Fred Hanko, Sr.

The Principles of Discipline

One of the most important goals of Protestant Reformed education ought to be the teaching of obedience. Obedience to God and the instruction of His Word is an outstanding characteristic of Christians. Without Christian obedience the other goals of Christian education may be impossible of attainment. I believe, further, that threats to the concept of obedience are some of the greatest threats to our schools today. We try to teach our children obedience through our discipline.

Obedience consists of several elements. It is recognition of the authority of God and of His Word. It is the submission of the child of God to that authority. In submission to that authority he desires to do what God wants him to do. He desires this because he loves God and wants to do those things that will please Him. He finds joy in obedience. Out of his love for God he willingly obeys those whom God has placed in positions of authority over him: parents, teachers, employers, government.

It is essential for the Christian teacher to remember from the beginning that discipline must proceed from love. Although the covenant child is yet a child and in need of discipline, he is also a fellow member of the household of Christ and must be disciplined in love. Because we love the covenant child we are deeply concerned with his spiritual welfare and therefore feel compelled to direct him to the way of eternal happiness. "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell,"

Encouraged by the world, many Christian parents seem to believe that punishment of the child is evidence of dislike. Children would love to encourage this idea. Many a child has averted punishment by saying, "You don't like me. That's why you treat me this way." This often makes parents and teachers feel guilty because we must confess that very often our discipline does not give evidence of love for the child. We have to work at demonstrating our love through discipline.

I think that one of the reasons that discipline is breaking down in many schools today, public and private, is that the concept of total depravity is denied. Total depravity is the doctrine that every person is both unable and unwilling to do anything that is right in the sight of God. Only by the operation of the spirit in the heart of the person is he made both able and willing to live in a way that is right. Even the person who is regenerated needs constantly to fight against sin in his nature and often fails. We therefore expect the children of the covenant to sin, but we expect that, because they are children of the covenant, they can also experience true repentance and will respond to discipline.

Because we believe in total depravity we do not expect the child to be naturally good. "Expect them to obey and they will," does not work in real life. We also reject the current desire to blame all of the child's difficulties upon some "disease." Be aware, of course that there are very real "diseases" that can cause a child to be difficult to control or to be apparently disobedient. We always have to be alert to the possibility that a child's problems have an organic cause. Nevertheless, only those who assume that children are born good will explain unacceptable behavior as the result of disease. It makes us feel good to call sin a disease and to put a scientific label on it because then we can treat it with pill and medicines and therapy, and we don't have to deal with it as sin, which is much more difficult and requires confession and repentance.

Further, if we believe in total depravity, we will not look for the root causes of misbehavior in defective environment or improper nurturing by the parents but will realize that these may be factors that, under the providence of God, may promote sinful behavior; nevertheless, that each person is responsible before God for his own actions. The ultimate cause of sinful behavior of the child is his own depraved nature.

I am frequently astonished and disturbed that the teachers fail to receive total support from the parents in the discipline of their children. This seems surprising because our goal is, or ought to be, the same: training the child in the way of obedience. We often hear that parents are saying, "The teachers ought to show more compassion." "Teachers don't understand my child." When I explore these complaints, seem to find that many parents really mean, "If my child did wrong, it must be the fault of something or someone else." "Teachers really shouldn't punish my child."

There seem to be problems between parents and teachers of divergent ideas of discipline. Some parents seem to believe in the natural goodness of their children and allow their children to rule in the home. Some parents seem to believe that they can gain their child's love by giving him what he wants and acceding to his demands. They believe that their child will then love them and will obey them. Nothing could be more mistaken. Most often children from permissive homes will be demanding, self-willed, self-centered, and unhappy. Further, if the parents have not established their own authority, it is difficult for the teacher to establish his authority. But teachers also may fail to establish their authority and allow the children too much "freedom." A child that comes from a well-disciplined home will be confused and unhappy in a permissive environment. Other teachers may rule too harshly and arbitrarily, failing to demonstrate love through discipline. The key here is cooperative effort, home and school supporting each other toward the same goal.

