Student Discipline

This is Dennis.  I don’t post here much, because I don’t administrate schools anymore and because regular, consistent posting of wise things is not something I have mastered on two counts:  1)  It takes a unique discipline I don’t have.  2) I don’t think I am as wise today as I used to be . . . or as I used to think I was . . . I don’t know for sure.  Anyway, here is an excerpt of something I wrote on Student Discipline many years ago, back in the days when I was wise, or thought I was wise, or whatever.  I read it again, and it sounded wise at least. Wish I could write something like this today. If I could I would change a few things.  But overall I stand by it.  I think.  What do you think?  

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. 


The Value of Teachers

Two great pieces crossed my eyes this morning, both touching on the value of educators to the students they teach.

The first is a sweet reassurance to teachers that their work matters, that parents and kids value what they do.

Dear Teacher

I need your voice in my child’s life.

I need you identifying my daughter’s strengths and weaknesses.

 As strong as a voice and presence as I am in my child’s life I know it is not all about me.  She needs you to tell her that she has a knack for writing or a gift in math because the next thing I know she is identifying herself as an author or a scientist or a mathematician and the next thing we all know she is an adult and that teacher voice is still inside her head and she IS an author, a scientist, or a mathematician.

The second is more salty, more in your face. Someone asks a teacher what he makes (salary) as part of a diatribe about teachers being second-class citizens in their disciplines. That conversation actually happened in front of poet Taylor Mali, who turned it into a poem, which was then illustrated as a comic over at Zen Pencils.  
I must admit, I smiled when I read this one. (Passed on to me by a former student.)

Words We Live By

In honor of a new school year at NCS, I’d like to list the pithy sayings and aphorisms that have developed within NCS lingo over the years to describe our experiences with classical and grace-based education.

I hope my colleagues & I will use these as springboards for future posts — each sparks whole essays of thought about the messy task of educating the next generation.

New Covenant Words of Wisdom

Grace is messy.

Grace always costs the giver.

Education is about repentance.
(We’re still arguing over the wording of this one. “Repentance” here doesn’t carry its usual theological meaning.)

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.
(Lori deeply disagrees with this one unless it’s heavily clarified. 😉

Everything must be riddled with complications.
(stole that one from the Dodds family)

Anything worth doing will be difficult.

Presenting every child complete in Christ

We must start families/kids where they are, not “where they should be” (originally from Matt Whitling)


Grace-based education probably isn’t a new concept. I think all good educators have recognized that Grace — biblically-defined and applied — must be a central part of the process.

On the other hand, we at NCS don’t run into many schools like ours. Perhaps the “structure of education” — schedules, policies, rules — overwhelms theological understanding sometimes. Perhaps schools are pulled away from their vision and mission toward success and popularity.

We envision this blog as a location for exploration — mulling over the implications of Grace unfolded in a classroom setting in the midst of busy lives and heavy schedules.

… so here goes….

PS. Did you catch the pun in our URL? (I teach Shakespeare, so puns are high on my list!)

“gracefuled” can be read as either “Graceful Ed” or “Grace Fuled.”

Either way seems to accurately describe the absolute need for Grace in the task of education….