By ADRIAN GIBSON
“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” - Jim Rohn.
THE lack of discipline is the most serious affliction plaguing the Bahamas’ educational system. Over the years, the combination of naughty children, disorderly parents, administrative inertia and bureaucratic red tape has led to systemic failures and contributed to the high numbers of school leavers who are functionally illiterate and innumerate.
Educational theorist F H Jones, in “The Gentle Art of Classroom Discipline” (1979), addressed classroom management and offers guidelines for teacher use when dealing with disruptions, incentives and developing better instructional practices. Jones states that discipline, when “most simply stated, is the business of enforcing simple classroom rules that facilitate learning and minimise disruption.” Undeniably, most educators and educational theorists would concur with the notion that, when penalising youngsters in instructive settings, the old adage that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” aptly applies, particularly before such behaviour could become ingrained and in future lead to a life of criminality or loss of life.
Discipline should consist of the implementation of preventative disciplinary practices and remediation. In fact, a discipline policy, with input from all stakeholders - including students - must be developed and take account of school goals, enforceable rules, rewards and sanctions/consequences. Establishing appropriate student behaviour at school and school-sponsored events will undoubtedly reduce chaotic incidences and dangers in school environments, insubordination and truancy, and also rein in the rate of dropouts.
Though also an attorney today, I remain an educator and believe that a teacher’s response to misbehaviour must be unambiguous and consistent. Teachers must establish high behavioural expectations, consistently articulate what has been demanded of students and monitor their compliance. Indeed, studies show that stimulating set work and smooth-flowing, thought-provoking lessons reduce classroom disruption and indiscipline, leading to greater time-on-task performances, more academic learning time and student achievement.
I have long held the belief, as is espoused by Anita Woolfolk in her seminal work, “Educational Psychology”, that the assertive disciplinary strategy can be appositely applied in Bahamian classroom settings.
The assertive discipline strategy insists on educators maintaining eye contact with their pupils and individually addressing each student by name, advocates that an educator remains calm, firm and confident, advises teachers to abstain from debating established rewards and the fairness of rules with students and also urges teachers to establish the expectancy of change, not resorting to making promises or apologies. Developed by Lee and Marlene Canter in 1976, the assertive discipline strategy incorporates students into the disciplinary process (initially assisting in the creation of rules, rewards and consequences), whilst fostering classroom management and learning as well as heightening the self-concept of both teachers and students.
Moreover, school administrators should be more visible in hallways, yards and classrooms, going beyond the routine appearances at general assemblies whilst being in a position to promptly deal with serious infractions. Furthermore, parents must be encouraged to co-operate with schools through home-based reinforcement - ie loss of privileges (TV time, snacks, early bedtime, etc) - for misbehaviour at school.
There should be no wonder why well-disciplined schools, such as those on Long Island (my illustrious home island) and other Family Islands, produce the best results. In Long Island, parents are far more involved in their children’s school lives, and consequences such as detention, in-school suspension, on-campus garbage collection, administration-initiated corporal punishment, verbal reprimands etc, are justly meted out when school rules are contravened.
The Ministry of Education should implement classroom management workshops for teachers, which should also highlight non-violent approaches to student indiscipline and conflict resolution. Moreover, attempting to limit overcrowding in schools already beyond their structural capacity, heightening the security presence and increasing the number of school-based counsellors, utilising metal detectors and a comprehensive revision and distribution of the Safe School manual could lead to a reduction in school violence and indiscipline.
There is a need for a peace education programme in Bahamian schools, teaching students the alternatives to violence.
Indeed, there is a need for the institution of a national character education programme on school campuses, which, in future, is likely to produce dutiful citizens. Frankly, community service should also become a mandatory requirement for high school/college graduation and will no doubt contribute to the development of model citizens.
If no long term educational plan and no forthright attainment of a balance in school affairs and education is arrived at, then truancy, unruliness, a lackadaisical attitude, failing grades and the promotion and graduation of dumb school leavers will continue to afflict our society and the educational system.
There is also a need for more male role models in the classroom or among school administrators.
I am always irked by the throngs of otherwise unsupportive parents who facilitate and sponsor their under-achieving children in spendthrift, materialistic exhibitions - the prom. If these parents had expressed the same fervour by ensuring that their child completed assignments, were disciplined, studied and excelled beyond the minimum GPA requirements as they do with these pretentious prom-night displays, the national average would be one that all Bahamians could proudly proclaim.
Beyond the internal fine-tuning and curriculum reforms, one would argue that irresponsible parents are the root cause of the social turmoil and educational failures we now face.
There are countless parents who have been egregiously negligent, as they fail to review their children’s books, assist with assignments or express even the slightest inkling of interest in their educational advancement, outside of happily dropping them to schools for several hours.
I have discovered that numerous students have unrestricted, uninterrupted access to the internet, television, music and can do whatever they desire. When some parents fail to teach their children morals and values, dodge teachers and duck PTA meetings, is there any wonder why many students are sexually promiscuous, speak/act offensively, are frequently found in nightclubs and neighbourhood bars and are miserably failing?
In helping to remedy the various crises the educational system now faces, parents must become better disciplinarians and, in co-operation with teachers, monitor and consistently encourage their children to succeed. It is high time parents take an authoritative stance and set high standards for their children. Unfortunately, today we live in a society where children and their parents jointly assault teachers and other students.
There must be a greater effort to encourage a parent seminar, highlighting parental involvement in the educational process.
In order to restore order to the classrooms of many public schools, teachers must be further empowered to deal with undisciplined children, possibly through the granting of discretionary powers of suspension and even expulsion.
I’ve always been taught, and still hold the belief, that “to spare the rod, you spoil the child.” It really does take a village to raise a child.