Love & Logic: Reading Between the “One-Liners”

When I read the apostles’ letters to early Christian churches, I’m always curious about backstory. Why did Paul write these words to the believers in Philippi, for instance?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Were there egotistical church members who needed to stop looking out for Number One? Or was Paul, instead, trying to prevent a certain tendency from playing out, similar to what I do on the morning of Grandparents’ Day?

Don’t be rude or selfish. Don’t blurt out in class or whine. And don’t run past our guests on your way out to recess. Instead, use your manners, and think about the people around you.

Either way, we know that Paul was talking about attitudes–inner motivations–instead of just behavior. And there’s a particular factor I like about the way he counsels his hearers. The teacher addresses not only the attitudes he hopes to minimize: selfish ambition and vain conceit. He also provides some demeanors for people to strive for: humility and consideration for one another.

I’m reflecting again on Love and Logic, the latest discipline thought system to capture my attention. Christian teachers can appreciate the Love and Logic philosophy because it advocates showing love to wayward children, while also allowing them to experience the consequences of their own choices.

Yet one quibble that I have with Love and Logic is that it lacks advice for instilling attitudes that are more desirable. I’ll acknowledge, most of the acclaimed “one-liner” responses are stated in the positive:

  • Feel free to sit next to each other as long as doing so doesn’t cause any problems.
  • I’ll listen when your voice is calm like mine.
  • I assign full credit to papers handed in on time.

But on the whole, the approach is more of a fence than a doorway: it’s great for limiting negative attitudes, but it doesn’t really invite students into new ways of being and acting. To provide a better understanding of this deficiency, I’ll explore a couple of statements with you.

Feel free to do anything that does not cause a problem for anyone else. Cleverly worded to help teachers simplify complex discipline policies, the rule sounds both loving and logical. But if we aim to grow followers of Christ in the classroom, the statement falls short on both accounts.

In terms of logic, for example, what does the expectation convey to young people who feel inclined to cheat on their school work? Or to those lured by the temptations of pornography or drug abuse? To their credit, Fay and Cline encourage us to adjust the wording of rules in ways that suit our own classrooms. The following variation, offered elsewhere, might work better: “You may engage in any behavior that does not jeopardize the safety or learning of yourself or others.”

But if we’re teaching children to love, the shortfall is harder to work around. Obviously, loving others means that I abstain from annoying or hurting them. Yet Biblical love asks for more. In Christ, we’re called to consider the interests of others, to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. If we wish to foster “active love” in students, we should also think about developing classroom expectations and teaching strategies that encourage children to look out for both the learning and wellbeing of their classmates.

Finally, a major selling point of Love and Logic is its emphasis on encouraging young people to bear the burden for their own behavior: I teach when there are no distractions or other problems, or I allow students to remain in my classroom as long as they do not cause a problem for anyone else. Implied within those one-liners is the truth that participating in learning communities is a privilege and that class members are obliged to control their behavior.

Yet we teachers also hold certain responsibilities, don’t we? Such as the obligation to provide meaningful learning and to consider student needs. Disruptive behavior (though wrong) sometimes arises out of boredom or frustration. The empathy we express should not only address wrong doing in ways that are both loving and logical; it should also check beneath student behavior, and consider if those misdeeds signify the need to make adjustments in our own practice. Sincere empathy not only identifies with the pain children feel when faced with the consequences of their choices; it also seeks to recognize what burdens or irritations might have led to those choices.

If I want my guidance to work like a “doorway”–fostering inquisitiveness, collaboration, and humility–then I also need to recognize where students’ obstacles lie, and I need to provide a classroom setting that invites the inclinations I hope to grow.

If you’d like more ideas on creating a classroom climate that minimizes the “weeds” of negativity, while cultivating more positive attitudes to grow in their place, the blog series on Attitude Germ addresses the challenge of students who spread antagonism to their classmates. Additionally, my book Beyond Control: Heart-Centered Classroom Climate and Discipline provides encouragement and advice for teachers who struggle with the motivations that drive student behavior.

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4 comments

  1. Phillip Nash says:

    Thanks Alan for your wise analysis here. So often we seize on what looks good but fail to see how it falls short of good Biblical thinking. I look forward to reading your book.

  2. Alan Bandstra says:

    How true! Our need for discipline solutions can blind us to what we believe about children–and what we truly desire for them.

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