Taking a peek at discipline

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Just the other day we ran across the headline: "A new look at discipline." Ominous, to say the least! We read on, and just as we feared, the article had to do with "parenting."

The forebears, as P.G. Wodehouse used to call them, are beginning to take a tougher line, it seems. The kind-but-firm parent is turning into a firm-but-kind parent -- and anybody who doesn't see the big difference hasn't been a parent (or a child) for a long time.

All of this leads, of course, to the overarching question of our day: has the deauthorization of parents, and practically everbody else, gone so far that the pendulum rod, so to speak, is swinging back with a spank?

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We certainly lack the authority to say.

But if you happen to be a football coach or a clergyman or almost anybody one quaintly referred to as an "authority figure," it is a simple matter to verify your loss of power. For instance, your so-called commands come out as questions. Don't they? Furthermore, they're often phrased in the conditional, as: "Shouldn't you . . . ? or "Wouldn't you . . . ?" with a lot of "Maybe ifs" in between.

"Permissiveness," or whatever you want to call it, has become so, well, authoritative an idea that nearly everybody has a favorite explanation for it, with theories ranging from the French Revolution to Dr. Spock.

All any of us really know is that one minute Tsar Nicholas I was saying, "Do not question me. Know that I am your father. That is enough." And the next minute Mikhail Bakunin was saying: "I recognize no infallible authority."

For a century at least, in literature and in life, freedom has been more and more exclusively embraced as the primary value of human experience, while authority -- almost any authority -- has come to be seen as The Enemy. For the past couple of decaddes the only authority figures we have consistently acknowledged have been revolutionaries of one sort or another, demanding the overthrow of all the other authority figures. And now, after all these years with Mick Jagger and Jerry Rubin as surrogate fathers, we arrive at our destination: "a new look at discipline." Can it be?

Not to worry, or to hope, as your case may be. After sampling "a new look at discipline" here and "a new look at discipline" there, we're prepared to state that nothing very major is blowin' in the wind, as the change artists say. At least not yet. To put it bluntly, we, the Ultimate Freedom Generation, appear to have discovered that we can't have more freedom unless somebody else has a little less. As one firm-but-kind parent we know remarked only half-jokingly: "My kids have got to learn the meaning of the word 'responsibility' if I'm to go out and lead my life any way I please."

And so we take "a new look at discipline" -- or rather, a peek.

Eventually we may see the humor in the situation -- in the posturing, for example, of Dionysiac rock stars who smash old automobiles on stage while security police outside the theater guard the limousines of the iconoclasts.

If we are really to take "a new look at discipline," we will have to appreciate these facts -- that tyrants are still tyrants, though they call themselves rebels; that new oppressions get sponsored by those who claim to liberate us.

Why do your emancipated children still complain of "stress"? If we are really to take "a new look at discipline," we will have to explain that to ourselves, too.

And finally we will have to grasp the paradox that discipline is not the opposite of freedom but part of it -- something to be freely wished for.

The end of the matter is this: one cannot even sing a decent protest song without proper training.

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