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Discipline is Not Synonymous with Punishment at Canada’s Only Private Military School

As the Founder and Headmaster of Robert Land Academy, Canada’s only private military school for boys, I am often asked how I define the word “discipline”. 

A number of years ago discipline was the primary reason parents applied to the Robert Land Academy. Although it still remains amongst the leading reasons for applying, it has been joined and in some cases supplanted by the following:  low self esteem, problems with authority, poor friends, addicted to video games, drugs, not doing well in school, not following rules and a variety of ‘D’s (ADD, ADHD, Learning Disabilities, etc.). Has discipline become less critical over the years? Is it better managed in the home and schools than it was 15 or 20 years ago? Do parents feel for various reasons that discipline is not as formidable an issue as it once was in their home? Are we, as a society, doing better at discipline and therefore it is not the weighty issue it once was? Discipline is a set of rules used to maintain order. It is a system of expectations predicated to provide predictability and hence stability in our society so that we can function as positive members of that society. Knowing the rules is of critical importance. Knowing what the expectations or rules are for our conduct universally and specifically in certain situations, conditions, habits etc permits us the option of informed right choice. These rules as a statement comprise the law and general mores in our society. They are the map co-ordinates by which we navigate freedom…the exercising of right choice.   If this is what discipline is and if our parents site it less and less as the primary reason for their applying to Robert Land Academy, then can we be assured that it is in fact less of an issue for them, their sons, and indeed our society? Or might we examine carefully their other primary reasons and find them to be authored at least in part, by discipline, or more specifically, the lack there of? Is self esteem, or rather self concept in part dependent upon measuring yourself against certain standards? What if those standards are not clear or not known to the individual?                     At Robert Land Academy discipline is an integral component of all facets of Academy life. Our boarding school community thrives on order, predictability and each member of it knowing the rules, their place in maintaining those rules, and how we convey them in our actions with each other and the world beyond. Discipline at Robert Land Academy is a system of rules extended from the laws of our society, founded in our five values of Loyalty, Labour, Courage, Commitment and Honour and represents the expectations for ethical behaviour by which we prosecute and accomplish our mission statement. In addition to our five values, our rules are founded upon the following principles: the equitable treatment of all students, faculty and staff, the preservation of mutual respect, cooperation and understanding the notion that the practice of right choice in regards to obedience to the rules increases ones freedom and options; that this is inherently good for the individual as well as the group, that wrong choice will lead to sanction and perhaps dismissal from the group.  It is of critical importance that every member of our school knows the rules as soon as possible upon entering and that we are all reminded of them frequently. Equally, that those who lead in the community do so by their example.              Discipline is not synonymous with punishment as many in our society seem to believe. Nor is it synonymous with reward, but rather embraces both of these as active outcomes of individual choices regarding compliance to the rules. We actively encourage our students in making right choices, present rewards for these and sanctions for wrong choice.  Ensuring our students know the rules, the attendant rewards and sanctions, accompanied by experience provides the clarity of environment that authenticates it as consistent and unbiased. Confusion, about or misrepresentation of rules or expectations by leadership is NEVER good and must not be condoned. Faculty, staff and senior Cadet leadership must actively subscribe to the rules, their founding values and principles in order to effectively discharge the mandate of their office.   Our students are in differing developmental stages from each other and from the faculty and staff. In order to truly appreciate this faculty and staff may need to accurately reflect upon their own stages of adolescence and how they expressed their needs for autonomy, control of their environment and how they interacted with authority. If one examines the reasons parents now site for applying to Robert Land Academy, each has its roots deeply planted in the domain of discipline. This concept is critical to understand if we are to provide the kind of learning and living environment that has order, health, opportunity, and success as its hallmarks. Many of our boys come from environments that have been chaotic, easily manipulated, unclear in expectations and standards, and have lacked the willpower to motivate our boys to make right choices. One last observation: Experience has taught me that I have learned more from those things that I didn’t want to do but came to recognize that I ought to do, than from those things that I immediately wanted to do. Our students come from a world of instant gratification that feeds them the fast food of what they want when they want and how they want.  In so doing it has burdened them with unrealistic views of themselves, their importance, their rights, their power and burdened them with the weight of having to catch up, learn lessons they should have learned long ago and being resentful towards us and their parents for them finding themselves in this state. Regrettably, many of their parents have sent them to Robert Land Academy because they are at the end of their emotional resources - and their sons know it! To add insult to injury they perceive they are here as a punishment. Angry, immature, manipulative, budding narcissists who hate the idea of their changing and certainly those who would dare impose this change - us!    Such reflection might lead to some very important rules about maintaining the rules: 1. To know the rules, believe in their reasons for existing, the principles upon which they are founded and live them with our students will equip a staff member with much of the authenticity to prosecute his or her mandate fully. To not know and believe this makes you a phony functionary that our students will happily identify and exploit to your compromise. Cadets must never be confused about expectations for their conduct and demeanor. Therefore, staff must know what they are and how to properly communicate these.  2.  Instruction and correction (albeit at times so very often repeated) are the highest form of affection. 3.  You are always more authentic and respected in “walking the walk” than you are in “talking the talk”. 4.  Engaging your eyes and your ears to look and listen is the same process as engaging your common sense before you open your mouth. Remember, we are given two eyes and two ears and only one mouth for a reason. If you are not sure, never use the latter except to become sure.  5.  To anticipate is divine! To react is sadly a distant second. 6.  There can be many routes to teaching a lesson, none of which should compromise the lesson or those learning it.   7.  Sarcasm is the lowest form of humour, rhetorical questions the ghost of reason and ridicule the signature of ones own ignorance. Use none of these. EVER. 8.  Profanity is for those who lack an appropriate command of the language. Its use is the baggage of a slothful attitude and one Cadets never need to see from staff. 9.  If you don’t know or are unsure ask the proper person.  10.  Lead by your own example. Lieutenant Colonel (Honorary) G. Scott Bowman is the Founder and Headmaster of Robert Land Academy.  To learn more about Robert Land Academy visit