Beauty in Discipline

Upper School Coffee Reflection
By Ms. Katherine Kramer

On the first Friday of the school year, after praying as a school community to begin our day, about 20 parents gathered for coffee in our school’s schole room.

Schole is a Greek term, meaning leisure or rest. Its meaning is very active however, not like we think of leisure today. In some ways, I feel that if I was truly leisurely this morning, I would have slept in, and certainly would not have walked the dog.  “Not necessarily!” Would say the classical Greeks. Schole is leisure or rest in contemplation and it largely comes through conversation and reflection. To a classical Greek, schole could very well be accomplished as I walked my dog and prayed and thought.  Why? It is what happens when a human focuses on higher matters, which can be done while the body is engaged in tasks or is sitting still. For example, schole is never my rattled and disjointed train of thought as I’m driving to work. However, if I was driving to work and truly reflecting on my morning Bible study, that’s different- that’s schole.

Schole is a noble endeavor, something particular to humanity and not other forms of life; it is a true leisure for the soul. As Christians, this often leads us to contemplate God and our interactions with him. I always think of God speaking out of the whirlwind to Job and questioning him: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” What a terrify question to receive from God, but I consider that God speaking to Job at that point in his life must have produced quite a quantity of personal reflection, an episode of schole.

To recap, schole is:

  1. A directed contemplation of higher things

  2. Comes through conversation and reflection

  3. Bringing about a true rest for our souls

  4. Is NOT the same as sleeping in

It is a delight to me personally when we are able to invite parents to join us of a Friday morning for some coffee and conversation; it’s a doorway to schole! With a selection of both Lower School and Upper School parents, we found our meeting room packed with parents at a variety of child-rearing stages.

Our topic this month was “Beauty in Discipline.” As a school, we are seeking to help parents train and prepare their children to become godly young adults, equipping them for their vocations. Our school principles are truth, excellence, love, faithfulness, and honor – wonderful and challenging ideals.  After opening and sharing a few hallmarks of our school’s approach to discipline, we jumped into discussion of the Upper School’s particular differences regarding behavior. The Upper School’s role in discipline at ILS is to help students development discernment and the self-discipline necessary to apply our principles to real-life situations.

Our Upper School scholars are either in the process of entering the “dialectic” phase of their growth or are solidly within that phase. They are advancing socially, emotionally, and spiritually. As they slowly explore adulthood, it’s common to find that dialectic students are eager, very idealistic, and love to argue. Their burgeoning abilities to think on their own requires an advance in the method, but not the end, of discipline. Our students are not only desiring more freedom and independence, but they must have it if they are going to take ownership of their own behavior and actions.

Consider the simple matter of walking from one location to another as a class. In the Lower School, teachers help students build good habits by teaching classes to walk in lines and either whisper or refrain from talking altogether. Why? Safety, of course; teachers must be able to supervise students. Teachers also use this an opportunity to teach their students to honor others in the building: by being quiet, they will not disturb other working classes. By being quiet, they also are able to hear instructions and help their classmates hear instructions. So all of this simple and straightforward habit building is training students to practice love for their neighbor, awareness of their surroundings, and show honor to their teacher and classmates.

In the Upper School, we also want to train our students to show love for those around them, awareness of their surroundings, and to show honor to their teachers and classmates. It’s the same goal, really, but at a very developmentally healthy time, students are learning to take ownership of the principles and apply them.

So, rather than continuing the habit of walking in lines, teachers discuss with their students: What should you consider as you walk through the halls? Who might you affect? How does this impact your teacher? Should she know where you are? Why? How can you travel around the building in a way that respects your classmates? The training wheels of line formation are being gradually removed, and students are being asked to consider the practice of safety, awareness, and honor to those around them on their own. Discipline moves beyond the stage of being given a set of rules and being told to follow them. We must allow our students the freedom to think through what it means to be faithful, or true, or excellent, or loving in any particular situation. Then they must attempt it.

This has a notable implication:

Students at this stage require the freedom to fail. This is normal and healthy. Making mistakes will all be part of the learning process. What’s crucial is not even always the mistake itself, but rather the reflection afterwards. What did I do? Why? What was my motivation in that? Who did I affect? Did I hurt anyone? Who was honored in that interaction or exchange? Myself or God?  This is not to say that we should allow a culture of license—far from it! We should have much freedom, but not license.

Sometimes these failures are academic (“I didn’t think I needed to review before a quiz and then I failed the quiz”), sometimes organizational (“I forgot to write down the page numbers in history and didn’t study”) and sometimes relational (“I got mad at him and purposefully belittled him”).

Parents had much to say about this! One mom expressed an almost physical pain when they knew their child was going to fail at something but felt that the child in question would benefit from the experience.  It requires parental strength to hold back from “saving” the child! Parents acknowledged the balancing act that is allowing the freedom to fail while still actively parenting. One dad pointed out that supervising his children was not a linear matter in which the child smoothly transitions from into discernment and self-discipline, but that children always needed oversight. 

Personally, this is where the beauty in discipline strikes me. It comes through schole! This is so crucial. Whether in the classroom, on the playground, or at home, effective discipline always involves contemplation and reflection. Parents and teachers are reflecting on what happened and why, and encouraging the same type of thought in their child, modeling it for them, leading them to do it themselves. As we reflect on how to serve well in our various vocations (students, teachers, parents), we will constantly realize our own failings. How wonderful, then, that our school community is oriented around Christ, who atones for all our mistakes, disciplines us with loving and formative guidance, and illumines our hearts.