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Discipline and Punishment in Schools by Irina Hutanu, MA in Education, Canterbury Christ Church University

ABSTRACT: This paper draws upon a core institution in our modern society and more specifically looks at the way the following three concepts blend and have evolved in time: school, discipline and punishment. In doing that, I have based some of the conclusions and ideas on Michel Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish. The essay starts by going back in history to underline the changes in perspective school has suffered and how punishment was and is regarded. In a following section, I will analyze the Panopticon principle developed by Bentham and studied by Foucault and in relation to this the present essay has the role to reinforce how a proper setup surveillance system has changed the idea of discipline and implicitly the concept of punishment.

School, discipline and punishment: past and present. Discipline in schools has undertaken various forms throughout time and it has always been a subject of great discussions. In the 17th century when the Christian elementary schools were established had the purpose to eradicate all the negative side effects of an idle life: lack of faith, improper conduct, drunkenness, violence, ignorance, public disorder, begging and stealing. All the above justifications are negative and underlined a general idea which M. Foucault describes really well: “At first, they were expected to neutralize dangers, to fix useless or disturbed populations, to avoid the inconveniences of over-large assemblies.”(Foucault, pag.15) But starting with the French Revolution and going forwards discipline has developed a strange shift in the mentality of the people: it became a means of increasing skills and perfecting abilities thus acquiring a positive side and loosing partially the concept of being an instrument against uneducated and violent subjects: “Now, at the beginning of the Revolution, the end laid down for primary education was to be among other things, to fortify, to develop the body, to prepare the child for a future in some mechanical work, to give him an observant eye, a sure hand and prompt habits.” (Foucault, pag.16) Thus discipline is producing useful and productive individuals (“docile bodies” as Foucault would call them) and not only combats the idleness and ignorance of a lower class. 1

It is interesting to see that although corporal punishment has disappeared from the penal system in the 19th century (officially speaking). etc. The apparatus of punitive justice must now bite into this bodiless reality. Mably formulated the principle once and for all: Punishment. comedy began. should strike the soul rather than the body. if I may so put it.As we can see discipline has increasingly shifted its perspective from a purely earthly and precise directed action (eradicate beggars. Punishment which is a key part of discipline has also evolved from being utterly physical to being extremely non-intrusive. This way the punishment of the “bodiless reality” becomes a spectacle where the main parts are distributed to judges. When focusing on the author of the crime-what type of rehabilitation does he need. the gravity and the seriousness of the second cannot be compared with the torture the convict suffered. with shadow play. It was the end of a certain kind of tragedy. because questions -like why the act was committed. sociologists. The crime was no longer established and the one committing simply punished. educationalists. gave way.16) The emergence of this humanistic approach gave rise to a technique of investigation that included a complex set of instruments. but still it has been banned quite late-in 1987 in the UK 2 . teachers. In the modern era the body is no longer a path to correct behavior. a social problem or heredity triggered it. under what circumstances was it done-arose. The simple “guilty of charge-off with his head” manner of punishing has turned into a set of entangled investigations that requires another entangled set of specialists who are capable of diagnosing the problems and establishing the correct type of punishment. what triggered it. A new character came on the scene. drunk and violent subjects) to a more general and wide spread scope-improve individual qualities at a macro level and not for just one social class.Foucault says because “the old partners of the spectacle of punishment. impalpable entities. and last but not least. masked. pag. is the crime an effect of a mental problem. Of course. pag.” (Foucault. the focus of punishment is now the soul of the individual: “The expiation that once rained down upon the body must be replaced by a punishment that acts in depth on the heart. the inclinations. the thoughts.16) It was an important moment. the body and the blood. the will. corporal punishment in schools has survived many years after.” (Foucault. faceless voices. psychiatrists.

