D for Discipline, D for Democracy!

The moment the word 'discipline' is mentioned in a gathering of teachers or educational functionaries (or even parents or community members), it acquires a special meaning, as in 'children have to be kept in discipline'. Here, the quintessential role of the teacher is that of the 'shepherd' (with stick and all), and children are seen as unruly sheep that have no mind of their own and need 'order' in their lives. I hope this sounds as dated in the reading as it does in the writing!

Perhaps this is more the case in Asian societies. Apart from most Indian states, I've found myself caught in this discussion  in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos... and there's an amazing unity of thought across these varying geographies and cultures! Children need to be guided and taught -- if their errors are not corrected as soon as the occur, it will be too late to correct them later on! (All this is said in a deep, sonorous tone to emphasize its seriousness.)

Interestingly, these are also cultures that teach you to respect your elders (whether they have any quality other than age or not!). In short, in societies where control has a role to play, 'discipline' comes to mean doing the will of the powerful (because they are adult, or older or richer or occupy a 'position'). These are also the same places where the guru or the master or the preceptor is venerated (i.e. given a status next to God herself).

This sits a little uneasily with the clamor for greater democracy in the classroom. Active / joyful learning is now advocated in most of the countries mentioned. In India, the recently enacted Right to Education actually mandates activity-based classrooms where children will construct their own knowledge. The National Curriculum Framework 2005 makes an eloquent plea for 'democracy in the classroom', where collaboration and partnership with children (rather than their 'sincerity and obedience') will be the hallmark of quality.

As you can guess, change is a long way coming. Despite the fact that democratic classrooms are 'Official Policy' backed by law, and nearly a decade and a half of yearly rounds of in-service teacher training emphasizing the virtue of active learning,  classroom teaching tends to remain teacher-directed, instruction-based, with asking questions and offering one's opinions being considered almost a sin on the part of children.

When reports last came in, thus, D for Discipline was clearly winning over D for Democracy!