One of the hallmarks of progressive or restorative approaches to discipline is an unease or discomfort with the idea of adults exerting their will over students in order to obtain compliance with rules and procedures or in order to promote productive behaviors in students.

The idea here is that students ideally should behave adaptively because they see that adaptive behaviors benefit the community and relationships therein, while maladaptive behaviors harm the community.

Our goal, then, is to get students intrinsically invested in maintaining the community so that they can recognize it when their behavior is hurting community and relationships.

While I agree with this approach on a philosophical level, I wonder if we can ever truly escape the idea that it is the adults in the community who will ultimately decide what is or isn’t good for the community, and perhaps this is something even those who advocate a progressive approach to discipline need to become comfortable with. If you think about it, even when students develop the ability to recognize how their own behavior affects the community either positively or negatively, the terms of what constitutes a positive or negative contribution are still likely derived from adults (even if children “come to” these terms on their own).

I still advocate an approach that teaches students to become self-regulated, self-directed, and self-aware, but perhaps we need to get over the idea that there is something inherently wrong with young people finding at least some direction from the adults in their community rather than creating their own understandings of right and wrong out of whole cloth.


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