A New Role: Creating a Philosophy of Discipline

At the end of the school year a few weeks ago brought about the end of one role at my school and the beginning of another. As of now I will no longer be teaching the classroom, but will be assuming an administrative role, as Dean of Students. This means my outlook will change and broaden. As I assume this role, new questions begin to mount. None of those questions is more foundational then my philosophy of discipline. So, then, what is my philosophy of discipline?

I saw a teacher recently who expressed excitement towards my filling this new role at our school. Not really knowing how to take feelings like this I rather brushed off this compliment internally. Then, this teacher gave advice concerning my new role. “Consistency and toughness. Tough, right?” I responded with something like a long pause, followed by, “Yeah…we’ll see.” I’m not sure they liked my response. I’m sure the thought crossed their minds: “Oh, great. We’ll have a push over for our ‘disciplinarian.'” If it did. Good. Because, if I were offered the job based upon the knowledge of the position strictly being a disciplinarian, I would’ve said no. Why are we so caught up on being “tough”? What I wished I had said, but didn’t, was “I’ll attempt to be as much like Jesus as I can.” In a nutshell, that’s my philosophy.

Sounds phony, right? Well, I mean it. Jesus is the perfect example…because he’s perfect. It’s true when considering a philosophy of discipline as well. I think it’s safe to say Jesus knew the law(s), and the punishment associated with violation of said law. Yet, how many times did he suspend said punishment to show an even more powerful law, the law of grace, love and forgiveness? Often. Did Jesus say harsh things? Yes. (Mt. 23:33) Did Jesus pronounce harsh judgments? Yes. (Mt. 11:20-24) Jesus even laid out the parameters for incremental punishment. (Mt. 18:15ff) Yet, these are case where unrepentant, obstinate, arrogant, prideful people were habitually rebelling against God and His kingdom. Are there some of those type kids in schools? Yes. Should they leave? Probably so. But, they rest of the kids? Do they need “toughness”? Did the woman caught in adultery need to be stoned? (John 8) Did you and I deserve our most recent breath and heartbeat?

Why is it we often want “toughness” for others, but grace for us? Sounds arrogant, even Pharisaical.

Biblically speaking, discipline wasn’t purely a negative thing. There was a positive element. In the Bible discipline is defined through at least two words, one Hebrew and one Greek (the languages of the Old and New Testament). The Hebrew word musar (50x; discipline, chastening) has a semantic range including the two most common translations, “instruction” (20x) to “correction” (18x). This means that “discipline” has both a positive element, “instruction” and a negative element, “correction.” The Greek word paideia (and its’ verb paideuō) means “ 1) the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals, and employs for this purpose now commands and admonitions, now reproof and punishment): ex. Eph. 6:4; 2)  instruction which aims at the increase of virtue: ex. 2 Tim. 3:16; 3) chastisement, chastening (of the evils with which God visits men for their amendment): ex. Heb. 12:5.” Both words point to a biblical definition of discipline being primarily for the purpose of training up a child towards godliness both positively, through instruction, and negatively, chastisement.

A philosophy of discipline that emphasizes “consistency” and “toughness” may not leave the necessary room for relationship and knowledge of the child you are, Lord willing, training in godliness. I have two children, both quite young. However, my wife and I can already see personality differences. I think I’d be foolish to treat them the exact same way since they are not exactly alike. If that is true with my two children, how much more true with 400 other young people?

Jesus treated each case individually because each case included an individual, literally. Individual in their wiring, emotional balance, mental thought process, order of importance, etc. Guess which method is easier? The “consistent, tough” method is way easier. Kid comes in: “Don’t care who you are, why you did what you did, what’s going on at home, what’s going on personally. All we care about is what you did. Now, here’s your punishment. Get out.” No personal interaction. No knowledge of pain and suffering that might emotionally attach you to the student, or create empathy.

Jesus’ way was and is better than “tough and consistent.” Jesus’ way is love, grace, forgiveness, mercy. He is patient, not wanting any to perish. My hope is this will by my philosophy as well. Then, when the time does come to remove a student, no one will ever be able to say, “But, you never cared.” Even removal from the fellowship will be an act of love.

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