It is believed that when someone attains the level of self-discipline he/she has stepped into maturity. However, it must also be understood that self-discipline does not mean that one becomes a disciple of him/herself. Such notion is a common mistake when referring to the term self-discipline. The right understanding is that one may watch oneself to continue to walk in the path of discipleship as commanded by the master teacher even though the master teacher is not physically present with him/her. In the Moral Development Theory by Lawrence Kohlberg, this level is the highest level (level 3) to be achieved for anyone to be morally independent. Meaning, the moral agent no longer needs external watchmen to discipline his/her morality to follow the proper path. The moral agent him/herself is watching his/herself based on his/her conscious understanding of what is right. This understanding must be in accordance with the understanding of the master teacher of what is right. In this level the person has truly become the disciple of the master teacher. And that is the basic qualification of becoming a teacher. A teacher of the teachings of the master teacher. He/she is not to teach his/her own teaching that finds its source in him/herself, but a teaching that finds its source in the master teacher. That is why he/she is qualified to teach. And the first one to be disciplined is him/herself. Listen to what the great apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
The path of self-discipline is not an easy path. It is the path that will keep us on the track. We self-discipline ourselves so we may maintain our being disciples to the master teacher.
But self-discipline is not done at one time once for all for all learning. Instead it is a progressive process. As human beings we are constrained by our limitation of space and time. We can’t do it all at once. Our time is linear and we are created in it. So we inevitably operate within the linear constraint. Therefore we progress in sequence of successive time and event. We learn one thing at a time. For example, my daughter Sophie, three and a half at that time, was learning to play violin. It would be impossible for her to master everything all at once in one sitting. So she had to learn accordingly within the constraint of time. First her teacher taught her what violin is. She taught her the elements of violin. There are scroll, neck, bridge, string, chin rest, peg, bow, frog on the bow, and so on. Then she had to learn to hold the violin and bow properly. She had to do it every day for 10 minutes so that it would register into her muscle memory and her long term memory. The practice included standing properly in what is called as “play” position. She did not use the real violin at that time, but she used a violin shaped object, or just simply a box made as prop resembling a violin. In “rest” position Sophie had to put the violin under her left arm in between her arm and her side and she held the bow with her right hand without holding the horse hair of the bow. Then in play position, she had to open her leg to about 8 inches wide, and put her violin on her shoulder held by her chin clamping it between chin and shoulder, with her left hand ready on the neck of the violin but not supporting the violin weight, with the violin positioned to the left side. Her right hand held the bow in the right and proper bow hold. Holding the bow is in itself a challenge. The bunny-hold so they say. Sophie had to learn day by day to get her bow hold proper. Every day she practiced moving from standing position to play position properly. She had to do it over and over again with her teacher as her watchman. Her teacher would fix her improper bow hold, improper position of the violin, and so on. Until she herself was able to fix the mistake by herself. And when she did that she had entered into the self-discipline path. But it was only one phase of the long chain of violin playing skill and knowledge. Her teacher did not need to spend too many times anymore to fix her mistakes on the standing and play position, for she had achieved self-discipline. Only rarely her teacher had to remind her of that. The time she was reminded was the time she became too easy on herself and thus straying the path of discipline. But once reminded she quickly resumed the self-discipline mode. Then she received another teaching at a different level, which is moving the bow on the strings to make that beautiful sound we know violin can produce. And the first song she had to learn was “twinkle, twinkle, little star.” She had to learn six twinkle variations. The variations based on bowing methods. Sophie again went through the discipline process by her teacher until she could exercise self-discipline for that particular skill. As this skill was more difficult and complicated, she needed more time to achieve self-discipline. For the play position routine it took her only a few weeks of every day practice to finally achieved self-discipline. But for the twinkle variations it took her a few months.
Now her violin method is called Suzuki method. The master teacher is Shinichi Suzuki who lived from 1898 to 1998. Her current teacher is a disciple of Suzuki. She learned all the necessary skills and knowledge of Suzuki method and entered into the self-discipline of Suzuki method of violin before she is qualified to become a teacher of the Suzuki method. She first had to truly become a disciple of Suzuki. And once she did, she could teach the Suzuki discipline, a method stemming from the master Suzuki himself. Every day she continues in her self-discipline of the Suzuki discipline. There is more to say about Suzuki method, which puts a heavy emphasis on the learning of music like learning a language. But we don’t have time to discuss about it here, and besides this is not the intention of the article to do so. It would be enough to employ Suzuki method here as an illustration of self-discipline. Now, Sophie follows her teacher in the Suzuki method. She continues to receive instruction from her teacher. But for things which she already entered into the self-discipline mode, she watched them by herself to follow the proper path as prescribed by Master Suzuki.
