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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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VAN DER WALT, J L  and  OOSTHUIZEN, I J. A possible alternative approach to learner discipline. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2008, vol.48, n.3, pp.374-388. ISSN 2224-7912.

Learner discipline in South African schools as well as in schools in other parts of the world is clearly not of the required standard. Educators, in the form of parents and teachers, find themselves constantly confronted with the problem of how to eradicate the problem and restore order to schools and classrooms. The problem also evokes other questions, such as: What is "discipline " and what does it entail? What is the nature of the spirit of the times in which young people have to be educated nowadays? To what extent has the new constitutional dispensation in South Africa dovetailed with the spirit of the times? In what respect does the conventional approach to discipline in educational contexts differ from the "new" approach? The following thesis was formulated, based on several empirical investigations, a study of the literature and on philosophical reflection: Learner discipline can be restored and improved in schools if educators connect, in a "manner that isjustifiable, in principle", with the spirit of the times, and if they interpret the applicable legal framework in terms of this approach. The main focus in this article is on the postmodern spirit of our times, in other words the prevalent views and conceptions about the world and life, as well as on the legal framework within which discipline has to be maintained in schools. Postmodernism provides the backdrop against which the proposed "new" approach to the maintenance of discipline has to be brought to bear. Postmodernism as such cannot be uncritically accepted as a suitable context for the maintenance of learner discipline in schools, however. The postmodern approach tends to over-emphasize, for instance, certain anthropological aspects. By the same token, the human rights culture, which forms the legal framework for education and schooling in many modern societies, cannot be accepted uncritically. Although the focus in this article is not on the didactical or educational-psychological aspects of teaching and learning but rather on the principles of effective academic instruction, it is contended that these principles should be adhered to in schools and in instruction as a prerequisite for the attainment of good discipline. It is furthermore implicitly accepted that good relationships between educators and learners, dealing with delinquent behaviour in a pupil-specific manner and timely intervention should be recognised as measures for coping with poor school discipline. The same applies to the whole-school behaviour support approach. Apart from these measures that might be appropriate for purposes of procuring effective education and of restoring learner discipline in schools, educators also need to follow a "postmodern strategy". By following this strategy, that is one that embraces not only all the interventions and strategies mentioned above but also tunes in to the postmodern spirit of our times, interventions such as formal violence prevention or reduction programmes, the banning of "difficult learners" and the "refer and remove philosophy" can be pre-empted. Educators' focus should not be on delinquent behaviour as such but rather on understanding the postmodern attitude of learners and, in view of that insight, on guiding their learners towards more disciplined conduct. This "discipline" should take the form of "discipleship". The legal framework, especially the human rights culture, as well as insight into the postmodern spirit allows educators to apply the following strategy as a means of restoring learner discipline in the sense of "discipleship": 1. Educators should relinquish the conventional approach to the maintenance of order and discipline in schools. The situation analyses of postmodern philosophers such as Michel Foucault and others have shown that these approaches are no longer adequate. Because of the inertia factor in education, educators only now (after three to four decades of postmodernism) seem to begin to understand the shortcomings of the conventional approach. 2. Educators should keep abreast of the postmodern spirit which forms the context of education in our times. They have to understand the "carnivalesque" entertainment-seeking attitude of young people, and approach the process of "disciplining" their learners accordingly: learners have to be kept constructively busy with "entertaining" and "amusing" learning activities. They should devise new methods for achieving this. (Also see 5 below.) 3. Educators should furthermore avail themselves of the possibilities inherent in Social Constructivism. People nowadays tend to construct meaning or sense for themselves. Learning content has to be offered in forms that will enable learners to understand the givens in reality which they can process for the purpose of creating sense and meaning for themselves. Learning opportunities should, therefore, be cast in forms that would promote creative and constructive social interactions in the classroom. 4. Educators should also be mindful of the fact that the postmodern spirit has not affected the essential features of education. It is the learners who have developed a mindset that differs markedly from the rationalistic-deterministic approach associated with modernism; education as such has remained essentially unaffected. The learners have become rather more mature "consumers" in the "carnival of life". As a result educators have to change their own roles from those of dispensers of knowledge and of educational norms and values to those of facilitators of learning opportunities. This role change does not, however, affect the validity of the essential features of education: education will always involve guiding, unlocking, enabling and the making of disciples or followers of the learners as educands. Especially this last feature of education is of great importance: educators should themselves provide examples that can be emulated by their learners; they should demonstrate to their learners how one makes sense and gives meaning to experiences in a postmodern environmental and social context. Teaching and learning should become more of a co-operative enterprise than ever before. 5. Educators should make full use of new technological inventions and possibilities. They should realize that their options for maintaining discipline have increased rather than diminished since the introduction of a human rights culture and the banning of (physical) punishment. Educators (also in relatively poor communities) should avail themselves of the possibilities provided by cell phones, cd's, dvd's, ipods, MP3 players and the Internet as well as other recently developed teaching aids. They should place more of the pedagogical responsibility on the shoulders of their learners. The legal status accorded to children in South Africa and indeed worldwide makes this eminently possible.

Keywords : Education; discipline; spirit of the times; postmodernism.

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