“Are you stupid?”

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When I was teaching at a local high school here in Florida a few years ago I asked a cadet a question in front of the rest of the team at drill practice. The question was, “Are you stupid?” Another, reactionary, cadet lit into me because she thought I was insulting him. After telling her and a couple of others to calm down, I asked him again, “Well, are you stupid?” With a sheepish look on his face, he replied, “No.” I think he knew where I was going with the question. I said, “Of course not! You are a bright young man, you do really well in school (his grades in math were outstanding) and on this team. So then, why do you screw around when it’s time to work?”

Everyone then understood my point. Discipline yourself so others don’t have to.

Praise in Public

I know, someone reading this is probably infuriated that I would “punish in public”. It’s discipline, not punishment. Since the 1990s we have been getting punishment and discipline confused.


  • Control gained by enforcing obedience or order
  • Orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior
  • Punishment*

Of course disciplining someone can be a form of punishment, we need to understand that, but that’s not part of my job. Instilling discipline in others is part of my job. It’s a fine line.

Punish in Private

The last part of the phrase in the previous subtitle.


  • Suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution

What I have described here does not come close to punishment.

But, why in public?

Regarding the original story, because the action was in public and others need to see that it is unacceptable. Is it embarrassing for the individual? Of course, that’s part of the process. However, I leave it behind, it’s over with. I forget about it as it has already been dealt with and I involve the individual in the training again. My dwelling on it or my allowing anyone else to dwell on it will degrade the session and result in fruitless and wasted time.

Public discipline is a great way to teach many at once using a negative situation. When we just ignore bad behavior or treat it privately and only publicly reward good behavior, we are missing a valuable opportunity.


We all do stupid things, especially when a teenager. Teenagers are awful and wonderful all at the same time. I’ve been teaching them since 1986 and it’s been a maddening, frustrating, stressful, challenging, exciting, educational, fun, creative, thrilling experience!

A note on the featured image at the top of the page: The two female cadets and I staged the photo. I was trying to look as if I was being stern, but they kept laughing.

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