Historical Attitudes to School Discipline

Throughout the history of education the most common form of school discipline was corporal punishment. Whilst a child was in school a teacher was expected to act as a substitute parent, with all the normal forms of parental discipline open to them. In practice this meant that children were commonly punished with the birch or cane.

However, corporal punishment was often problematic. Unless strictly monitored it could be open to abuse and there was a growing opposition to any use of physical force in disciplining individuals from the late eighteenth century onwards. A further complicating matter was the rise of compulsory education, as parents might be compelled to send their children to schools in which the disciplinary regime was at odds with parental views on punishment. Corporal punishment was consequently abolished in many countries and replaced by positive reinforcements of behavior, in addition to forms of discipline more agreeable to parental tastes, such as the detention of students.

Most modern educationalists in Europe and North America advocate a disciplinary policy focused on positive reinforcement, with praise, merit marks, house points and the like playing a central role in maintaining behavior. When positive reinforcement does not work teachers adopt a variety of punishments including detentions, suspensions and ultimately expulsion of the student from the school.

In part, the disciplinary regime of a school relates to the amount of deference a pupil is expected to show to their teacher. In the Caribbean and East Asia in particular a child is expected to show complete obedience to their teacher, with corporal punishment still a sanction in some countries in these regions.