The Dreaded “D” Word

The Dreaded “D” Word

Lent 33


Editorial Note:  Someone asked why I would begin a perfectly good week with a discussion about discipline.  Well, as it turns out, due to weather, scheduling snafus I can attribute to the time change in the United States regarding Daylight Savings Time, and the inevitable hiccups that occur when we connect cyberspace with realistic space, you got an extra day without the discipline discussion.  Like everything in life, however, discipline has caught up with us.


When we think of discipline, we usually think about punishment.  What we should be thinking is academics.  Lent 19, two weeks ago, we discussed evangelism of self and how we presented ourselves and advocated for ourselves to others.  I remarked on the general reaction whenever anyone used the word evangelism and how perhaps we should replace it with “habit” or “presence”.


Discipline is another of those words that draws an immediate and strong response, one that is usually negative.  The word originates from the Latin “discipulus”.  The Latin word referred to objects of knowledge and/or instruction and could be either actual objects or elements that assisted instruction such as teachers.    Our usual response to the word and definition that involves punishment and that comes from the French derivative of the original Latin “descepline”, which defined the term as physical punishment used to aid in teaching.


Discipline and punishment became connected because someone was not a good student.  That may seem like the punchline of a joke but it really isn’t. Because students needed some sort of organization in their studies and later on, some type of behavior motivation to complete said studies, the two worlds of academia and punishment became one in defining the word discipline.


Bertrand Russell wrote an interesting treatise on education and punishment and approached the two in a manner befitting our purpose in growing a better self.  Russell wrote: “Any serious educational theory must consist of two parts: a conception of the ends of life, and a science of psychological dynamics, i.e. of the laws of mental change. … The conception which I should substitute as the purpose of education is civilization, a term which, as I mean it, has a definition which is partly individual, partly social. It consists, in the individual, of both intellectual and moral qualities: intellectually, a certain minimum of general knowledge, technical skill in one’s own profession, and a habit of forming opinions on evidence; morally, of impartiality, kindliness, and a modicum of self-control. I should add a quality which is neither moral nor intellectual, but perhaps physiological: zest and joy of life. In communities, civilization demands respect for law, justice as between man and man, purposes not involving permanent injury to any section of the human race, and intelligent adaptation of means to ends. If these are to be the purpose of education, it is a question for the science of psychology to consider what can be done towards realizing them, and, in particular, what degree of freedom is likely to prove most effective.


Russell felt we should substitute the idea of education as purely academic and make it reality.  Russell proposed we think as education as living, the only way and true meaning of the word civilization.  After all, the purpose of education is for the betterment of civilization and its continuance, Russell felt.


Bertrand Russell has strong views on the organization or discipline of education.  “On the question of freedom in education there are at present three main schools of thought, deriving partly from differences as to ends and partly from differences in psychological theory. There are those who say that children should be completely free, however bad they may be; there are those who say they should be completely subject to authority, however good they may be; and there are those who say they should be free, but in spite of freedom they should be always good. This last party is larger than it has any logical right to be; children, like adults, will not all be virtuous if they are all free. The belief that liberty will ensure moral perfection is a relic of Rousseauism, and would not survive a study of animals and babies. Those who hold this belief think that education should have no positive purpose, but should merely offer an environment suitable for spontaneous development. I cannot agree with this school, which seems to me too individualistic, and unduly indifferent to the importance of knowledge. We live in communities which require co-operation, and it would be utopian to expect all the necessary co-operation to result from spontaneous impulse. The existence of a large population on a limited area is only possible owing to science and technique; education must, therefore, hand on the necessary minimum of these. The educators who allow most freedom are men whose success depends upon a degree of benevolence, self-control, and trained intelligence which can hardly be generated where every impulse is left unchecked; their merits, therefore, are not likely to be perpetuated if their methods are undiluted. Education, viewed from a social standpoint, must be something more positive than a mere opportunity for growth. It must, of course, provide this, but it must also provide a mental and moral equipment which children cannot acquire entirely for themselves.”


That reads like quite a lot and it is but I implore you to please take the time to go back through it and make up your own opinion.  There are some things in that paragraph I like and others I do not agree with at all.  Two things stand out to me:  Russell’s disbelief in spontaneous goodness and a strict adherence or rules for life.


I believe in organization and really like organizing things.  Do not assume this means my house is spotless.  It is clean but very cluttered and I make very few apologies for that.  Life is much more than simply putting things in their place.  For me life is about using what we have learned and being open to learning more.  Russell would probably disregard that discipline or school of thought.


I also believe the purpose of learning and living is to develop those spontaneous good thoughts and actions which Russell does not think possible or beneficial.  “We live in communities which require co-operation, and it would be utopian to expect all the necessary co-operation to result from spontaneous impulse. The existence of a large population on a limited area is only possible owing to science and technique.”  I respectfully disagree with Russell on this.  Yes we are able to occupy large numbers of people within a confined space due to advancements made with science and technology but the application of that science and technology must include benevolent deeds which are instigated by benevolent thoughts and feelings.  When we forego such, we lose our humanity.


Discipline is necessary because it actually defines us.  When seeing a very large person unknown to them, many people assume the person is lazy.  This is a horrible first assumption but it is the first impression many have.  Perhaps the person is not physically active but there could be good reasons for this.  Very few of us are intelligently active.  Reread that last sentence please.  Most of us either are haphazard in our physical activity or obsessive.


The disciplines we develop give our life meaning and definition.  We cannot discuss our garden of self and soul without discussing discipline.  Our week will not, hopefully, be morose, though.  Discipline can be fun and entertaining.  It also will mean a cleansing of the soul, so to speak, if I am to continue to be honest with you.


So relax and be open to leaning and perhaps developing a new pleasant discipline.  Some believe one of the first and great disciplinarians was Plato.  I will let him have today’s last word:  “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”



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