The goal of discipline is to teach the child obedience, that is, true obedience that comes from the heart of the child out of love for God and a desire to obey His commandments. Beginning with the fifth commandment, children are instructed repeatedly to obey their parents and, by extension, all those who are in authority over them. Children must obey those in authority over them because they love God, and because God has placed these authorities this Biblical principle of obedience.

Children must be taught to obey for the simple reason that God says so. Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right." Notice that God here does not tell children that this is necessary to retain order is society or that this is reasonable and sensible, but only that it is right. There are many parents today who say, "My child doesn't obey because he doesn't understand the reasons for the rules. The teacher has to explain why he makes these rules." Now it is true that any person will obey a rule more readily and more easily if he understands why the rule was made and what result was intended when the rule was made, but the child does not obey the rule for that reason. He obeys it because God commands him to obey those in authority over him.

Nevertheless, we must never forget that we must obey God's laws even though we may not understand why God made them. Remember that if we have the right to know the reason for each law that God has made, then we also have the right to judge whether that law is a good one and appropriate for us to obey.

In the world today people are constantly subjecting God's law to the test of human reason. Of course, they then decide that God's law is not appropriate for them or for this time, or feel that they have the right to modify God's law to suit their own idea of what is appropriate. Our children do not have the right to question why a rule was made. They must be taught that they are to obey not because they understand the reason for the law but because they recognize that in obeying the law made by one in authority they are obeying God.

On the other hand, children must also be taught that laws are necessary in this evil world and that they are made for very good reasons. Laws are needed to protect people from the wickedness of others and prevent them from carrying out their own evil impulses as well as to bring order to society. Good laws are not arbitrary. The laws of men, however, are not always good because men are totally depraved. But the child needs to understand also that he must obey even those laws that he believes to be arbitrary or even sinful.

Here again, we are teaching a principle contrary to that which is popularly accepted in our culture. We and our children constantly hear the idea that if you consider a law to be a bad one, you don't have to obey it -- civil disobedience is promoted. We need to teach our children that they must disobey and may disobey only those laws which to obey would cause us to sin.

Exercise of Discipline

It seems that today there are increasing objections to physical punishment of children. It seems that any kind of physical punishment is considered to be abuse. It's interesting to notice that Scripture does not reject physical punishment but encourages it: "He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes," Proverbs 13:24. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him," Proverbs 22:15. "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell," Proverbs 23:13 & 14 "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame," Proverbs 29:15.

As with any form of punishment, physical punishment must be used judiciously, and its goal must be correction. It must not risk injury to the child, nor must it be done impulsively or in sudden anger. It should be reserved for serious offenses or repeated offenses and should he done only after the child is made thoroughly aware of the reason for the punishment.

We ought to be aware that there is far more injury done to children in ways other than physical punishment. Many of those who reject physical punishment instead use ridicule, mockery, browbeating, denigration, vilification, insult, belittling, rejection and other devices which may be far more harmful to the child than a spanking. When the right of physical punishment is denied the teacher, he often feels forced to use one or more of these methods of control which can have far more devastating effects than an application of the paddle.

Physical punishment is permitted under the rules in most Protestant Reformed schools. There are carefully prescribed rules for its use: it must not be done in anger; it must not be done on a part of the body which may sustain serious injury; it must be done only in the presence of a witness; it may be done only after contacting a parent of the child. The existence of these rules tends to deter the use of physical punishment in the schools: it's just too much hassle.

The requirement to contact a parent before using physical punishment is an interesting one. If the purpose of contacting the parent is simply that he be informed of the punishment, why is it not better done after the punishment is administered, and why is the parent not informed every time his child is punished? If the purpose is to gain permission from the parent, what if the parent refuses permission? Should some children be punished physically because their parents allow it and other not because their parents forbid it? Then discipline cannot be consistent. Also we violate the rule that individual parents do not make the rules for the school, but rules are made by the board chosen by the parents and representing them.

Another important thing that a child has to learn is that discipline is the result of love. A child believes that if you love him you will not punish him. I doubt that many children can understand that punishment proceeds from love. It's important that we try to make him understand this anyway. Perhaps the best thing to do is to tell the child why punishment is necessary, and then, after he has been punished, to leave the incident behind not referring to it again but demonstrating interest, concern, love for the child.