music. In schools. and even there it manifests the two sides of a power-knowledge equation. Ironically the word in itself-discipline-contains this dual meaning as Keith Hoskin interestingly explains: the word “comes from the Latin disciplina. which is concerned with getting ‘learning’ (the disci-half) into the ‘child’ (puer/puella represented in the syllable –pulina). Related to this. Because whether we like it or not. work together to locate individuals in space. and in Latin it has the same double meanings that it retains today. not to mention that in many parts of the world the corporal punishment is still a common instrument against misbehaved children. like in private households. 262) 3 . it imposed respect and above all it reminded the pupil who has the power. For it concerns ab initio the dual process: the discipline that is presenting a certain knowledge to the learner. the term is a collapsed form of discipulina. corporal punishment was considered a normal measure to educate and discipline-it was handy.” Ball like Foucault sees the entire social structure as a web that is constantly under observation and we involuntarily. allow and not only that-we have integrated this mode of existence in our mind: “Management. Ball bringing into discussion the management theories notices that the main instrument for maintaining authority is “a hierarchy of continuous and functional surveillance.” (Ball. and the discipline of keeping the learner present before the knowledge. simple. effectiveness and appraisal. because we have been trained/disciplined in this manner. for example. in a hierarchical and efficiently visible organization.30) Thus. Stephen J. and rhetoric and to the problems of power. pag. Foucault notices that all institutions (especially schools) are governed by the following tensioned relation power-knowledge (pouvoir-savoir) and discipline and punishment are the means by which this equation is maintained alive. Etymologically.”(Hoskin. referring both to the ancient knowledge arts such as philosophy. Thus its very etymological beginning of the term is an educational one. pag. in order to maintain discipline and in fact gain power and knowledge punishment had and has to be effective and train pupils to let themselves be managed and organized by an authoritarian individual. as for instance in disciplina militaris.(1999 in private schools) and about the same time in other EU countries. It concerns those technologies of control whose extreme form then was the disciplina militaris: yet it never ceases to concern the process of teaching and the object of instruction. understand/accept it or not we are subjects in a world that is managed by an authority.

It was disguised to accommodate the humanistic approach of modernism where punishment seems a rather harsh way to educate and for some the word in itself is blunt and psychologically undermining.” (Foucault. 2012) 4 . The Telegraph. In my experience. nowadays punishment is still there but has taken another form which is less hurtful physically and it’s hidden under a pile of politically correct and objective measures. vivid and extremely present in public life. so that “good” behaviour is what we would have considered bad some 20 years ago. If in the past punishment was brutal. derisory “Yeah?”. perfectly individualized and constantly visible. This explains why rudeness and swearing at teachers are on the increase. Thus behavior and performance are defined on the basis of this two opposed values of good and evil-as Foucault notices-and therefore the dispute between effective and ineffective practice which is highly subjective. and expect teachers to ignore it because they have been trained to do so. self assessment. consultants. Although we don’t see it that way. Related to this. this is in fact a form of punishment: if we don’t fulfill our responsibilities we must expect someone is there to ‘cane’ us for what we did and then show us the correct path. as no one can establish a perfectly effective school practice because what seems to be effective for one group of individuals would surely be ineffective for another. That is why Katharine Birbalsingh makes the following statement: “With the boundaries shifted in this way.” (Birbalsingh. the permanent focus on measurable outcomes. As a consequence schools/teachers/students are classified in two major categories: good or bad and they are punished or rewarded accordingly. 200) Monthly reports.” (Ball.Ball notices how the teacher and the school are captured in a perfect diagram of power. with the classroom being one of those small theatres in which “each actor is alone. children think nothing of responding to teachers with a flippant. school reviews. Stephen Ball underlines that through value-giving measures (good-bad) “the constraint of a conformity that must be achieved is introduced. accountability. targets and the results of effective teaching are all technologies of control which are meant to supervise and steer the schools. pag. pag. In other words. teacher or school fail to reach the expectations of effective practice(conformity) a whole range of specialists (technicians of effectiveness: experts. moral disciplinarians) will intervene with their models. the path to punishment is paved with good intentions. school development planning.262) If you as a pupil. a naughty child has to go even further to stand out from the crowd and attract attention.

