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Re-Theorizing Discipline in Education

Problems, Politics, and Possibilities


Edited By 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 V: Discipline, Diversity and Agency: Pedagogic Practice and Dispositions to Learning - Megan Watkins 59


59Chapter V Chapter V What, then, makes discipline good? …is not discipline—all discipline—essentially a restraint, a limitation imposed on man’s behaviour? If life is good, how can it be good to bridle it, to constrain it, to impose limits that it cannot overcome? (Durkheim, 2002, pp. 32 & 35.) These questions posed by Durkheim in his course on moral education at the Sorbonne in 1902–3 get to the crux of the dilemma in understanding the nature and role of discipline, namely its ability to both constrain and enable.1 Foucault, likewise, explores this apparent contradiction most notably in Discipline and Punish. Unlike Durkheim, however, who places emphasis on the enabling potential of discipline in the formation of individual moral capacities, Foucault views the utility that discipline can provide as largely a mechanism of subjection. While his later work around the care of the self gives greater acknowledgment to its capacitating effects (Foucault, 1990), most application of his work appears to focus on the negative aspects of disciplinary power. This seems especially the case within education where theory and practice tend to neglect the agentic potential of discipline and the ways in which an embodied self-discipline provides the condition of possibility upon which successful academic engagement depends. Drawing on recent research into the differential achievement and dispositions to learning of Chinese-, Pasifika- and Anglo-background primary school students in Sydney, Australia, this chapter examines the contradictory nature of discipline. It considers how various home and school practices in which these...

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