct your attention to our spasmodic, knee-jerk reaction called ZERO TOLERANCE? If anything, the Zero-Tolerance policy has tightened discipline in some systems to the effect that schools suspend 1st graders for kissing on the cheek on grounds of sexual harassment. Now, you might ask what caused us to go to such extremes. I can answer that very simply.



That’s it. School systems want to be able to say, in the event that there is a real instance of violence, there are set rules and we  follow them. Period. No questions. No exceptions. Has this has caused some schools to create unrealistic discipline procedures? Yes. However, it makes it easy to deal with the parents who try to find a way to excuse their child bringing a real gun or real knife to school. The kid did it. Now we suspend him/her. Done.

Click image for link to story stereotypical of media hype and school's unusual use of "Zero Tolerance"

You don’t think parents make those kinds of excuses in a very real and very serious situation? Then you are in denial.

Okay. So the public myth perpetuates that discipline is lacking in our schools and as a result the schools have become increasingly unsafe. The information provided by solid evidence is that schools are tightening down on discipline, in sometimes insanely counter-productive ways, while further data shows that serious student discipline issues are DECREASING.

14.5% in 1992 vs. 5% in 2008. That's called a DECREASE. Click the table for a link to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The perceived increase of school violence and lack of discipline or classroom control is really the issue here. And it’s a MYTH, folks. The US government has been tracking this

AERA Report considers Bullying to be a Violent Crime in its count (Click on table for a link to their full report)

erroneous impression since the 1950’s due to the resentment this fear creates towards its own schools. In fact, the American Education Research Association was asked to make a presentation on Capitol Hill to this end. Follow this link to read their suggestion which says, ultimately, “we should develop a long-term strategic plan for school safety” for the purpose of assuaging the American hypochondria that school-children are in more danger now than in any time past.

And speaking of Times Past…

Students were better behaved because of stricter discipline in “the good ol’ days.” (Which must be the case if Americans persistently rank Lack of Discipline as a major problem in schools today.)

In The Evolution of School Disturbance in America, Gordon A. Crews and M. Reid Counts move from present day school disruptions through the colonial day disruptions and state unequivocally, “In any historical examination of school disturbance and juvenile delinquency, two concepts become immediately apparent. First, juvenile delinquency has existed as long as juveniles have existed. Second, school disturbance and violence have existed for as long as schools have existed.”

It is stereotypical to look back at the way things are said to have been 50, 100, 500 years ago as see a prettier picture. Let me provide you some information on the reality of schools as we have forgotten them.

1) Go back to 400BC and let’s start with Socrates, who said, “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.

2) Is that too far back? How about 1300?
Keep in mind that students began University Studies at age 14, when I tell you Oxford had to ban students from keeping prostitutes in their rooms, along with bears and falcons. This was in addition to punishing students for assaulting faculty members. Follow this link if you’re interested in the full story.

Even Uncle Sam himself can't control a classroom

3) And in Colonial America? Crews & Counts aren’t the only ones with negative opinions. In a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Studies Association, 1984, John Petry’s research tells us “colonial schools were not pleasant places…and sometimes the children overcame the teachers physically.” This was such a problem that “in some instances, schools were closed because of the inability of teachers to remain in charge.”

4) An 1833 memoir includes details about a classroom revolt  where the teacher was tackled, taken outside, and flung down an icy hillside.

5) Continuing through the end of the nineteenth century, one needs only turn to classic literature to find more tales of appalling student behavior. Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about a group of 5 older boys who “came to thrash the teacher and break up the school. They boasted that no teacher could finish the winter term in that school, and no teacher ever had.” Fortunately, readers of Farmer Boy, will discover Almanzo’s father loans his whip to Mr. Corse who uses it to horse whip the big boys into submission and out of the schoolhouse.

6) Mark Twain’s tales of Tom Sawyer’s schoolhouse behavior are equally disruptive, and in The Great Brain,  John D. Fitzgerald recounts a story of the students creating an elaborate plot to set-up their teacher, Mr. Standish, as an alcoholic because he paddled a boy.

The point of fictional accounts of disruptive student behavior? Art imitates life. These authors wrote about it because it happened that way.

To summarize what we’ve covered–
Information: Consistent public perception is that schools lack discipline
Myth: Schools are more dangerous due to lack of discipline
Information: Empirical data proves schools are safer and more disciplined
Myth: School students used to be better behaved
Information: 2,500 years of records prove: “school disturbance and violence have existed for as long as schools have existed.” The Monitoring the Future study conducted annually by the University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research, gives data from 1976 showing 13.3% of seniors were sexually active at school; in 1996, that statistic drops to 11.7%. Don’t tell me my parents were better behaved.

So, what now?

Also from the AERA Report to Capitol Hill, April 8, 2010

1) The best thing you can do for our  schools (public or private) as parents, guardians, relatives, businesses, and a tax-paying public is to fight against the negative and false accusations. When someone tells you how bad students are now, how much better things used to be, give them the facts. Do NOT perpetuate the myths. There are a great many issues we need to resolve to provide a better school for our children, but the fact is they are safe at school. Safer than when not. This is why administrators and government officials don’t like to suspend or expel problematic students, keeping them at school keeps everyone safer. I know, it sounds backwards.

2) The best thing we can do as school systems, administrators, teachers, and politicians, is to suck up the cost and install video cameras everywhere in schools. You know, the way many child daycare facilities are now doing? Yep. Everywhere except inside the bathroom stalls. I’ll explain how to make the best use of this next, but rest assured despite all your complaints about privacy and student rights, video cameras (used the way I’m going to detail) will eradicate the lack-of-discipline myth, provide immediate parent feedback and involvement, and passively enforce better student behavior.

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3 Responses to Discipline

  1. SoNoNavyWife says:

    Very good points. I also like your graphs. Something to keep in mind is brain development. Neuroscience is showing that children and adolescent brains are vastly different from adults and that when we expect adult behaviors from children (ie. sitting still, working independently, being quiet) we are setting children up to fail. They aren’t wired the same way and while some children will be able to do these things, they are not able to do them for long periods of time; even the most well behaved “good student” will have issues.
    Children are animals, they really are, we all are. I went to the kiddo’s school for Parent’s Day and thought that I had gone to an insane asylum by accident. I thought it was just her school (she goes to a “bad” school-read a school where lower income children go) but after observing other schools and talking to other people I changed my opinion and came to realize that ALL middle schools are basically like this. And when I think back, even my own middle school (strict Catholic) was like this.
    As a parent I want to deplore the behavior of these children and take parents and staff to task but as a social scientist I have to realize that there are valid scientific reasons why this is way it is.
    All in all good post, I enjoyed it.

    • 80price says:

      I want to address brain development too. The hardest thing I’m facing here is forcing myself to address one thing at a time. It has taken me about 6 months to narrow my focus to the one main issue- American perception of lack of discipline. I hope to address child psychology in the next few blogs, and I appreciate you taking the time to point out that discipline must fit the child’s development level.

      I catch myself not wanting to read really long blogs, so I had to bite back so much in order to keep this short and focused.

  2. First of all I want to say excellent blog! I had a quick question that I’d like
    to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing.
    I have had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out.
    I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted
    just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions
    or hints? Appreciate it!

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