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Keeping Classroom Order: Punishment Or Stern Talk?

Student: Can we talk about class?

Teacher: Sure. What’s up?

Student: I’m worried that our class just isn’t moving fast enough through the material. We’re not getting much done.

Teacher: Well, a classical education isn’t about covering material. It’s about cultivating virtue.

Student: No one is cultivating virtue in your class. That’s the problem. You spend so much time every day lecturing the boys on why they shouldn’t talk out of turn, why they shouldn’t distract you, shouldn’t distract each other… We never accomplish anything. It’s just a lot of pointless scolding.

Teacher: Well, your class can be quite unruly.

Student: Actually, your class is unruly. Those boys don’t mess around in our other classes.

Teacher: Really?

Student: No. They sit quietly and listen for Mr. Boone and Mrs. Sanders.

Teacher: Why do you think that is?

Student: Because they’re sort of afraid of Mr. Boone.

Teacher: Well, I don’t want students to be afraid of me. As someone who cares about the cultivation of virtue, I am going after the hearts of my students.

Student: That’s not working either. The boys in my class despise you. They call you “Mr. Twinkie Talk” behind your back. They love Mr. Boone, though.

Teacher: They’re afraid of Mr. Boone but they love him?

Student: Yes.

Teacher: That doesn’t make sense.

Student: That’s fine. It’s still true.

Teacher: Why do you think the boys love Mr. Boone?

Student: Because they learn a lot from him. He offers them a reason for coming to class. We love people who do us good.

Teacher: I’m doing those boys good. They just can’t see it.

Student: Maybe, but they can see the good Mr. Boone is doing them, which is why they love him.

Teacher: So what are you suggesting I do?

Student: Perhaps when the boys break the rules, you should punish them.

Teacher: What did you have in mind?

Student: Make your expectations clear. Give students detention when they fail to meet those expectations. Make them clean the bathroom at lunch. Send them out into the hallway so they don’t bother the rest of us. That’s what Mr. Boone does.

Teacher: They won’t learn anything in the hallway.

Student: They’re not learning anything in the classroom. Neither am I.

Teacher: Punishment is a bit of an old-fashioned concept.

Student: This is a classical school. Aren’t we rather fond of old-fashioned concepts here?

Teacher: Some of them, but punishment doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter. I want to see those boys change. I want to see them want to come to class.

Student: They want to come to Mr. Boone’s class.

Teacher: Yes, but Mr. Boone’s methods don’t produce lifelong change. If the only reason the students listen to Mr. Boone is because they’re afraid of him, imagine what they’ll become as soon as Mr. Boone is no longer around.

Student: I don’t have to imagine it. I’ve seen it. When Mr. Boone is not around, they brazenly disrespect this school, goof around, and waste my time—and yours.

Teacher: I mean, imagine what they’ll be like after they graduate and go off to college.

Student: Have you never noticed how many of Mr. Boone’s former students come back and see him around Christmas time and the beginning of summer? Alumni of this school drop by to see him all the time, including alumni who were knuckleheads back when they attended this school. Do you have many former students dropping by to see you?

Teacher: Some changes occur later in life.

Student: I need those changes to begin occurring now so that I can learn something in your class. It’s the responsibility of the teacher to govern class in such a way that students who want to learn can learn. I want to learn but can’t. And I can’t learn anything because you’re incapable of presenting yourself in the classroom as someone who is worthy of respect and must be obeyed.

Teacher: Good grief, you’re quite rude.

Student: Yes. Very good. We’re getting somewhere. “Quite rude.” That’s sharper language than you’ve used with any of the boys so far this year. What sort of punishment seems fitting for such rudeness?

Teacher: Punishment doesn’t get to the heart.

Student: A fear of punishment can create new habits, though, and habits do get to the heart. Habits are the heart.

Teacher: Nonetheless, punishment does not get to the heart.

Student: Do you think stern talks get to the heart?

Teacher: They can.

Student: You know that Mr. Boone gives stern talks, too, don’t you?

Teacher: Does he?

Student: They’re not like your stern talks, though.

Teacher: How are they different?

Student: It’s a little hard to describe the difference. You talk quite a lot about faith and wisdom. You talk about our hearts, and about “shaping our loves,” and about “learning to love good things.” Mr. Boone doesn’t talk about any of those things—or, he does, he just uses different words for them.

Teacher: What sort of words does he use?

Student: He talks about real things. He talks about things you can see and things you can actually do. Like, you tell us, “You just need to have faith,” but Mr. Boone says, “You need to pray when you wake up in the morning. You need to talk to God constantly in your thoughts, even if you’re just thanking him for all the good little things about your day.” You say, “You need to draw close to God,” but Mr. Boone says, “Go to church every Sunday. There’s no good reason to skip church.” You say, “You need to learn to love good things,” but Mr. Boone just makes fun of us for listening to Post Malone. Mr. Boone is very easy to understand.

Teacher: I’m afraid Mr. Boone sounds like a bit of a legalist.

Student: I don’t know what a legalist is, but if that’s what Mr. Boone is, then I think I’d like to be a legalist, too.

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