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Re-Theorizing Discipline in Education

Problems, Politics, and Possibilities

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Zsuzsanna Millei, Tom G. Griffiths and Robert John Parkes

For over a century, teachers, parents, and school leaders have lamented a loss of ‘discipline’ in classrooms. Caught between guidance approaches on the one hand and a call for zero tolerance on the other, current debates rarely venture beyond the terrain of implementation strategies. This book aims to reinvigorate thinking on ‘discipline’ in education by challenging the notions, foundations, and paradigms that underpin its use in policy and practice. It confronts the understanding of ‘discipline’ as purely repressive, and raises the possibility of enabling forms and conceptualizations of ‘discipline’ that challenge tokenistic avenues for students’ liberation and enhance students’ capacity for agency. This book is an essential resource for university lecturers, pre-service and in-service teachers, policymakers, and educational administrators who want to re-think ‘discipline’ in education in ways that move beyond a concern with managing disorder, to generate alternative understandings that can make a difference in students’ lives.

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Chapter II: Is It (Still) Useful to Think About Classroom Discipline as Control? An Examination of the ‘Problem of Discipline’ - Zsuzsa Millei 13

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13Chapter II Chapter II Introduction The verb ‘discipline’ in classroom discipline approaches is understood predominantly in functionalist terms as a form of regulation or control to create and maintain order (Slee, 1995). Power associated with ideas of regulation and control in this context is thought about in structuralist terms, which is possessed and represents a powerful will over the powerless. In this chapter first I make a case that this way of thinking about discipline constructs a central problem that I term in this chapter the ‘problem of discipline’. This problem is identified by all approaches of classroom discipline, and they all attempt to address and overcome this problem. The ‘problem of discipline’ revolves around the opposing ideas of students’ freedom/autonomy versus teachers’ dominance/control that constructs an axis between maximum freedom and maximum control according to the ‘personal power’ the teacher exerts and the ‘personal power’ the students have (Porter, 2007). In this way, laissez-faire approaches to discipline are located on the maximum freedom end, while autocratic approaches on the opposite end (for a graph look at Porter, 2007, p. 19). Other approaches are also lined up on this axis according to the level of freedom they allow for students as well as the teacher control they carry. With the strong entrenchment of the prospects of democracy, social justice and rights, those approaches are considered as more desirable that endow students with autonomy and freedom. Drawing on students’ rational autonomy, self-regulation seems to be the key to students’ freedom...

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