Why discipline needs to be reclaimed as an educational concept

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This paper considers different conceptualisations of school discipline within both UK education policy and wider educational and philosophical literature. Initially, it is noted that notions of “behaviour management” dominate discourses about school discipline. It is suggested that this is unhelpful as behaviour management skills are underpinned by a behaviourist understanding of learning that denies pupils an important degree of agency over their own development – pupils are rather portrayed as unruly and morally deficient. It is therefore maintained that discipline needs to be reclaimed as an educational concept as it can be a valuable personal quality whose possession indicates a capacity to set important goals for oneself and see them through even in the face of difficulty. With reference to the diverse philosophies of Dewey, P.S. Wilson, Durkheim, Oakeshott, and MacMurray, it is contended that a re-conceived notion of school discipline might enable less controlling and behaviourist and more educational discipline in at least three ways: the ethical (by guiding the ethical development of pupils), the humanising (by encouraging pupils to act for the sake of others rather than only think about themselves) and the epistemic (by supporting pupils to engage in the pursuit of valued interests and knowledge).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)438-451
Number of pages14
JournalEducational Studies
Issue number4
Early online date25 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2014


  • discipline
  • agency
  • philosophy


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