which have as primary purpose the consolidation of a proper educational system: “Tom Trust. the inquisitor’s devotion.” (Education Committee. but people have become more sensitive and truly appalled when hearing a pupil has been caned or punished. But if it examines itself and if. cruel subtlety and malice. a former member of the General Teaching Council of England also referred to the “strategies that head teachers use to avoid the Ofsted inspectors seeing the worst children”. 162) Instincts have reigned the human mind and body since the beginning of time and there’s no way we have been “cured” by these. more generally. which included suspending the worst behaved pupils or employing supply teachers to cover disruptive lessons. pag. We note that the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) in 2009 suggested that. or rather. not only because behavioral issues should be addressed and not hidden or ignored but also because poor behavior has a negative impact on learning. nor our children have. I don’t defend the ‘caning practice’ and I wouldn’t allow its existence. devoid of passions and committed solely to truth. learning was “too often hindered by poor concentration. pag. according to the mask it bears.” (Foucault. According to a survey of NASUWT members in March 2009. only because we have learned to be more diplomatic and abide the human rights petition. passion. but it seems that they fail in the very intimate purpose and meaning a school stands upon: education. persistent low- 5 . but we must acknowledge it and we must understand its reasons and here I must draw again from Foucault who uses the right words to describe the hypocrisy surrounding history to parallel the hypocrisy surrounding punishment: “In appearance. it interrogates the various forms of scientific consciousness in its history it finds that all these forms and transformations are aspects of the will to knowledge: instinct. Report of Session 2010-11. The hypocritical behavior is not displayed only by parents or pupils but also by state organisms. historical consciousness is neutral. as much as 30% of teaching time was lost due to poor pupil behavior. “lowlevel disruption was leading to the loss of an average of thirty minutes teaching time per teacher per day. 30) We can understand that this is in the best interest of school leaders and maybe school unions as schools bear the great responsibility of ensuring the standards of behavior and they also have to deal with the pressure of the educational market. across 23 countries researched.The truth is we need punishment to discipline and our society is build and organized following the same principle. Ofsted told us that in schools in which behavior standards were judged as being inadequate.

pag.”(Foucault.)” (Bear. recess) to much harsher forms such as suspension. In short it reverses the principle of the dungeon. although most professional organizations oppose it. by more serious disruption involving a minority of pupils” (Education Committee. it introduces conformity as a prerequisite in passing into the “good school” category and it also abnormalises the ineffective or “sick” school.e. 2012) The Panopticon How should behavioral issues be addressed and what’s the best solution in preventing them? How can a teacher and implicitly a school have an outstanding reputation-satisfying the effective condition-and at the same time not using excessively the punitive techniques 1 to reach the standards? According to Foucault. 15) Like S.level misconduct and. Ball said effectiveness manages to construct a normative model. which ultimately protected.g. taking away privileges (e. Thus conformity and the inaccurate effective/ineffective labels give rise to wrong solutions regarding behavioral issues-as shown above. ‘the evil eye’. Visibility is a trap. sometimes. but schools shy away. removal to an alternative education program and corporal punishment (i. pag. The Telegraph. Full lighting and the eye of the supervisor capture better than darkness. or rather of its three functions-to enclose.. they can be actively grateful for them.4) 6 . the subject will react accordingly and obey the rules. Report of Session 2010-11.because in order to survive the marketization of the educational environment a school must have the means to “sell” itself to the public: “Detentions are sometimes effective. (…) Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. since it allows them to stay away from home for longer. In schools this permanent surveillance can be translated in robust and well-led behavioral policies which are applied consistently and also sustained by good teaching and an appropriate 1 “ These various forms of punishment range from unpleasant verbal reprimands.201) Thus ensuring the existence of permanent surveillance and monitoring. Exclusion is another option. 2008. expulsion. because of the harsh repercussions if they are seen to exclude too many children” (Birbalsingh. but when children come from chaotic families. spanking. to deprive of light and to hide-it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. pag. which is allowed in approximately half of the states. an efficient device to ensure discipline is the Panopticon construction developed by Bentham: “The Panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately.