Therefore, every time one enters into a self-discipline mode, he/she no longer needs external discipline for that particular lesson. All he/she needs is diligence to stay self-disciplined. Achieving self-discipline is not something that we do once at the end of a category of skill. But it is more of a small self-discipline at a time that in the end accumulates into the self-discipline of the complex skill that is desired. Consequently, it is wise then to break down a complex skill into the smaller, simpler, and achievable skills and aim at the self-discipline of them before undertaking the self-discipline of the complex skill itself. The second consequence is then the teacher needs to be aware and be able to integrate the smaller skills into one. Precisely at this second consequence that many teachers and educational institutions find the most challenge. The challenge may be found in the process of integration itself or in the way the distribution of the smaller skills is done. These two are connected very closely. The biggest challenge, thus, lies in the design and plan of the “architecture” of the “discipline.”
An important consideration to be thought of is on how to train teachers who are competent in teaching the disciples into the final goal of the desired complex skill. Often what happens is that the teachers that are groomed are those who know only a few of the smaller skills which are part of the complex skill. When that happens, these teachers do not understand the final form of the skill. They do not know the “end product” to be creative enough or encouraging enough or setting the standard enough or pushing the disciples enough or be courageous enough or all the qualities teachers needed to disciple their disciples. These teachers are struggling when they have to deal with the challenges their disciples post. Teaching and learning process can easily become a boxing arena between who is smarter or more powerful. “The right person for the right position at the right time” rule is key even here. Placing the wrong teacher risks disintegration of the teaching learning process. When the teaching learning process is compromised, the learning goal is too. Self-discipline of the desired complex skill then is just a dream that might never come true. No wonder there are many graduates of a program in a college or university that are not able to perform the complex skill proportionate to the degree and title conferred.
I have to point to the example of formal education model used in Finland, which get the whole world turning their eyes attentively to it in the recent years. Formal education model in the developed countries are constructed in a very modern and advanced design and plan. However, the end result is not as good as expected. In the US for example, it was realized that the graduates were finishing behind those in Finland. So educators in the US wondered why and how come. The education standard in the US is one of the highest in the world. But with all the advanced educational programs, they are not getting what they have hoped. When the Finland’s educational model is visited and studied, educators found out something very important missing in the advanced model used in the US for example. What’s missing is the teacher who knows the “end product.” Finland, on the other hand, makes sure that all their teachers have the competency of that “end product.” So they do not merely employ people who graduate from teachers college, whom usually are called teachers, or those who complete teacher certifications of some sort and thus recognized as teachers. No, what Finland does is they employ teachers who truly are expert in the desired end skill. And they employ them even to the primary education level. And so PhDs are found teaching elementary school students. This seemingly insignificant move by Finland makes a huge different. It is proof that the human factor is not replaceable by any system or machine. System and machine have their roles, but they too are limited. The advanced educational system in many developed countries is utilized beyond their limit. Too much confidence is put on the system so they then employ not teachers but operators/facilitators of curriculum and hoping that it will reach the same quality. That’s a shortcut. Finland understands this latent problem. And they chose to take the right path. They employ true disciples of the way to disciple the young generation. And truly their outcome is remarkable. Where they prevail, all the other developed countries fail.
To conclude then, if we are to aim at self-discipline of our disciples, we can’t underestimate the importance of the truly competent teacher who is a true disciple of the discipline. The teacher that is needed to make disciples is the kind of person who has self-discipline of the end skill that is desired. In the “Republic” Plato set up his educational goal, that is to produce philosopher kings, rulers who are wise. He himself was a philosopher king. He ruled the land not through mighty armies, but through his mighty mind. And thus the people were following his mind. When he passed on the end skill of mind that he himself possessed, he was truly making disciples of the way of the Form. Plato himself followed Socrates’ footsteps and became a good disciple. Plato was a qualified teacher for the way of the Form. So his disciples learn from the best. Integration was preserved. The distribution of smaller skills were done properly by Plato so that his disciples sailed the course to become philosopher kings well. Jesus takes it up an infinity notch when He Himself becomes the Master Teacher. Plato was not the Form, he was merely a disciple of it through a former disciple, Socrates. But Jesus was the Way and the Truth and the Life Himself. And He comes to make people His disciples. And so his followers are the disciples of the Way and the Truth and the Life.
Here we find that a true teacher must first be a true disciple of the discipline. The being is significant. The teacher cannot just know, or feel, or do, but he/she must BE. If the end skill is to BE a medical doctor, then the disciples are to have a medical doctor as their teacher. Being is another level altogether than the know-feel-do standard of the Bloom’s taxonomy. I know how to fly a plane or even able to fly a plane does not make me a pilot. But a pilot certainly knows how and is able to fly a plane. A pilot is being and not just know-feel-do. A pilot is a disciple of the art and science of flying a plane. To make pilots, a true pilot must be the teacher. The same goes with all other disciplines or trades.