Thinking About Education

March 18, 1992 2 min read

The Rutgers University sociologists Jackson Toby and David J. Armour suggest in the Winter 1992 issue of The Public Interest that the General Educational Development program offers greater benefits in the long run than most high-school dropout programs because it appeals to the motivated:

Attempting to coerce unwilling adolescents to remain in school for their own good does not seem to work. And perhaps we have to be modest enough to admit that we do not possess a magic motivational pill that will change their minds. There are some youngsters who, at their present level of development, will reject formal schooling no matter how well society packages it. ... G.E.D. programs have the built-in advantage of targeting people who, though they have dropped out of high school before graduating, have come to realize that they need more education. They choose to return. ... [N]ot all dropouts are so disorganized that their personalities have to be rebuilt from the ground up. Many of those who drop out simply need another chance.

In an original essay in January’s Network News & Views, a monthly publication of Vanderbilt University’s Educational Excellence Network, Robert E. Quinn, a retired New Jersey high-school teacher with 27 years’ experience, argues forcefully that teachers need to exert greater authority in the classroom:

My experience has shown that one of the major problems with education is the lack of discipline. I do not refer to classroom discipline, necessarily; I refer to self-discipline. Young people not only need discipline, they want discipline. Oddly enough the notion of self-discipline is not consciously taught, either to students or to potential teachers; it is an assumed state. Rather, the emphasis is on student freedom. ...

Young minds are not devious; they are curious. The void created by the absence of self-discipline is what allows for the devious. I say “void’’ because the expectation of discipline occupies young minds not with methods of avoiding it but with methods of honoring it. It provides direction. If, on the other hand, there is no commanded discipline, then the void is created. This vacuum will be filled with elements of distraction. The arrogance toward and indifference to authority seen among students are the manifestations of the absence of commanded authority and self-discipline.

The distinction between “commanding’’ discipline and “demanding’’ discipline is great. “Demanding’’ discipline, in my estimation, is not discipline at all.

A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 1992 edition of Education Week as Thinking About Education