pag. especially staff and pupils and not just considered by Governors as a paper exercise. The Apprenticeships. All these policies must be visible and clear for everyone to understand and respect because these policies constitute the basis of the Panopticon. For example. announced by the Department. (Education Committee. 24) Some organizations for childcare have voted against this type of power to be handed to teachers. A good surveillance system should have clear rules. The NUT believes that a school behavior policy must be a practical document which includes clear guidelines to staff on practice and procedures relating to any incidence of inappropriate behavior within school. for example. The Schools White Paper proposes to extend that search power to include pornography. 24) Also. tobacco. Skills.” (Education Committee. Children and Learning Act 2009 introduced a power for members of staff to search pupils for knives.” (Education Committee. but it can discourage and prevent at least some of the behavioral issues teachers have to deal with. alcohol. is of paramount importance to the effectiveness of behavior management in schools.curriculum. 25) Would this be enough to ensure a stable environment and prevent violent outbursts? Probably not. be precise and rigorous in applying them: “The school behavior policy. teachers must have rights that allow them to impose surveillance and use the power of surveillance. controlled drugs and stolen articles. Report of Session 2010-11. the majority of teachers who responded said that the expanded set of search powers. The White Paper includes a commitment to “legislate through the forthcoming Education Bill to give teachers a more general power to search for any item which they reasonably believe is going to be used to cause harm to others or to break a law so that. pag. would be important or essential in improving behavior in their current or most recent school: 69% of teachers who responded to the 2010 Behavior Survey regarded powers ‘for teachers to search pupils for stolen property and any other item which could cause disorder or pose a threat’ as important or essential for the future. It’s enough they know that someone can see them and 7 . but when asked about the extended rights debate. Report of Session 2010-11. teachers can search for items such as phones or cameras which they believe are going to be used in this way. pag. offensive weapons. Report of Session 2010-11. Foucault concludes that it’s not necessary to permanently check and constantly supervise the people in the Panopticon. and fireworks. which should be discussed by all members of the school community.

without ever seeing. Report of Session 2010-11. (…). but he must be sure that he may always be so. 30) Also. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any moment. Of course. categorizing teachers by students like shown above will never disappear. Daisy Christodoulou. One way of preventing the individualization of power is to transform it like Foucault said in a distribution of forces: teachers. one is totally seen. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon.” (Education Committee. 201) Thus creating the illusion of permanent surveillance one can trick and discipline the subjects without needing to use violent methods to inoculate a proper behavior. That’s what I like about it. but these situations must be kept at a minimum scale by applying the rules every time without hesitating. the idea of power disintegrates and becomes individualized and associated with one or two subjects-therefore the “kind teacher”-“mean teacher” distinction surfaces and the policy’s consistency will be ruined. pag. The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring. and it makes them think. in the central tower. parents and carers. one trace of hesitation. If there is one glitch. explaining that “it’s not particularly that I want to search a pupil’s bag.”(Foucault. surfaces. an Ambassador for Teach First. one sees everything without ever being seen. precise and the ones applying it rigorous and thorough. That’s why: “A key element to 8 . Foucault interestingly points out that the Panopticon is “an important mechanism for it automatizes and disindividualizes power. it’s not enough for one or two teachers to apply the policy regarding behavior accordingly. it sends a message. a person with flaws. As a consequence power becomes vulnerable and ready to be conquered. Power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies. lights. but if there is a law and the school has the power to do so. in an arrangement whose internal mechanisms produce the relation in which individuals are caught up. pag.” (Foucault. 202) Once individualized power loses its strength because it become synonymous with a person. Believing you are in the spotlight makes you restrain your instincts and accept the external power: “(…) Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. gazes. It has been noticed that children who have a solid home background and those whose parents get involved in their school life have a healthier behavior. In view of this. That message does get through to kids.analyze their actions every second. highlighted the importance of new powers as ‘deterrents’. it must be a unitary action and this is why I have specified before that a surveillance system needs to be clear. pag. weak points and capable of being influenced.

