by Cassi Clausen, staff member and co-founder of The Open School
January 31, 2017
A common objection to a school like ours involves the development of self-discipline. “How will they learn to stick to something hard, if they are able to choose what they want and quit at any time?” “There are a lot of things in my life that I have to do that I don’t want to do. Don’t kids need to learn to do that too?” The assumption is that self-discipline—the ability to complete something unpleasant but worthwhile—only develops when someone is forced to do it over and over, until it becomes a habit, imposed from the outside.
If only it were that easy.
In reality, true self-discipline has to come from the inside. That’s why it’s called self-discipline. When children are required by adults to do some task, and they have no internal purpose for doing it, they will stop as soon as the enforcer is gone. On the other hand, when a child (or a person of any age) understands the purpose for a task, when they desire the outcome, the determination and focus come from within. They complete the task because it’s important to them. And the more they experience reaching their goals through hard work, the better at it they become.
I could give a dozen examples of this from the past two days at school. Our students complete chores (because this school belongs to all of us, and we all have to take care of it), they take inventory for the snack bar (because they are invested in the success of that business), and they work on building a fort for days (because they want to play in the fort, and it’s fun to build things).
Recently, our entire student body decided they wanted to go hiking at Oak Canyon. This is a favorite trip for many of us, but on this particular day, wild horses would not be able to stop this field trip from happening. The students were such a force, I was compelled to chaperone. During the trip, the students saw some caves above the trail, and it wasn’t long before they were climbing up to them. Some found this easy, and scrambled up quickly. Others were afraid, and had to work up the courage to climb. They all helped each other, giving tips on the best way up and down. And every one of them reached the caves, even those who sat down halfway out of fear. They wanted to reach that goal, and they were willing to do something hard and scary in order to reach it.
“I think self-discipline is something, it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.” – Daniel Goldstein
“The only discipline that lasts is self-discipline.” – Bum Phillips