If there is one debate that rages more than all others among parents – and homeschoolers are no exception – it’s that of discipline. I bear the brunt of it sometimes on this blog as well. For instance, just last week, I got this non sequitur on my Facebook page:
The job world isnt (sic) so kind and forgiving, and they can’t just get up whenever they want, do the job when it suits them, etc.
Besides the blatant disregard the author employed for punctuation and logic, I want to point out the emphasis on discipline. It’s an age-old argument. It’s one I hear often.
“How are homeschoolers ever going to learn discipline?” I’m asked.
Even among homeschoolers this concern with discipline is particularly divisive. I can’t tell you how many times homeschoolers shun the word “unschooler” or straight up laugh at the idea of unschooling because “how will they ever learn to read?”
When it comes to discipline, people love to invoke one of two things – firstly, the “world,” as in, the job world, the grown up world, where they claim everything is drudgery.
It’s a world where they wake up every morning – supposedly, talk sternly to themselves about how they must get so-and-so done, proceed to whip themselves as they get dressed and head out – mangled and bloody – to apply themselves diligently to their job.
Second, they love to talk about self control for its own sake. They say discipline must be taught, it has to be learned and not just that – it can be taught for its own sake.
Neither of the above is true.
Yes, I exaggerated the first one. But only slightly. Are you seriously telling me that as an adult you hate every moment of your job? That you get no reward at all? No break except that blessed hour when you get to eat with a plastic fork?
Are you saying that you have to raise your hand to use the restroom, that you have no freedom in your day, that you spend it constantly accompanied, not allowed to chat or talk, looked at suspiciously, made to walk in a straight line with your hands behind your back and under the eye of someone who is supposedly doing it all to make you a better person?
If the answer is yes, you might want to check if you’re wearing orange. Because what I just described is the life of a prisoner. Oh, they’re “disciplined,” though. I’ll give you that.
The Only Discipline that Matters…
…is the kind that is employed for a bigger reason. In the words of T.K. Coleman, “The willingness to do something difficult is only meaningful if it’s exercised within the context of a worthy goal.”
Discipline shouldn’t and cannot be taught in a vacuum. Not true discipline anyway.
I am often told, for instance, that, as an Abstainer (one who prefers not to have something at all, rather than moderate the thing I want – for example, sweets) I don’t have enough self control to simply eat one piece only.
It is easier for me to just avoid cookies completely, for instance, rather than tell myself to eat only one. But no, Moderators have to lord it over me that their system of moderating is better than mine, that somehow they are inherently more disciplined than I am. But wait, doesn’t it take discipline to avoid the cookies completely?
“I teach it to my kids, too!” one mom proudly tells me. “I teach them to moderate their intake.”
We give ourselves pats on the back because sometimes our children are just like us. Their inherent personalities match ours, but here’s the thing: did we gloss over the fact that both this mom and I both did something in pursuit of a bigger goal and the discipline wasn’t achieved in a vacuum but was merely a system that worked?
Discipline in context
So pay attention to the system, not the supposed virtue for virtue’s sake. No one but an ascetic makes discipline for discipline’s sake a goal and even there I would say the idea is questionable. Everyone but everyone uses self control to achieve an end result.
But it is in the nature of people – yes, even your friends and mine – to elevate one system above the other and make themselves out to be superior. And that’s okay. We all need to toot our own horns sometimes.
Just be sure you don’t fall for it. Don’t begin to question a system if it works for you and your children.
Don’t let offhand comments derail what you’re doing.