Lessons in Responsibility
The Typical Approach to Discipline at Military School
What some parents may be surprised to learn is that the typical approach to discipline at military school does not vary much from what their child may experience in a different academic setting. Those who think of military school and picture vociferous drill sergeants may be surprised to learn that most military schools govern by a committee of peers who help to uphold the school’s honor code. In addition, most military school disciplinary philosophies are structured based on a system of incentives and rewards. Over time, this tandem approach to reinforcing personal responsibility and teaching the lesson of consequence has proven successful in instilling in young men the importance of personal accountability.
Incentives and Rewards
Military schools hold their cadets to a high level of academic and personal responsibility. Military schools are predicated upon the importance of developing young men not just academically, but holistically, ensuring that each graduating cadet is instilled with the values of honor, integrity, and leadership. While the expectations of cadets are high, the typical infractions committed by the students are generally not any more severe than what may be seen in other academic settings. The most common violations of school regulations include such minor issues as:
• Failing to keep one’s dormitory to the required level of organization and cleanliness
• Failing to present a uniform that meets the standard requirements for being neat and orderly
• Failing to be prepared for class
It has been found by most military schools that once a cadet has violated the code of conduct the most influential consequence that can be levied is a restriction on one’s personal time. Military schools offer a regimented daily schedule to help cadets to focus by limiting distractions and free time. Cadets are encouraged to follow established rules and requirements by being incentivized with free time as a reward for meeting the school’s expectations. Cadets that violate the system of personal responsibility and trust that is established by the institution are disciplined with a loss of freedom, such as being prohibited from leaving campus for the weekend.
As parents who utilize a disciplinary system of “grounding” a child who fails to meet expectations in the home have also discovered, adolescents place the highest value on their free time. A loss of freedom is a consequence that effectively reinforces a cadet’s commitment to policies and procedures. In order to have their off-campus, or free-time privileges reinstated, a cadet must typically demonstrate to the school their renewed commitment to its policies. Rather than simply imposing a disciplinary action for a pre-determined period of time, such as three days, or one week, a cadet must earn the right to have his privileges reestablished. This process underlines the lesson that the character of a young man matters every day, and that while poor decisions have consequences, it is only by recommitting to a lifestyle of integrity that one can earn the trust and respect of others.
Aligning Consistent Expectations
The disciplinary procedures of military schools are predicated upon a process in which expectations are set, rules are outlined, consequences are explained, and disciplinary actions are metered and consistent. Understanding that adolescents will be tempted to test their boundaries, the military school disciplinary system aims to align expectations and treat all violations, whether minor or major, consistently. This system is effective in deterring premeditated conduct violations. By setting clear expectations and eliminating any middle ground, or allowing for interpretations of the code of conduct, cadets have a crystalline understanding of what behavior is necessary for success. Preferential treatment is never given to a cadet based on position, popularity, or past performance. This consistency is the final underlining factor that strengthens an individual’s desire to maintain an exemplary record of behavior throughout the year.
Learning Lessons from Peers
In a military school environment, cadets have metered and limited ability to enforce discipline, however, it is an expectation that older cadets act as positive role models for younger cadets. Older cadets are allowed to reinforce the school’s code of conduct by making on-spot corrections if they observe a cadet diverting from policy. It has been found time and again that younger cadets are inspired and influenced by the successes of their peers. A system in which older cadets are enabled to reinforce the school’s expectations is highly effective in the character development of the younger cadets. Just as young men look to please their older siblings, young cadets look to earn the respect of their older peers.
While the majority of disciplinary action in a military school is associated with a need to fine tune a cadet’s behavior from satisfactory to exemplary, there are cases where more serious violations of school code require more impactful actions. Such higher-level infractions may include:
• Violations of academic honesty and integrity, such as cheating on a test
• Dishonestly, or lying to a school representative
Many military schools have created general committees, or cadet courts to review infractions of the honor code. The committee generally includes faculty, staff, and most importantly, responsible cadets who demonstrate the highest level of personal integrity. While such committees are most often supervised and counseled by adults, the cadets are uniquely positioned to make recommendations to senior staff, who take the cadet’s recommendation into account when making the final determination regarding the disciplinary action to be taken in response to a conduct violation.
The purpose of this system of a jury of one’s peers is two-fold: It involves cadets in the disciplinary process, teaching them valuable leadership lessons, and it reinforces for the cadet whose behavior is being reviewed that the opinions of their peers matter and that the respect of both their peers and superiors should always be valued and sought – lessons that they will benefit from no matter where their future takes them.
In only the most severe cases of conduct violations would the most severe form of discipline be enforced: dismissal from the academy. Grounds for dismal require the most damaging behavior, either to oneself, or one’s fellow cadets. Grounds for dismissal may include such violations as:
• Drug or alcohol offenses
• Hazing or bullying of fellow cadets
• Manifest indifference, or rather, a cadet demonstrating a complete and utter lack of concern from the school’s values and expectations
Over the past several decades, military schools have developed some of the nation’s greatest leaders by teaching them the values of integrity, character, and honor. These are not lessons learned in a classroom, or through the pages of a textbook. Rather they are life lessons learned through personal experiences. Often, such values are instilled through perseverance over adversity, or by paying the price for a lack of better judgment. Military schools with successful systems developed to reinforce their values through a process of disciplinary enforcement stand to develop young men with the greatest foundation for achieving life long success.