Sigh. My first reaction is the same feeling I have about progressive schools: I'd like to see it done well. I've never seen progressive ed done well, with a true respect for students as individual learners. I've only ever seen it done badly, as a thin veneer of mushy curriculum laid on top of a thoroughly traditional authoritarian structure. If I could see it done well, I might be an enthusiastic convert.
I've never seen discipline done well either. I've seen (and heard of) over-the-top discipline systems where behavior becomes the entire curriculum, and learning takes a very distant back seat. I'm not a control freak by nature (I'm a chaos freak instead), and I'm deeply uncomfortable with any system that puts a high premium on unquestioning obedience. I don't think that's a useful lesson for any human being.
So, a system of discipline that I could be comfortable with would first of all have to be minimalist. That is, make as few rules as possible, about things that really matter. (Parallel to my grandfather's advice about buying insurance: "Only insure against disaster.") So, I'm fine with a rule against kids hitting each other, which of course should be supported by laws prohibiting adults from hitting the kids. On the other hand, a rule requiring kids to walk the hallways in an absolutely straight single-file line, in silence, strikes me as unnecessary and dehumanizing. The same is true for any system that punishes kids with "silent lunch".
I'm very opposed to any system that punishes kids for events that are not under their control. For instance, punishing young children for undone homework, at an age when homework is really Mom's job, and you're effectively punishing the kid for having the wrong kind of Mom. The most egregious example of this is punishing the kid for failing to obtain Mom's signature! Another example is punishing kids for getting to school late.
Following our experience with Younger Daughter, I've seen for myself that behavior problems are not easily distinguished from academic problems. All kinds of people were telling us that Younger Daughter was a discipline problem, and needed more "structure" (i.e, rules and punishments), but it turned out the source of her problems was that she had not learned to read, and felt anxious as a result. Once we got her reading, her discipline problems evaporated.
So, I think a well-designed academic program could prevent many discipline problems in the first place. If kids are learning, they're less likely to start acting up out of anxiety or boredom.
As for high joy, I only wish it was an option where I live. I almost wouldn't care what else was going on at the school. We could fill in academics at home, which we find ourselves doing anyway no matter where the kids go to school. Where I live, it seems like the model of education-as-learning has been thrown out in favor of education-as-hazing. If kids are stressed out and overworked, that proves that the school is doing its job. This becomes especially true at the high school level, where the ferocious competition for entry to "good" colleges has resulted in an insane workload and endemic sleep deprivation, which is now considered a normal rite of passage for upper-middle-class teenagers. This is not what I want for Older Daughter.
This evening, we're attending orientation for Older Daughter's first year of high school at Friends Omphalos. 8th grade was not wonderful for Older Daughter, and I'm really hoping high school will be better. Wish us luck!