Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Limits of labels

Shouldn't all kids be considered gifted and talented?

If not, perhaps we are not looking hard enough... or perhaps we are looking too hard in one place.

In her book Widening the Circle, Mara Sapon-Shevin writes:

Inclusive classrooms teach us that we are all different and that we want to be talked about respectfully. The language we use - and the labels - are profoundly important in shaping our own understanding and others' perceptions. Calling me a "middle-aged, organizationally challenged woman" feels very different from calling me "a creative woman in her prime who grasps the big picture rather than being mired in petty details." Both descriptions are true, but which one would make you think "Gee, I'd like to hang out with that woman?" What we call people does matter, and inclusive settings help us to expand our vocabularies, widen our lens, and sharpen our kindness skills. 
Ultimately, labels fail because they encourage us to over simplify and categorize others in myopic terms. Nobody can be defined simply as caucasian, Jewish or autistic. Our needs can not be met nor can our identities be reduced to these one dimensional labels.

Because diversity and differences are the norm, perhaps we would all be better off if we stopped thinking about children as being "the same" or "different".

Perhaps it's time we move beyond the limitations of labels.


  1. Great points in this post. This reminds me of Angela Maiers' message of "You are a genius, and the world needs your contributions." As educators we have a real opportunity to recognize what's special about each student and reflect this back to them. Instead of limiting how we see students (and how they see themselves) through confining labels, we can help them feel the freedom of possibility.

  2. in addition labels don't tell us much. Ross Greene , the creator of the CPS- collaborative problem solving approach for challenging kids does not like the use of diagnosis , rather he uses a check list of lacking skills as a guideline.

    'Most troubling, perhaps, is the fact that diagnosing a child , pathologizes the child and therefore often obscures the fact that challenging behavior in kids is a complex, transactional phenomenon also involving the child’s interaction partners and environments.

    Back in the 50s, a prominent psychiatrist named Thomas Szasz characterized psychopathology as “problems in living.” How apt a description for kids being diagnosed with bipolar disorder! What are their problems in living? They lack the skills to handle frustration, regulate emotions, and solve problems adaptively. Can these skills be identified and taught? Indeed, they can. Can medication be helpful in setting the stage for such teaching? In some cases, yes. Does medication teach lacking thinking skills or solve problems? No, medication does not. Is diagnosing a child with pediatric disorder a necessary first step? In general, no.' Ross Greene

  3. The best way to "move beyond the limitations of labels" is... to use more and better labels. You can't wish away differences, you need a vocabulary to understand and respond to them.

  4. Labels need to be handled with care. As I stated on my blog, when used properly, labels can serve a useful purpose. Under the current system, it is the way to assure students gain access to specialized services. Until there is a better way to identify students' unique and specific educational needs in order to support their learning, it is always important to remember we are labeling the need or services, not the child.


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