Defiant Student at Spring Valley High School

In the U.S. news: Coercion used on defiant student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina results in police officer being fired.

The video showing the defiant student being flipped over while sitting at her desk has gone viral. One side says that force was too extreme. The other side says that the defiant student should have followed the police officer’s request and that the force used was justified.

I was asked what I would have done in this situation.  I would have used a third option. I would have used authority without coercion. First, the power struggle should have been avoided. When adults argue with a young person, it is like arguing with a pig. Both get dirty, but the pig likes it.

Adults should realize that coercion does not work with too many of today’s young people. In addition, every time an adult does something to or for a young person, that person is deprived of an opportunity to become more responsible.

With these thoughts in mind, here is what I would have done. Since the teacher was still in the room, I would have approached her and asked her to continue teaching and have the students single-task by giving the lesson their full attention.

I would then have approached the defiant student, kneeling to her at eye level so as not to be in a dominating pose. I would have smiled as I asked her if she would mind if I talked with her for a little while. I then would have asked her what she would suggest to resolve the situation and asked her to whisper her answer to me. I would then have waited. (In a negotiation, the first person who talks loses.) If she were to give an answer that would not be acceptable, I would continue to ask, “What else?” “What else?” “What else?” until a response would be elicited that was satisfactory to both her and me. I might have shared a thought or too, but I would have made sure to elicit a response. Simply stated, people do not argue with their own decisions. 

I find it almost pathetic that in this 21st century where society has changed so much that leaders of young people are still using coercive, outdated approaches. I believe a prime reason is that these adults have never learned to use authority without coercion.