As soon as a boy loses interest in his studies he becomes a problem to his teacher. He must be busy. If he is not intent on his books he will be intent on mischief.
The prudent master recognizes this and does his best to keep his pupils’ minds concentrated on their work. With this intent he studies his boys and adapts himself to their needs.
He never imposes tasks beyond their mental and physical endurance. He aims at clear, ” snappy’ ‘ explanations.
His eye is ever alert for the first signs of restlessness, which he is quick to suppress by change of work or greater clearness, or renewed vigor of manner.
His recitations are always times of mild surprises. His pupils never know how or when they are to be called upon to recite. They never feel quite safe.
They are conscious that a call in the beginning of a lesson does not mean immunity for the rest of that lesson.
If there are six recitations they are liable to be called upon in all. They have no time to plot mischief, none even to indulge the luxury of a day-dream.
They must be alert the whole day. Such conditions safeguard boy and teacher alike.
Just here one may object that these principles are a bit too narrow to cover the whole problem at issue.
They concern either the personality of the teacher, or one only of his many relations to his pupils, thus leaving untouched many phases of the perplexing question.
Broader principles and a discussion of other relations would be welcome.
This necessitates a consideration of the nature of the discipline desirable in a class-room and on the play-ground.
All good discipline is self-discipline. It is a concern of each individual soul: something that the boy must impose upon himself.
It does not consist in coercion from without, but in a chastening from within.
The teacher, tradition and that intangible element called atmosphere, may offer occasion for it, may even promote and direct it, but they cannot make it.
For discipline is not a growth from without. It is a spirit within.
It begins in a realization of the difference between right and wrong, proceeds to an understanding of duty and obligation, goes a step further to the formation of high ideals, and finally rests in a fruitful determination to order all thoughts, words and actions in accordance with the high standards conceived and adopted as the norm to be followed.
Thus, discipline pertains both to the intellect and to the will. Enlightenment and strength are necessary for it.
The intellect must see the truth clearly and present it to the will as a good to be desired and adopted.
The teacher ‘s part in the process consists in skilful and attractive expositions of ideals and reasonable attempts to persuade his pupils to adopt and obey them. In all this he must be chary of coercion.
He is dealing, not with statues, which remain where they are put by force,but with rational, high-strung boys, who possess faculties which respond poorly enough to the lash and the harsh word.
Reason was never yet persuaded by either of these means, and as a rule, the will is cowed by them, only to rebound to former defects with redoubled energy, if not fury.
Discipline, be it remembered, is not oppression and suppression. It is the very opposite of these. It is expansion, accompanied by excision of the mean and low and base.
The classroom is not a prison in charge of a relentless warden nor yet a barracks in the keeping of a stern colonel.
It is rather a meeting place of a family circle, where brothers in spirit meet under the care of an experienced guide for help and encouragement in high effort. Its rules are as few and simple as possible.
Its spirit is as informal as is consistent with effective work. Though the rod and harsh words are as necessary and salutary in the school as in the home, yet they should be called into requisition judiciously, after all other means of training have failed.
Both are sometimes indispensable for the proper upbringing of boys, and, truth to tell, a vast army of our boys would profit by their use.
On the other hand, their abuse is a monstrous evil. Misused, they become instruments of oppression.