A Commentary on the Ministry of Education’s ‘Code of Discipline’
During a recent visit to the Ministry of Education’s website, I came across a document entitled ‘Code of Discipline’. As an avid supporter of meaningful discipline within schools, I was immediately interested in the potential of this document to impact the social and moral climate of our future (our children). However, after I read the document I became deeply concerned about the approaches we are taking to instil discipline in our youth.
As a pseudo-intellectual I sometimes pretend that I can analyse the philosophical nature of various issues. What struck me philosophically about this document was the failure to recognize that effective discipline should support the reduction of future wrongdoings rather than just penalise students for their current moral failures. Students’ development and growth is just as important as the punishment for their present misconduct. Neglecting to address this developmental requirement also creates the perception in students’ minds that the administration does not care for students’ personal growth. This creates animosity and an adversarial environment when we should really be striving for an environment of mutual respect and positive collaboration. While the document recognizes that we should create “responsible citizens”, it fails to address the transformational processes required to create such citizens. Furthermore, if the only thing guiding moral standard is fear of punishment by school officials, then once a student graduates what can they depend on to direct their moral compass?
Another major disappointment of this document is the lack of a corresponding Code of Conduct for students. It is common for disciplinary procedures to refer to a list of agreed upon moral standards. The document recognizes this by stating, “…students will be made aware of what their responsibilities are,” but then failing to identify those responsibilities. A Code of Conduct would be a simple and powerful mechanism through which students could agree to individually and collectively abide by a set of moral guidelines. The collaboration between students and administration in the creation of such a Code of Conduct will generate a sense of moral obligation within the student body, and will also act as a vehicle for further collaboration between the administration and students.
A further disturbing component of this document is the support for corporal punishment as a means of discipline. Even more striking is the disproportionate support for corporal punishment for violations like “Failure to do homework” or “Failure to bring required materials/equipment to class”. We have to ask ourselves what the reasons are for making corporal punishment an option for such morally inconsequential matters. We must also question whether or not corporal punishment should even be an option for any issue, regardless of the severity. Countless organizations and socially aware groups around the world have demonstrated through studies and research that the potentially devastating impacts of corporal punishment in schools far outweigh any conceivable benefit. In fact many governments have made this form of punishment illegal, demonstrating its inhumane and disturbing nature.
Barbadians have long held to the anecdote, “save the rod, spoil the child.” While I personally question that belief, if indeed this approach represents some level of truth, then we should leave the responsibility for making such a delicate decision in the hands of parents. But for too long we have allowed our parents to relinquish responsibility for instilling discipline, instead depending solely upon schools in the fulfilment of this task. Parents should be encouraged, supported, and demanded to fulfil their roles as the primary source of moral direction in their children’s lives rather than placing the burden upon our already strained schools. The support mechanisms that we put in place for parents are therefore an integral component of a Code of Discipline.
This opens the discussion to the next major gap in the document, that being the lack of communication and collaboration between the schools and parents. As the primary provider of moral direction for children, parents must be intimately involved with any disciplinary issues. Other than a brief mention of using “parents as partners”, the document fails to outline the interaction and communication that should occur between parents and schools. Both parties must be invested in the development of each child. The gaps between parents and schools must be closed so that our children’s futures don’t ‘slip through the cracks’. This communication should be emphasized emphatically in a Code of Discipline rather than just mentioned as an apparent afterthought.
With all of that said, I am disheartened by the fact that this document fails in its goal to provide a basis for instilling discipline in our education system. It also badly misses the mark of creating a positive and morally stable environment within our schools while also failing to provide the framework necessary to ensure consistent, reasonable, and equitable disciplinary practices. In closing, I want to recognize the realities facing discipline within our schools. The complexity and importance of this issue demand our utmost care and consideration in developing long-term, holistic, and effective policies. As such, it is reasonable to expect that the development and implementation of such policies will take time, significant resources, and diligent effort from all stakeholders. It is with this understanding that all Barbadians should bring the issue of discipline in our schools to the forefront so that we can ensure the best possible future for our children.