The immediate purpose of discipline is, of course, to modify the behavior of the child. We need to remember, though, that we are at the same time affecting his behavior in the future for either good or bad. If he has gained something from his misbehavior, he will be likely to repeat it. The way he has been treated will also affect his attitude toward this kind of behavior as well as his attitude toward the teacher, toward his work, and toward the school. If the child finds that his misbehavior has gained him the recognition of his peers; if he finds that the penalty also gains him recognition; if he believes that the teacher can be manipulated or that the teacher is "soft," allowing him to escape the consequences of his actions, then you can be sure that he will misbehave again.

Our long-range goal is that the child be obedient by his own choice, and that he be obedient whether an authority is present or not. Also, we work for an obedience that comes from the heart of the child, proceeding from love for God.

The Scriptural injunction applies to teachers as well as fathers: "provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." Col. 3:21. We must be careful not to punish the child for things he cannot change, or to give him the impression that he is being punished for things beyond his control. For example, we may punish a child because he has failed to do his math problems at home. If he was unable to do them and was unable to obtain help, the punishment may be discouraging to him. Punishment for failure to complete his work must also make clear to the student that the punishment is for lack of diligence, not for lack of ability.

It is vital that we remember that the child is learning from us about God. To the child the parent and the teacher stand in the place of God. We promote that idea when we teach that our authority comes from God. But we need to be aware that this makes our methods of discipline of enormous importance. From our exercise of discipline the child will learn about justice and about repentance and about forgiveness.

In simple terms, we must treat the child in the way that God treats us so that in our actions the child will learn about God. We must not ignore, excuse, or explain away sin, but as we have learned so must our children learn: the way to deal with sin is through recognition, confession, and repentance.

A couple of observations may be appropriate:

Because he has been placed in this position of authority, the teacher must exercise his authority. He must not try to make himself friends with his students by acting like them or giving them the authority that belongs to him. He may let his students make some decisions, and he may follow decisions that they have made, but only within the limits the teacher himself has set. The teacher must not abdicate; the students are going to learn the concept of authority from him.

The teacher must not overdo leading the children through confession and repentance. We do not stop to confess every sin that we commit; if we did, we would have time for little else.

If we do this too often with the child, it loses its effect. The child who has learned well needs only an occasional reminder.

In this lies a real danger: we are not gods, and if we begin to think that we are, we become arrogant, arbitrary, and unjust. We have to be careful to remember that we ourselves are servants and only reflect in weakness the work of God. As soon as the child is old enough to understand, we need to make clear that we are only servants of God and are subject to all the sins and weakness of people. Teachers: it doesn't hurt to admit to a child that you have made a mistake.

I'm not sure whether children are different today from what they were years ago or that I am gaining a different insight into children's behavior as I become older (read "more experienced," please), but it appears to me that the behavior of children today is primarily influenced by their interaction with their peers. Much of children's behavior today appears to be motivated solely by their desire to gain recognition or respect or even simple attention from their peers. The clothes that they wear, the slogans or pictures on their shirts, the brand of their shoes, the words that they use, their manner of walking, and, above all, the way they act -- all are dictated by their classmates.

The dictatorship of their peers seems to be more tight than ever before. Of course in the past the possibility of rigid conformity to one's peers was limited by the lesser funds available from parents and the lack of understanding by the parents that "every-body does it" is an argument that supersedes all others. Today's children have finally succeeded in teaching their parents how important that is.

A parent, when hearing of his child's behavior at school, will often say, "Why, he never behaves like that. I can't understand it." It's hard for parents to realize that their child's behavior at school is likely to be far different from his behavior at home because at school his behavior is so heavily influenced by his peers. Both parents and teachers should be aware of this when they are discussing the child's behavior.

Because so much of the child's activity is related to his relation to his peers, it is important that this fact be considered when the teacher corrects a student. Any treatment that will cause the child to "lose face" before his fellows must be used with extreme caution. The teacher often has to make a judgment about the potential response of this particular child.

