There, I thought that word would grab your attention! Have you ever seen children on their way to and from school appearing as if they have slept in their clothes and looking like tramps? Have you listened to their childish banter liberally sprinkled with what the BBC so quaintly describes as ‘strong language’ (a euphemism for obscenities)? And have you ever wondered why so many children leaving school can’t read or write properly?Well, I’ve got a theory. I reckon that to educate children, you MUST impose discipline. There has been a recent uproar from the Rights Brigade over the Rodillian School in Leeds imposing a strict uniform policy for pupils. Do you know, they have the temerity to send a child home if a button is missing from the collar of their school shirt or if they wear the wrong footwear, amid cries of “Isn’t that ridiculous?” and “They would be better off teaching instead of throwing their weight around.” Some misguided souls have even talked about involving the European Courts to make the School see sense.

Rights v. respect?

And that is the crux of the matter – schools routinely ignore minor transgressions and before they know it, discipline goes out the window. Why do they ignore it? Because the Rights Brigade come down on them with a vengeance if they do not. Unfortunately, children’s rights are preached to them daily by some social workers, some teachers and even some police – all backed up by the government of the day.

Trying to teach a class where several children have no respect for the teacher’s authority and cause disturbance negates any chance of meaningful learning for those who really want to learn. Anyone reading this who is over the age of forty and who is capable of looking back on their schooldays without rose-coloured specs must agree that when discipline in the classroom was enforced, learning was better. And this carried on in life outside the school.

Look at a few fictional scenarios 40 years ago and now:

Then: Johnny and Willie get into a fight at school. Crowd gathers. Johnny wins. They shake hands and end up mates.

Now: Police are called and arrest Johnny and Willie. Mobiles with video of fight confiscated as evidence. They are charged with assault. Both are suspended even though Johnny started it. Diversionary conferences and parent meetings conducted. Video shown on 6 internet sites.

Then: Jimmy won’t sit still in class and disrupts other students. He is sent to the head’s office and given six of the best. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.

Now: Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. Counselled to death. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADHD. School gets extra funding because Jeffrey has a disability. Drops out of school.

Then: Peter falls during break and scrapes his knee. His teacher, Mary, finds him crying, and gives him a hug to comfort him. Peter soon feels better and goes back to playing.

Now: Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces three years in prison. Peter undergoes five years of therapy.

OK – over the top. But I am just trying to show that, in many ways, the world has gone mad.

Child protection v. risk-taking

If you had said forty years ago that in the future, children would be locked up in their homes as a matter of routine and never allowed out on their own without the direct supervision of an adult, you would have been looked at in utter disbelief. We now deprive our children of their fundamental need to play, exercise and interact with their peers – without an adult looking on.

All this is in the name of protection from all those monsters roaming the streets preying on youngsters. Statistics clearly show that there has been no real increase in offences against children over the years. The only difference now is technology – we hear about every sensationalist event. We have forgotten about taking risks, and risk-taking should be part of childhood.

The need for discipline

We do this generation no favours at all by meekly accepting the dictates of progressive thinkers and the child protection industry. Unless children are disciplined from an early age, we will continue to nurture a generation where a significant number of the population cause extreme discomfort, if not misery for others. Far from alienating pupils, schools like Rodillian which have a zero tolerance policy on discipline, have far better behaved and educated pupils.

As Mr Chip’s headmaster, Dr Arnold, said – ‘Discipline, Mr Chipping, discipline.’

How right he was.

Bill Stevenson is a former residential child care manager and a grandparent.

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