could be replaced by the simple. Foucault notices how this panopticism phenomenon can lead to a disciplined and organized environment without the need of applying force: “So it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behavior. no more locks. the schoolboy to application. pag.” (Education Committee. also suggested that “parents are a lot more up for changing the behavior of a three-year-old than they are for a 15year-old. power is fragmented and the reverse is achieved. the madman to cal. no more chains. Thus. economic geometry of a ‘house of certainty’” (Foucault. the patient to the observation of regulations. still this does not mean to say that schools are powerless to support parents and carers in promoting the good behavior of their children. 202) This house of certainty if not so farfetched and the Panopticon is not just some utopic mechanism that has logic only on paper. especially if this type of surveillance is implemented at an early age: “Witnesses highlighted the fact that it is often easier to engage with parents at primary school as there is a culture of meeting parents “at the school gate”. Although some of the factors which have an impact on children’s behavior—such as parenting and family breakdown—are beyond schools’ control. or the family background is not a healthy one. Charlie Taylor. making it easier to “have quiet words and conversations [with parents] that are more difficult to have at secondary”. all that was needed was that the separations should be clear and the openings well arranged. 25) Dividing power but keeping it constant and consistent keeps the child under permanent observation and discipline can be instilled. which makes it easier for schools to approach parents to discuss possible interventions. The heaviness of the old ‘houses of security’. pag. Head Teacher of Willows Primary Special School and Acting Head Teacher of Chantry Secondary Special School in the London Borough of Hillingdon.effective leadership of behavior is engagement with parents. the worker to work. Bentham was surprised that panoptic institutions could be so light: there were no more bars. Most of the time this surveillance system doesn’t work because either the teachers don’t rigorously apply the behavioral policy. pag. or they are not supported by the head teachers in their actions. Report of Session 2010-11. 25) This type of mechanism assures in time solid results and ultimately manages to keep punishment at bay.” (Education Committee. etc. with their fortress-like architecture. Report of Session 2010-11. This is actual put in practice and most schools use the 9 .

surveillance principle to maintain order and discipline and most of the time it works. pag. Introducing Monsieur Foucault.203) Final conclusions School has not completely changed its way of addressing discipline and without doubt there are lots of matters that need improvement and careful analysis. the more constant. Foucault and Education. London.. This useless and aggressive behavior to a central institution meant to create valuable. A system that is already in use through the various social partners and social measures that tend to create an effect of permanent surveillance. is under a constant metaobservation: supervising his own self. he becomes the principle of his own subjection. including exclusions. the external power may throw off its physical weight. which he simultaneously plays both roles.” (Education Committee. in the end. the more it approaches this limit. Routledge. As stated above. The constant supervision has an interesting effect on the individual who sees power as omnipresent: “He who is subjected to a field of visibility. profound and permanent are its effects: it is a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation and which is always decided in advance. he makes them play spontaneously upon himself. pag.”2 (Foucault. and who knows it. References Ball. not only at school. honest. it tends to the non-corporal. By this very fact. assumes responsibility for the constraints of power. has suffered a meaningful alteration. the Panoptic scheme consists of a coherent distribution of power. 2 Evidence from our witnesses confirmed that “working in partnership with other schools. 1990. But one great development has arisen from centuries of teaching and disciplining: the possibility of educating without the immediate interference of violence. he inscribes himself the power relation. A strongly connected net that creates a sort of pressure on the individual and who. Report of Session 2010-11. independent and civilized individuals. 47) 10 . and. thus discipline becomes a part of his being. this way surveillance is assured everywhere. institution has incorporated in itself the ideas of discipline and punishment. but we can ensure that the last of these two concepts is rarely used through a simple and efficient system called Panopticon. Disciplines and Knowledge. local services and the wider community to draw on local expertise and resources [is] of critical importance in addressing challenging behavior. From a weapon specifically designed to combat foul. S.

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