This is not to say that a teacher should never correct a child before his classmates. A courteous request to cease and desist is appropriate at almost any time. Most often if you have not had occasion to correct the child before, you are better off speaking to him about his behavior in private. Even on other occasions you can usually deal with a child more effectively in private because then he is playing to an audience of only one and that one not his peer. By dealing with him privately you can also judge better his response to your admonition and adjust your treatment of him accordingly.

In the event that the misbehavior is deliberate, public, and serious the teacher should make sure that the class recognizes that the teacher feels that this is serious misconduct and that it requires special treatment. Isolating the student from others by putting him in a special place or sending him out of the room takes away his opportunity to continue the misconduct and symbolically demonstrates that sin must be isolated from the community of believers.

In certain special occasions students should also be taught some of the principles of Christian dealing with public sins. On those occasions when a student has sinned against another by deliberately causing physical injury or has seriously hurt another's feeling by insult or humiliation, I think a public correction and an public apology by the offender may be a valuable lesson to both the student and the class. Beware, though: students are expert at speaking words with an expression that belies their meaning.

Another thing that concerns me about many of the children today is that they seem extremely self-centered. Perhaps this is due to the fact that in many homes the children are the center of attention. By saying that they are self-centered I mean that these children seem to judge their own actions and those of others on the basis of their effects upon themselves, "What can I do to gain the attention of others? Will I gain or lose friends if I answer the question in a certain way? This is good because I want it. I am the center of my own universe." Children are by nature proud just as we all are. Discipline requires training in humility. Christian submission to God requires humility.

Some Practical Observations

Perhaps a few things ought to be said about the use of Scripture in discipline. Scripture should not ordinarily be used as a device for punishment, such as copying or memorizing sections from the Bible. This will affect in an improper way his attitude toward and his evaluation of the Bible. The teacher should also be careful not to use the Bible as a club, giving perhaps the impression that Scripture speaks through the teacher to the student. The child may get the impression that the Bible is the teacher's tool to chastise him.

The Bible may properly be used in discipline to show the child that what he has done is an offense, not only to others, but -- more important -- an offense to God. The teacher may use the Bible to point out the way of repentance. But the teacher must be sure to show also the mercy of God in forgiveness, so that the child does not think of God as only a God of retribution.

I find many children who seem to feel that a simple, "I'm sorry," is enough to end all problems. A person may say he's sorry and mean it sincerely, but that may not be the end of the matter. There may be a penalty anyway to impress upon his mind the seriousness of his offense and the need to avoid such behavior in the future. As far as possible the child must learn that he is also responsible for trying to repair the damage that has been done.

Teachers should be extremely careful about the use of prayer in discipline. Remember that when you pray you are speaking to God. Do not use prayer as a device to admonish children. Nor should the teacher act in prayer as a kind of prosecutor who will convict the students in the eyes of God. Prayer should never be used as a weapon for the teacher to use to gain advantage over the students. In this also the teacher is teaching about God and about prayer. The teacher must go to the throne with the students to make supplication for them and with them but also to plead for himself.

Prayer may impress the students of the seriousness of sins that he has taken lightly, such as minced oaths and even curses that have lost their gravity through frequent use. Prayer may impress the students with the wickedness that they often display in their treatment of others. Prayer may be the means that the teacher uses with individuals or a whole class to put sins behind them and begin anew after confession and repentance. Prayer is too important for a teacher to use lightly and too powerful for the teacher to use carelessly.

When calves are put into a new pasture, one of the first things they like to do is check out the fences all around the pasture. If a gate is left open or a part of the fence is down, they will find it and will immediately escape from the pasture. On each subsequent day they will make a similar tour, checking the fences. Once they find that the gates are closed and the fences are in the same places and in good repair each day, they will stop making tours of the fences and will stay contentedly in the pasture. Children are much like that. They will test the rules again and again to see if they are the same and whether the same behavior will trigger the same response each time. Once they find that the gates are always closed and the fences are in the same places and kept in constant repair, children, too, will settle down and stop continuous testing.

An important feature of discipline, then, is that it be consistent. If the child does not know which behavior is going to be punished on a particular day, he is going to be uncomfortable and unpredictable. If the rules change frequently, the children will feel compelled to test them frequently. The rules must be consistent from student to student. You can't punish one person for behavior that another student does without punishment.

