Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rigor vs Freedom, Encouragement vs Discipline

What do you value most?  Love?  Truth?  Knowledge?  Freedom?  We can't value all these worthwhile things equally.  There will be serious moral dilemmas in which we most choose which is most important.  This is the fundamental flaw in the "it's all good" philosophy, the libertarian viewpoint and the all-is-valued perspective on education.  There is a school of thought that we should simply let children explore any and all interests without limits.  Freedom is wonderful and a child's ability to have a say is shut down far too often.  But children are still learning their values, and freedom without guidance can have its pitfalls.  Freedom doesn't necessarily produce rigor.  I may not want to do something that may be important or valuable to do.  Rigor has a place in the world.  If we fail to teach our children the value of rigor, we fail to give them an essential life skill.

In a similar vein, while encouragement is crucial for children, sometimes we overvalue it at the expense of discipline.  I'm not talking about discipline as in punishment. I'm talking about the idea of developing self-discipline, the notion of striving for something worthwhile, reaching for high expectations, following strict demands, delaying gratification when needed, hearing and accepting honest criticism, learning to battle back from set-backs.  I have seen the positive impact that discipline-heavy activities such as karate can have on a struggling soul, the way it builds a pride and self-confidence that the warm-and-fuzzy version of encouragement often fails to do.  And it makes me wonder.

I'm not saying send your kids to military school.  I'm not saying we throw out encouragement and freedom and self-determination.  I'm saying they need to be tempered.  They cannot be ends unto themselves, not for children, whose grasp of the world is still developing and who need our guidance to make them strong and resilient.

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