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William Glasser’s Noncoercive Discipline

           Psychologist William Glasser’s work discusses teaching strategies promoting student involvement through motivation rather than coercion.  He highlights how quality teaching, learning and curriculum meet student needs providing intrinsic motivation.  Low test scores, lack of student interest, behavior problems and police on school campuses illustrate the importance of Glasser’s focus on developing student interest and a reevaluation of traditional teaching methods.

           Like any other bureaucracy, the influence of industry on school institutions corrupts their original goal:  an educated populace.  Ideally schools increase success, self-worth, relationships and meaningful education for all students.  Focus on standardized curriculum and mechanized views of students as cogs in an efficient factory create school environments today where “…no more than 15 percent of high school students do quality work” (Glasser, Control Theory in the Classroom, 1986).  Students view their schoolwork as meaningless, boring and to no surprise feel content doing minimal work.  Frustrated teachers set more tasks, standards and rigid structures for what it is students must learn neglecting their basic needs.

Meaningful education increases student survival, belonging, power, fun and freedom.  Students learn skills necessary to earn a living and obtain food, shelter and a safe environment.  They develop individual roles in modern society beginning with involvement (or lack of it) in classroom activities.  Students feel important when other individuals value their opinions or abilities.  They desire interesting intellectual and social activities with opportunities for sharing their accomplishments.  Students as individuals need freedom of choice, self-direction and responsibility.  Effective teaching addresses these student needs directly utilizing their intrinsic motivation. 

Current curriculum overemphasizes memorization of irrelevant facts, fragmented information, and standardized tests.  “Quality” curriculum provides enjoyable, meaningful experiences and greater depth of understanding in the context of daily student life.  Supportive classrooms value individual student feelings and opinions, allowing students choices concerning their education.  Teachers require memorization only when it relates directly to meaningful, necessary, or desirable skills.  Teachers reduce the focus on grades and the idea of finished assignments allowing continual student progress towards higher quality work and personal satisfaction.  Students evaluate, improve and share their work.  They suggest possible consequences for poor student behavior focusing on solving problems instead of punishment or blame.  These techniques encourage greater student value for curriculum. 

Glasser’s suggestions require minimal changes in curriculum and major changes in methods of teaching.  “Lead” teachers discuss interesting topics, utilizing every opportunity to engage students.  They emphasize quality teaching and learning through exploration and demonstration of interesting student topics and actively seeking answers to student questions.  Quality teachers demonstrate rather than dictate, ask questions rather than give commands, focus on meaningful ideas rather than insignificant facts and provide flexible learning environments necessary for curriculum driven by students’ needs.  They act as problem solver instead of adversary when faced with student misbehavior.  “Lead” teachers consistently work to provide a quality education for all students.  

Glasser advocates “quality” teaching, curriculum, and student work with intrinsic value for students instead of traditional dictation of standard curriculum decided by society.  The current political environment, with its demands for teacher and student accountability, compounds difficulties in initiating Glasser’s Noncoercive Discipline.  Teachers struggle to survive in today’s overcrowded classrooms without proper materials and support.  Surviving teachers eventually learn and utilize student motivation creating more enjoyable and educational environments for everyone.