Teachers, especially less experienced ones, have to beware of the many ingenious devices that children use to avoid penalties for their wrongdoing. The universal favorite, "Everybody was doing it," is still remarkably effective. The old favorite response, "That doesn't make it

right," isn't very convincing to a student. He wants to make you feel guilty as though you could have punished many others who were at least as guilty as he but you chose to punish him only.

"That's not fair," is a response that often works well to ease or avoid a punishment. It's effective because it is exceedingly important that the teacher be fair, and every teacher strives to be as fair as possible. The problem is that the student's notion of what is fair and that of the teacher are often different. The teacher often takes into account the student's behavior in the past, the attitude of the student, the problems that resulted from the offense, and other considerations which other students cannot evaluate.

"The teacher just doesn't like me," is a very common excuse probably because it plays well at home. Like "he's not fair;" it's easy for the students to find examples that seem to prove his argument. The children know that it is guaranteed to cause great concern of the parents. It's also an argument that strikes the vulnerability of teachers. Students have an instinct for the jugular and this is it. It's impossible for the teacher to prove it false. Every teacher is most sensitive to such a charge because teachers are expected to like their students and to keep any feelings of dislike they make have rigorously suppressed. It attacks his very quality as a teacher. Further, such a charge is quickly picked up by other students. There is a certain macho aura to the students who can claim that he has gained the dislike of the teacher. And every teenage girl is half convinced that all adults are against her anyway.

It is extremely important that the teacher show repeatedly an interest and a liking for his students. The desire to be recognized as an individual is so great that I have often known students to be extremely disobedient with the certainty of severe punishment for no other reason than that the teacher recognize him. Teachers can avoid many discipline problems just by showing an interest in each individual student. Try to become familiar with his circumstances, his interests, his family and ask about them. An encouraging note on his paper, a friendly word, a compliment -- these may prevent all sorts of trouble for a teacher. A student finds it more difficult to offend a person who has shown an interest in him.

Don't over-react. If you become extremely angry over something that the students did not consider very serious, you tend to confuse them and bring on more trouble. The students' misbehavior is not usually directed at the teacher personally. It is most commonly intended to impress another student. If the teacher mistakenly takes this as a personal attack upon himself and reacts violently, the students are most likely to become sullen and may well try to arouse the anger of the teacher. Deal with misbehavior as calmly as possible, and do not allow admonition or correction to consume very much class time.

There are times, though when anger is appropriate. Those actions that are serious sins -- cursing, cruelty to others, flagrant disobedience -- are proper objects of anger. "Be ye angry and sin not," means that we should not permit our anger to provoke us to sin, but should control our anger and should make clear that the sin is serious. I have found it effective, sometimes, without displaying outward signs of anger to say to the students, "I am extremely angry over your behavior, and I think that I ought to be

angry." Then I explain why I consider their offense a serious one.

Suppress the urge to preach at the students. This is not to say that you should not point out what Scripture has to say about the behavior of the students, but this should be done when the students are really not aware that their behavior is sinful or have forgotten that sins are serious offenses to God. Most commonly the students know perfectly, well that their behavior is sinful. They don't need to be persuaded of that. The longer you dwell upon their sins the less they will listen and the less effective your admonition will be. I have known students who enjoyed sermons because they didn't have to listen and didn't have to do their work while the talk was going on. Assignments were then delayed until the following day. Now, that is truly "counterproductive."

As teachers, it is our job to be in control of our classrooms. We must insist upon immediate and cheerful obedience. There is an old recommendation for new teachers, "Don't smile until Christmas." Although a bit of an exaggeration, the point is that it is necessary first to establish your authority in your classroom, and then you can begin to become more relaxed with the students. Remember that Christian students are comfortable only when rules are clear and are enforced firmly and consistently.

