Felipe is Young – nine years of age in Junior 2 – but not new to the school. With three semesters of experience, he’s already a Casa Thomas Jefferson veteran. He’s uncordially known to guards and hall monitors; given the number of his visits, he could accurately describe the arrangement of objects in the Coordinator’s office. She’s a beast. Probably has bad breath. His teacher ( like the others ) is a nit-wit. “OK, guys, let’s….” play some silly game where we all compete with each other like mad and get virtually nothing. But he’s not a groupie. He’s a (short) heroic rebel. His friend Pedro can’t take his eyes off him. Watches his every move, even at the lunch counter. Rewards (slavishly) by repercussive imitation. Is faint with fear (of association) and admiration. “So…let’s go, guys!” Fresh and false. But – like Superman stopping a train – Felipe takes the lightening in his hands. Crosses his arms on his chubby little chest. And says “NO!”
There’s an attempt at persuasion. Great; it augments the audience potential. Felipe has already been separated from Pedro, who is inwardly applauding; look at his almost envious eyes. The arms are tighter across Felipe’s body, the mouth a facial fist of defiance. “No!” The rest of the students are speculatively waiting….How will this momentary power-play pan out? With another visit to the Dragon’s Den? Or with miraculous (unlikely) capitulation?
This is when the Power of No hangs in the balance. The teacher can bargain, in a way beg, try to integrate, make promises – and with every strategy pulled out of the deck of tactical cards, the frontal approach can be met with an impenetrable shield. The ungiving power of “no”. The teacher can expediently remove the offender. But the message is that she has had to pull rank and use the power invested in her by the rules of the system. To rid herself of a nine-year-old child, she has to call for irresistible reinforcements: the Coordinator and her henchmen. Ha! A battle may have been won, by some means, but possibly only to be fought again at another moment.
A diversion might be tried instead. How about “Oh…you don’t want to do that? No problem. You stay here – this is where you want to be, right? And we will all move over there and play this game in a slightly different way.” The focus is re-directed - away from the nay-sayer. For force to be used in a way that strengthens the group (not the teacher, not the offender), it has to be divided among the students. When the students are enjoyably engaged – with Felipe in a kind of time-out situation – the dynamic will change. With no “teacher vs student” issue at stake, Felipe will be disempowered passively, frustrating the attempt to turn up the tension. Don’t worry about Pedro. With no rebellion to support, he will probably opt for relative invisibility with a noncommittal colleague.
“No” is powerful when it causes divisiveness, a taking of sides, a hardening of the spirit. Turning a grumbling giant into a mewling midget requires finding a tactical instrument that will simultaneously puncture the rebel’s carapace of negativity and inject the fellow students with a purpose that pleasurably ignores conflict.
“No” doesn’t need to fill up the room; instead, it can become a very flat balloon.