Over the years I have learned that efforts to produce a well-ordered, outwardly “impressive” educational environment can sometimes stand in the way of true heart change. I believe that the educational environment needs to be well-ordered, esp. for the sake of maintaining an environment which is conducive to learning by the most students. However, a well-ordered, well-behaved child is not the same thing as a spiritually mature child [Years-Later-Note: Is there any such thing as a “spiritually mature” child?]. One of the most immediate and subversive manifestations of human depravity is the ability to convince oneself and others that all is well with the heart merely by means of outward conformity. Therefore, I do not believe that any disciplinary system can afford to be divorced from the Gospel, and I do not believe that outward conformity and “well-orderedness” should be the highest goal of any disciplinary system. Because of this, I have sought to encourage teachers to remember what they are trying to accomplish when disciplining a child using the school’s disciplinary system. Are they merely trying to order the environment? Or are they attempting to improve the character of the child [Years-Later-Note: Not sure I like this “improve the character” language today, but maybe you know what I meant and can riff on it]. Although both purposes can coincide in the same disciplinary event, teachers must be able to distinguish between the two. To fail to do so might be to achieve order at the expense of character [Years-Later-Note: Today I might say something like, “To fail to do so might be to achieve something external at the expense of something internal.”] The environment can be well-ordered by means of disciplinary rules and consequences. However, the improvement of character cannot be accomplished apart from the application of the Gospel, i.e., ensuring that students understand that the purpose of the law is not to impress God, themselves, or others by their obedience, but rather to reveal that we are sinners so that we can be led to Christ, in whom we find true righteousness and real sanctification. Schools that truncate the message of the Law by not moving students ahead into the Gospel may have well-ordered environments, but will not ultimately be accomplishing anything of eternal value in the lives of students.
In other words, I believe that schools can and should be well-ordered, but that they should not fall prey to the fundamental error of legalism—teaching outward conformity instead of, or even at the expense of, relying upon the Gospel for true heart-change.