There are a few common traps that teachers should avoid. Never make threats that you cannot or do not intend to carry out. You can lose your credibility in no time at all if you say something and fail to do it. Do not make excessively extensive punishments. Staying in a large number of recesses or assigning an enormous number of lines will make the punishment lose its effect because it is spread over too long a time or it seems impossible of completion and then becomes only a joke. When the punishment is completed, it should be understood that the student is restored to favor and his misdeeds will not be brought up again as long as he continues to behave. The child will learn best when the teacher makes as sure as he can that the child recognizes the justice of the teacher. Thus justice may then be tempered with mercy.

Many teachers have gotten themselves into impossible positions through the use of mass punishments. Often it happens something like this: Some student in the class has done something very wrong, such as writing graffiti on the washroom wall, and the teacher is sure that others in the class know who is guilty. The teacher is certain that someone in his class is responsible. He tells the class that they will lose all recesses until the guilty person confesses or until others in the class report the guilty person to the teacher or persuade him to confess. Although it's not wrong for a teacher to impose such a punishment, it is usually most unwise to do it. If no student comes forward, the teacher is in serious trouble. You can keep the students in only so long and you will have to cancel the punishment. The private code of students that says a student does not report the misdeeds of another no matter how serious will probably prevail in this situation. The students will, in such circumstances, feel required to band together against the teacher. You need to consider all possible outcomes before you impose such a punishment.

Group punishment may sometimes be appropriate, however. I think that it can be used in the appropriate situation as a way to teach corporate responsibility. If, for example, I have to be out of the classroom for some 19

good reason and a number of students misbehave. It is usually impossible to determine exactly which of the students were responsible. I may, then, keep the whole class in during recess and explain to them that people are responsible for the misdeeds of others when they are aware of them and make no attempt to discourage them. It is an important lesson: we are our brother's keeper. We may hope that this lesson will carry over to the playground where students frequently use the worst kind of language, and no fellow student even attempts to discourage them.

Discipline is important in the classroom, not just as a means for the teacher to preserve his sanity or to make education more efficient, but as a means to teach the children important spiritual concepts. The means and the methods that the teacher uses must be directed to training the child in the way of obedience to God. The teacher must not try to be a buddy to his students. If he does that, he is misusing his position. The teacher holds a position of authority, and he must demonstrate the proper use of authority. For that student the teacher stands in the place of God, and the teacher is called to demonstrate to the students how God deals with us in justice and mercy and love.

Remember that as a teacher in a Protestant Reformed Christian School you are not alone in training the child in the way of obedience. There are many wonderful parents who send their children to their school because they want them instructed in the way of obedience. They are eager to support you in matters of discipline. Just remember that your approach to them is important, too. If you approach the parents with the assurance that you love their child, that you are concerned about his welfare, and that you want their help in solving the problem or their suggestions about how to solve the problem, you will have the total support of the vast majority of them. If you can assure the parents that you are not blaming them or accusing them or demanding that they "make the kid shape up," they will be your best source of help. Both parents and teachers need to recognize that they are engaged in a cooperative effort to gain a common goal.

Be sure to emphasize in your contact with the parent that you are engaged in a cooperative effort. When you criticize their child, many parents will feel that you are criticizing them and their ability to discipline their child. Parents will then become defensive, and we will have great difficulty getting them to adopt the proper attitude toward their child's behavior. A good way to begin a discussion of their child is to say something like, "I'm concerned about the way that your child is behaving." Then go on, if necessary to show how the behavior is inappropriate and how the child will cause problems for himself and others if such behavior continues. If your attitude is one of concern rather than condemnation, you will be far more likely to enlist the support of the parents. "I need your help," is far more effective than, "This is what you ought to do."

Teaching obedience is a difficult challenge in these times when the concept of obedience is lost in a world obsessed with "rights" and "freedom." It is regrettable that many Christian homes are becoming dominated by children who have not yet learned what the Scripture means by obedience. In teaching obedience you are not only making your own work easier and more pleasant, but you are teaching the children by word and example an important spiritual concept.

Pray for His help in these lawless times.

{The above article is taken from Perspectives in Covenant Education, Winter and Spring 1996 issues. Permission is hereby granted for the reprinting of the article of this magazine by other publications, provided that a) this reprinted article is reproduced in full; b) proper acknowledgment is made; c) we are notified of its use 71242.1216@compuserve.com }