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Disciplinary Measures in Primary School: Different Scenarios

In various primary school scenarios, teachers have constructed instructional discourses to regulate the behavior of students. Take classroom management as an example: the instructional discourse of the teacher is specifically matched with subtle behaviors and physical movements made by the student. When the teacher says "1, 2, 3," the student should respond by saying "sit correctly" (Behavior instruction.2014), then sit down in accordance with a very detailed set of posture specifications: "head, shoulders, and body straight; arms out; and feet level." When the teacher says "3, 2, 1," the student responds by saying "no sound", then immediately becomes silent. The rules for students in the classroom are also nuanced. When the teacher says "books," the students say "put on the left," then put their textbooks in the upper left-hand corner of the table. When the teacher says "pencil boxes," the students say "put them in the middle." Students will then immediately place their pencil boxes in the middle of their desks. In addition to a simple command language, disciplinary methods include a variety of songs that are easy to sing. "Get back to school and get ready for the morning light. The red and green scarf is nice, neat and warm. The school supplies are not late, they're on time, and the school supplies are neat. Say goodbye to the line of separation and salute the line. Teachers and students ask early. Be polite and embrace the school spirit. In order to be elegant and lively people, civilized etiquette should continue to progress". This is a "school ritual song" developed by a primary school in Shanghai, and all elementary school students are required to memorize and sing it.

The Management Mechanism behind Discipline

The disciplines in primary education involve three major themes: the regulation of student behavior; the creation of discipline; and the moral education of students.

The norms of student behavior

A student's behavior is demonstrated by the student's body, and the normative nature of behavior is the discipline of the body. "The body is first and foremost the object of power discipline; people in the classical era discovered this." (p. 154) This is also why teachers can formulate directives regarding various behavioral norms and act upon students. In the words of Foucault, it is "having a kind of power relations". Teachers appear in front of students at school as authoritative figures, while students are immature, ignorant, unordered, noisy, and making mistakes. Under these kinds of unequal "power relations", teachers can do everything in their power to shape students' behavior and even ideas. Behavior is the focus of teachers' attention; this is in part due to the existence of an educational cognition. Educators believe that students should begin to develop good behavioral habits during their childhood. Students are therefore told to behave in the ways proposed by teachers. Sitting posture, writing posture (head one foot away from the top of the desk; chest a fist's length away; one inch of space between the hand and the pen tip), and reading posture, in addition to gestures such as raising the hand, are specified to perfectly match how the students' joints work with muscles. This leads to the following observation: "When you enter the classroom, you often see this scene: the desks and chairs are neatly arranged in a geometrical pattern, the student's backboard is straight, and he is sitting upright; when the teacher is in class, the class is very quiet; when the teacher asks a question, the students raise their right hands with a bang, and they all bend their small arms at right angles, waiting for the teacher's "permission" to speak; the named students stand up and answer respectfully." (Tian, 2009) More importantly, students are very accepting of these regulations; if they were told to relax in class, they would find it hard to do.

Creating discipline

The reason why teachers can control students through instructions is based on a set of methods called "discipline". Today, the meaning of discipline does not just include a method, but also a pursuit of results. "The historical environment of discipline was a time in which there was a technology that governed the human body. Its goal was not to increase the human body's skills, nor to strengthen the conquest of the human body, but to establish a relationship through which the mechanism itself becomes more obedient when it becomes more useful, or becomes more useful because it is more straightforward." (p. 156) There is a very obvious purpose behind creating discipline in the list of instructions. The teacher, for example, asked the students to remember the first song before class: "The students hurried into the classroom. This discipline was adhered to by the entire class, and we sat looking forward. The student answering the question stood first, with a voice that was sweet and bright. His hands did not move, and his feet did not shake. One was better than the others." (Baidu, 2017) Afterwards, when the bell rings, students are required to sing: they proceed to sing the first disciplinary song, led by the small squad leader. The students maintain a uniform posture, and when they answer questions, they stand with their hands and feet strictly adhering to the norms; they aren't allowed to fidget or move at all. This ensures that confusion is avoided in the classroom, just as soldiers' behavior helps avoid confusion during training. Interviews with teachers also reveal their understanding of discipline: "Our class has always been the best class in the school, and we particularly observe discipline." (Tian, 2009) These teachers are pursuing discipline because "Discipline is no longer just the art of distracting the flesh, extracting time, and accumulating time from the flesh, but organizing individual forces in order to obtain an efficient mechanism." (p. 184) Classroom instruction time is set at 40 minutes, and because primary school teaching includes a huge amount of content and responsibilities, teachers hope that the entire 40 minutes is used to impart knowledge; they do not want to spend extra time on discipline. Discipline therefore conforms to the teacher's need for efficiency. "The rhythm controlled by signals, whistles, and orders sets a time standard for everyone. This standard is used both to promote the learning process and to foster a habit of being agile. The sole purpose of these requirements is to...make children accustomed to completing an assignment quickly and well, and to eliminate as much as possible the time lost from one job to another by dictating speed." (p. 174)

Implementing moral education

In his elaboration on the prison, Foucault pointed out that: "The prison's self-certification is also based on its own role." (p. 261) He went on, noting that "Prison is not a function of deprivation of liberty first, to which the technical function of education is then added. From the outset, it was a form of 'legal detention' with an additional literacy task, or a form of deprivation of liberty in the legal system used to reform people's institutions." (p. 261) Foucault has always believed that there is no substantial difference between prisons and barracks, schools and factories. Schools care for students, but it is more important for them to educate and implement moral education. From the discipline of the human body to the discipline of the human mind, the formation of "self-management" is at the core of current power theory. In moral education, discipline moves from physical training to the students' internal values, propensities, and deeper cognition. Shanghai's primary school students must remember that the "new seven is not yet standardized." It is up to them to follow the new seven: "Don't jaywalk, don't stop your car at will, don't litter at will, don't let pets disturb neighbors, don't waste food, don't speak loudly, and don't cut in line." (Xin Qi Bu, 2016) The purpose behind this set of regulations is to enable primary school students to develop good moral character and conduct. This discipline of morality is internalized at the "ideological" level of the student's body, so that even if students are not under the instruction of the teacher or are outside of school, they will handle things in accordance with these norms. This is the deeper purpose of school discipline. The most basic requirement for students is to become good and kind people.

Foucault's main point in Discipline & Punish is that "modern nations no longer enforce their power on the basis of physiological physicality, but instead force their authority on the psychological level." (Macat, 2016) The method in which primary and secondary education is conducted in China today verifies the correctness of Foucault's theory. The purpose of the school's series of instructions for students is not only to regulate the behaviors of students, but also to regulate the student body in a more profound way so that it can be transformed from a simple receiver of external management to a conductor of "self-management." This is the theoretical core of modern power and the most efficient way to implement governance technology.


Baidu (2017).

Behaviorinstruction (2014).

Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books.

Macat, Analysis (2016).

Tian, You Yi (2009). What kind of classroom discipline do we need? From the "interjection in class." Ideological and Theoretical Education, 2, 52-57.

Xin Qi Bu (2016).


Department of Education,

East China Normal University


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Article Details
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Author:Zhang, Yao Yao
Publication:Knowledge Cultures
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jul 1, 2019

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