Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Hero's Mother

A Suggestion for Encouraging Self-discipline

Not exactly eavesdropping, but I heard two fathers of primary school pupils talking and comparing notes regarding their children’s responses to the lockdown lessons. Both were agreeing that, though it would currently make little difference to their child’s day, they were glad that the summer holidays had started, for they could legitimately back-off from trying to force their kids to do some school work; a pressure whose friction had caused much heat, but little light, apparently. And no school work done anyway! What was missing was discipline, or rather self-discipline. And this got me thinking about it, and the distinction between imposed and composed discipline.  

We all know that discipline is life changing, Genghis Khan showed us that, and left a convenient quote in English to that effect. But how to obtain it in school? Genghis, for all his merits, is perhaps not the best example for pupils in this weak, piping time of peace.

If one has knowledge of schools across cultures and socio-economic class, it is obvious that the biggest factor in success is pupil discipline. This is a simple and eternal truth that stands alone. Where there is strict discipline the children have a chance to learn. Where there is poor discipline, even the best of teachers still struggle and the school becomes a day asylum – and sometimes even feeling like a day lunatic asylum! Our modern schools have lost sight of the truth that discipline is the mother of the hero and heroine, and not their enemy!

As I recall in the olden days, the discipline directly imposed by the teacher in the form of the held back (or not) punishing hand worked to a certain extent.‘Certain extent’ here referencing Ian. Nowadays, though, the coin has flipped and this kind of discipline is an extinct force in the pupil’s school day, although very potent in the teacher’s. The threat of this; sometimes from pupils, often from parents in the form of Sauron-like threats of sacking, Tweet mobs or an actual kicking – see Sandwood Primary, Glasgow - and always from school management. But I digress.

Returning to our task, we ask; if discipline cannot be imposed externally anymore, how can we encourage its development internally? This led me to Disciplina, the goddess worshipped by Roman soldiers. They knew that their success in arms came from their devotion to her, and her to them. Notwithstanding the ‘encouragement’ provided by the centurion’s vine staff, as the legionaries saw it, Disciplina came to them on proper request and gave them self-discipline. They were receivers of a goddess’s grace and favour – and how could that not energise?  

 The circularity of this is psychological genius at work; the humble request, symbolised by your presence at the shrine, in which you admit your weakness, results in the receipt of a gift with which you find in your own mind the means to make the discipline you need to complete your task. No-one is making you do something by threat. The supplicant has recognised within themselves the need for the strength of discipline. They then believe themselves receivers of this numinous power. The power becomes real with the belief.

Centurion Lucius Annaeus recommends a little corner shrine in each class to be used as required by lacking pupils. It need not be in class, of course. The pupils mentioned at the start of this reverie can set up the same in their bedroom. And prove to themselves that the legionaries were right in believing that Disciplina whips the arse of Indulgentia; and not in a nice way! I’m mention this should I see their fathers again, although clearly I’ll have to think about how to phrase this suggestion, as discipline and whips might give the wrong impression.

Those few pupils from Christian family backgrounds are spoiled for choice in selecting a saint as exemplar and conduit for received self-discipline. As a bookish guy, I’m picking Thomas; 8 million words in the Summa written without a word processor or coffee. He didn’t even know how to work an i phone. LOL.

Perhaps it is obvious that I’m being somewhat playful, but I’m also being somewhat serious. It’s not crazier (if indeed, one wishes to consider it so) than almost every new idea incorporated into the primary curriculum and pedagogic practice in the last generation. And it wouldn’t cost anything - although this recommends against it!.

Perhaps, as a female, Disciplina, is just waiting on us asking her out, so to speak.

What think ye?

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