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Freedom and Discipline: Transformations in Pedagogic Punishment. Summary

Investigations made by Foucault are very valuable. The philosopher rejects the standard point of view about the connection between such concepts as democracy and freedom. He emphasizes that the constant hidden control is necessary in a democratic society and proves this idea with examples from the history. As he says, “Discipline is the other side of democracy” (Pongratz 2007, p.29).  The punishment problem can be the confirmation of this idea. Though rough and cruel methods of physical violence are not used anymore in pedagogical practice, violence is still present as hidden methods of influence, or, as one can say, in psychological programming.


Pedagogical institutions created by August Hermann Francke (1663-1727) could illustrate the early Enlightenment. Although A. Francke’s words “The child’s will has to be broken” (Pongratz 2007, p. 31) can be perceived as the ideology of repressive education, the new methods of punishment were aimed at correcting and healing the child’s soul rather than causing physical pain. Punishment did not have to be caused by anger or revenge of the teacher, and it had to result in the student’s understanding of their fault and making a solid decision to correct it. However, the implementation of this educational system in pedagogical institutions led to a serious problem. Namely, it was creating a very favourable environment for the employment of violence against students, which resulted in the absence of understanding of the fault by students.

The pedagogical system of the18th century tried to resolve this problem. Its crucial peculiarity was based on the belief that the soul, not the body, was the main object of the punishment. Moreover, the virtue became the criterion on the basis of which community judged a person. By revealing the fault of the student in front of their mates, teachers reduced their dignity and formed a general attitude of other children towards them. Programming a human’s internal world was carried out by means of suppression of evil desires and encouragement of good ones. Though physical punishment existed, it was already carried out secretly.

In the19th century, Pestalozzi’s pedagogical system became rather popular. This system included extremely rigid control over the process of education, from students’ clothes to their behaviour in various situations. It was carried out by means of division of students by age, abilities, and studying subjects. Also, the concept of punishment considerably changed. “Disciplinary punishment does non exact revenge. It generates no spectacles of punishment, but establishes itself through mechanics of trainings which aims in repetition and firm inoculation.” One more key feature was that the teacher was perceived as an impersonal representative of the system; the system punished students through the hands of the teacher. The approach was aimed at “transforming people into ‘learning machines’ and schools into ‘pedagogic machines’” (Pongratz 2007, 34).  

The extreme disciplinary severity of the system of the19th century caused a revolution in the pedagogical thought at the beginning of the 20th century. Within the problem of the coexistence of freedom of a student and the necessity of submission, one can say that the idea of considering a child not only as the subject of submission, but also as a part of the whole system was the main objective of the new pedagogical system. Such a courageous decision demanded the big consciousness of a pupil. Such courageous decision required great responsibility on the part of a student. However, this method was very convenient, since even the smallest offences were easily visible. The impersonality of control led to bigger compliance of children, because it was very difficult for a person to resist the whole system.

The question that is still open is as follows: Has our pedagogical system really become more free and perfect? On the one hand, the rigid form of control and punishment is already in the past; on the other hand, it is possible to say that, to a certain extent, it still remains hidden and veiled. Furthermore, someone could think that the system of personal accurate subjection is more convenient, because it is more understandable. However, speaking about different kinds of educational systems, we will face a common problem, namely, the contradiction between freedom and submission. In order to find a solution to this problem, one needs to have an insight and deep understanding of a possible specific situation.

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