The Jeffersonian Perspective

Commentary on Today's Social and Political Issues
Based on the Writings of Thomas Jefferson


Education and Discipline

A spirit of insubordination is identified by Jefferson as the great obstacle to science (i.e., knowledge). Most students today seem to have great difficulty performing a tedious task, and this attitude has almost surely been the result of modern theories of education. Students are lacking in the discipline to apply themselves to something that is not "fun" and revolt against doing things that are tedious. Educators feel compelled to make education "fun," to appeal to the wish of students to be entertained, and even, it seems, to use that criteria (rather than actual results) as a standard in judging successful educational techniques. The inevitable result: kids don't want to do anything unless it is fun.

Homework requirements are much less than what they used to be and a fraction of what they are in Japan and Germany. Parents and teachers are concerned lest giving students plenty of homework will "put too much pressure on them"! Are students, then, to go through life without having any pressure put on them? Or is pressure to come only later in life when they have a real job and have to earn a living and support a family, rather than in school where they can learn to prepare for it?

But we all know that to accomplish something in this life, a students must be able to do things that are not always merely fun. They have to learn to work under pressure and meet deadlines. They must have the discipline to put aside their desire to be entertained and work on something difficult and perhaps tedious in order to achieve a goal.

Educators would serve their students better if they emphasized the doing of things that brought SATISFACTION, and point out that satisfaction comes from accomplishment, from knowing how to work hard and complete a task. Fun comes from things that are entertaining, but serious, worthwhile endeavors can rarely be made entertaining. This may be one of the key problems in today's education: students think education should be fun, they've been taught to expect it to be fun, whereas real education is the result of hard work that brings a sense of accomplishment, a sense of having done (and being able to do) something worthwhile and constructive.

Schools are the only social setting outside of the home where there is an opportunity for young children to learn self-discipline. With the break-up of the home, and with more and more homes having both parents working, there is even less adult supervision in a child's day-to-day life, which means even less chance for the child to acquire some self-discipline at home. If the student does not learn self-discipline early-on in school, when and where will he learn it?

With no discipline at home, no discipline at school, should we be surprised at the state of education in America and the lack of basic education among so many students today? In fact, might not many of the other problems experienced by today's youths stem from this simple but pervasive fact of education: a lack of training in self-discipline?

Recognizing the decline in American education, politicians and educators are constantly throwing at us all kinds of schemes for educational reform, from school vouchers to the insane practice of letting students spell words anyway they choose. Yet completely overlooked in all this grasping at straws is the simple and fundamental role that self-discipline plays in education. Without that fundamental element, all other attempts at reform are bound to fail.

Notice the stories of educational turn-arounds that one reads about occasionally. Whether Marva Collins or Joe Clark, the essential element they introduce is not some hair-brained theory, but good old discipline in the schools and in the students' studies!

Nothing in the above should lead the wary student to think that all academic study and high-level intellectual activity is tedious and boring. Quite the contrary! Once a person acquires the skills, it can be--and almost always is--an activity that is absolutely fascinating. It is the same in any field. Playing chess is hardly so engaging an activity to a person who barely knows the moves of the pieces. So it is with academic achievement. Once you acquire the necessary skills, there opens up a whole new world of interesting challenges and exciting possibilities. But getting to that point is not easy; it takes hard work and self-discipline. And for too many students today, few schools are offering much guidance in learning how to work hard at studies.

Cross References

To Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government

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Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government: Table of Contents

© 1996 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr.