Self Discipline and Intrinsic Motivation

The word discipline has become synonymous with cruel treatment in educational environments and in many families. This is unfortunate because a child, a teenager, or an adult who grows up without self-discipline has lost the freedom of self determination and choice. I was taught self-discipline a child primarily by my father and also by my mother. There was very little harsh treatment by either of my parents. My father and I talked extensively about many things. If I asked him what he thought about a particular subject, he would always reply, “What do you think about it?” In this manner I was allowed to think through a question and give him a reply before he unloaded his opinions on me. After I had explained what my opinion was on the subject we were discussing, he would then tell me what he thought, but not in great detail. My mother was somewhat different in her approach and we would discuss her favorite topic which was her family in Arkansas which was quite extensive. She did not get to see much of her family once she and my father migrated westward to Nebraska, Idaho, and finally Oregon where my father worked on irrigation projects. He learned his trade by doing, because neither of my parents went to school past the seventh and eighth grade. My father was raised by his father because his mother died before he was a year old. They left Missouri and walked to Wyoming. My Mother was also raised by her father from about age eleven.

By learning to think for myself and making decisions at an early age, I also learned to live with both good and bad decisions by thinking through what I had learned from a bad decision as well as a good decision. I learned to persevere in spite of circumstances and to keep a positive attitude.

Since I spent my adult life from age twenty five onward as a public school teacher, a school administrator, and as college professor, my early training by both my parents affected how I approached teaching. I met many professors who expected one to feed back answers that they thought were politically or ethically correct. Many of my classmates would try to guess what kind of answers they thought the professor would approve of and award them with a good grade. This kind of approach always struck me as foolish. If I found this kind of professor I would risk it all in spite of the consequences. In a literature class we were to read all of the books by a certain author and write a paper on his or her world view. I chose to read and review all of Earnest Hemingway’s books and to write a paper on his works. I discovered that the Professor did not like Hemingway because he supposedly loved war. He graded me according to his views. I later took a graduate class from another professor who spent much of the time on group dynamics and had the class role play different roles people assume when in a group discussion either in the work place or in family groups. We would assume roles such as fact finders, the crowd-pleaser, who tries to make everyone feel good, the negative person who finds fault with everything. and so forth. I found this class to be of great value and incorporated it into my classes both in the public school and in college classes, particularly in teaching Philosophy of Education. I required the students to relate their readings and papers to how they saw themselves as teachers and how they related to their students. I told them they would be graded not by trying to guess what I thought, but by what they thought. I had to specify in great detail what I expected as far as spelling and punctuation and took off points if I received junk which I did from several of the students who had gone to school when the philosophy was not to correct spelling, sentence structure and content because it might harm a person’s creativity. My own daughter and step-daughter suffered from that approach. My step-daughter would send her papers to be read by her mother and myself. We marked them and critiqued them extensively. Her writing improved dramatically and by the time she completed her masters degree she was a great writer.

I adopted a method when teaching fifth grade of having my students write one page in a spiral notebook on any subject of their choice. I would read and correct their writing and then they would write their corrected copy on the right hand side of the page. When we had parent teacher conferences, I had a visual example to show the parents of the progress their child had made during the year.

Self discipline has to be nurtured at home and in the public schools. Rude behavior does not have to be tolerated in the public schools because a parent or parents have not done their job. Children can be taught to respect other people’s property and to behave in public and in other people’s homes. There is nothing worse than to have friends whose children run wild when they come to visit. The idea of logical consequences is a great way to instill self discipline in a child. If your child’s behavior is unacceptable you can expect some privilege to be removed for a specified period of time. Choose something that is particularly important to the child so that the message is received. Whatever the choice by the adult when choosing a logical consequence, it must be fair, consistent, and logical.

Finally, when an adult has attained self discipline, they have also attained intrinsic motivation which results in doing whatever task arises with a minimum of instruction or supervision. These adults are highly sought after in the work place because they can be relied upon to do their job thoroughly with little supervision.