When I worked my first assignment in 1987 as a School Resource Officer with the Upland Unified School District, it was a pilot program. In other words, it was the first time a police officer would be interacting with elementary school children on a regular basis, in Upland, in a classroom environment. If the program did not work, I would be back on the streets pushing a patrol car. My assignment was at the oldest and worst elementary school in the district, known as Upland Hell-ementary, adjacent to a gang neighborhood, and rife with disciplinary issues and poor academic performance. Since this program was a first for the Department and District, the superintendent decided a new principal would be needed at the site to make change possible. He took the principal from the most affluent and high-achieving school in town and assigned her to the poorest and least functional one. That principal was Carolyn Ruis (pronounced as Rice).
Carolyn was about twenty years my senior; a colorful, dynamic, and different kind of person. My first encounter with her was nothing I could have imagined. She wore a flamboyant, colorful mu-mu and had rings on all her fingers and toes. She more resembled a gypsy than the business-like, strict disciplinarians I had been accustomed to in my secondary educational career. It was clear that she loved teaching children. Her office was filled with stuffed animals that she planned to reward students with, by allowing each one time with her in the principal’s office to hug the stuffed animal of their choosing. Carolyn was a genuine taskmaster, however, and a hands-on administrator who wasn’t afraid to take risks. She offered me assistance in learning modalities (how to teach) for teachers, while I offered her the presence of authority (the fear of God) as well as tactical deployment in emergencies. I was also tasked to spend time on campus to teach the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Program developed by LAPD, in her fifth and sixth grade classrooms.
My second meeting with her was less positive than the first. Carolyn had encountered her first major crisis. As she walked into the cafeteria at lunchtime, she was pelted with milk cartons and pizza. Where were all the other teachers at lunch time? In the staff lounge, of course! A small riot ensued as she tried to stop the agitators by herself. She was forced to retreat to her office in humiliation. When I arrived on campus, Carolyn quietly ushered me into her office, closed the door, and wept hysterically. It took sometime for her to recover and tell me what had happened. Then she shared with me what a nightmare this new assignment had become compared to the nice environment and supportive parents at her previous school. She was filled with doubt and regret after accepting this new assignment from her boss. But she was not about to surrender after losing one battle.
What was required in this situation was a change in tactical deployment. Rather than allow her staff to sequester themselves during lunchtime, I recommended a measured presence of teachers in the cafeteria. I would also standby for the first test, as Carolyn addressed the students and laid down the law. She promised rewards for good behavior and sanctions for unruly conduct. The cafeteria was transformed within a matter of days as the staff stepped in to enforce the rules and maintain peace. Carolyn returned the favor to me by observing my first DARE presentation in a sixth grade class. She sat me down in her office and reviewed a checklist of positive and “needs improvement” comments she had prepared during my presentation. I have never forgotten her graciousness and sound advice. Her advice helped me through the rest of my career.
Two years later, Carolyn had transformed the Upland Elementary School campus, turning it into a positive model of success. Test scores were higher, children showed more respect and were eager to learn, and more parents became involved in the lives of their students because of that flamboyant figure who loved kids. When I was promoted to detective in 1989, Carolyn recommended me for a service award from the school district, and plotted with my wife to get me to the ceremony under false pretenses, so I would be surprised when I was announced as the recipient. Their scheming worked and I found myself speechless.
The greatest lesson I learned from my experiences in serving with Carolyn Ruis was that love and discipline were key elements not only in teaching, but in life itself. Love without discipline becomes unintelligible and unruly. Without boundaries, love loses its purpose and meaning. Without discipline, many things people mistake for love become mere mechanical manifestations of it. Sexual intimacy, in and of itself, is not a true expression of love, particularly where lust is concerned. However, helping a stranger in need, without concern for oneself, is love anchored with discipline. It takes a great deal of self-control and love to drop everything in one’s immediate path to help a total stranger in need.
In the same context, discipline without love can be brutal and unforgiving. Whether one is raising a child, training an employee, or guarding a prison good discipline requires a measure of love to be effective and useful. Caring about those under your authority requires reasonably enforced boundaries, but not to the point of excess. Without love, discipline cannot be thoughtful, measured, or appropriate. If the purpose of discipline is rehabilitation (in love), the punishment cannot fit the crime if every wrong-doer receives the same punishment for crimes both petty and severe. Love hopes that offenders may have a change of heart as the result of appropriate discipline. For the sake of others, love measures and affirms the necessity of discipline not only for instruction but for protection.
This application of love and discipline is where I believe human beings most often misunderstand the connection with God. Some argue that if God was truly loving, he would not allow children to starve or die of disease. Others would point to Judgment Day and a place called Hell and accuse God of being too heavy-handed in doling out harsh discipline for a few or many sins. Stranger still, many folks prefer to believe in a “god of love” who never harms or disciplines anyone, much like the “cool parent” who allows teenagers to have sex and indulge in drinking and drug use in order to be accepted by his or her children and their friends. Which would you prefer? Discipline without love or love without discipline? I prefer neither.
Fortunately, Scripture reminds us that God is just. Long before any of us were conceived, God foresaw our disobedience and put into place a plan for discipline in love and a place for love in discipline. For at the end of this life, there is no longer a need to measure between the need for love or discipline. The matter has been settled. Those who repent of their sins and believe in God through obedience will be saved; those who refuse will not. That is just. In the end, God will reward those who were willing to be disciplined in love and loved in discipline by Him. For those who will fail, it was not for lack of opportunities to rehabilitate that God did not love them or attempt to discipline them. Skeptics may attempt to blame God, yet they can only blame themselves. Scoffers might resent God’s apparent “My way or the highway” approach to love and discipline, yet forget God built the highway as well.
Are you scorning the love of God because you resent his discipline? Do you mock God’s discipline because you misunderstand His love for you? You may remain skeptical, but how will that serve your best interests in eternity? The choice has always been yours.
One final note, Carolyn passed away shortly before I retired from police service. I thank God for knowing and working with her. We were as unlikely a pair to be found working on the same team for the sake of others. God definitely has a good sense of humor and timing. Without hesitation, and in honor of her memory, I dedicate this write to Carolyn. No beans about it, I am proud to say I served with Ruis (Rice.)
(copyright 2012, Gregory Allen Doyle)