The Price of Discipline

“I hate tennis.”

This is the opening message of Andre Agassi’s biography, Open. Agassi was the son of a tyrannical father who cared for little beyond creating a tennis champion out of his little boy. Steered by his father’s heavy hand, and often against his will, Agassi rose to be the number one player in the world. To others, the top was an unachievable dream. To Agassi, it was a toxic ball of fire.

The fame, the ridicule, and the decades of living a life he despised caught up to Agassi. His anger became resentment, his resentment became rage, and his rage descended into a decision to dump crystal meth on a coffee table, cut it, and snort the powder up his nostrils with the speed of a U.S. Open serve.

Why did Agassi break under the pressure of discipline? How does his story represent so many of us?


I hated school. The cycle of waking up early, going to school, being disciplined, feeling inadequate for not being smart, and dashing to mandatory soccer practice after school made my blood boil. Sports, music, theater, public speaking, community service. The obligatory activities never ended. The routine made me apathetic. There were so many things on my schedule as a kid that I stopped attending Bar Mitzvahs and birthday parties.

Inside the classroom, my personality wasn’t suited for the traditional education system. My math was terrible, I couldn’t follow directions, and I had the reading comprehension capacity of a squirrel. I spent most of my time behind a shield of self-protective numbness only to erupt with volcanic rage once I got home.

For years, I didn’t have the words to describe my frustration. My family shouldered the weight of my anger. Trapped in a system of heavy-handed control, I yelled at my parents in cries of violent desperation.

In retrospect, I acted out because I couldn’t be a kid. In middle school, I was sent to the principal’s office so many times that I tallied my visits on the arm rest of the chair outside his office. Still today, we dehumanize children by locking them in classes they despise with teachers who have to act as babysitters by giving them time-outs until they shut up and follow the rules.

If we did the same thing to adults between the ages of 45-60, we’d have a revolt. But when we do this to kids, we justify it as “preparing them for the real world.” First, we ignore their cries for agency. Then, we squash their curiosity with rigid curriculums like AERO and the Common Core that move too slow for the bored and too fast for the curious. Worse, the tyrannical curriculum structure teaches children to accept the world as it exists. Students can’t modify the syllabus. They have to accept it as it’s given to them. By doing so, we kill the joy of learning, strip agency away from our children, and in turn, rob them of their humanity.

We’ve stopped treating children like people.

The rigidity of childhood is a new phenomenon. It began in the 1990s, when the number of hours devoted to childcare began to rise after three decades of decline. The increase in parenting time was the largest among college-educated mothers who increased their childcare time by more than nine hours per week. Much of the culprit goes back to parents who spend two decades biting their nails about their children’s college prospects. Ivy League or failure.

Why are parents so anxious? 

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