From time to time, I am called to take a stand on one issue or another. And a recurring stand is that labels do more harm than good.
Here are a few examples that I came across a number of years ago…but their message is timeless.
The first, was the title of the March/April 2015 issue of Teaching Exceptional Children (an official journal from the Council for Exceptional Children and published by Sage).
The title of the issue reads, “Meeting the Needs of Students with Gifts and Talents.”
The second, was a facebook post from Jason Evans that went a little viral. In the picture, Jason shares an image of side-by-side onesies for infants. The one on the left is “for girls,” and the one on the right is “for boys.” The left-hand onesie reads, “I hate my thighs,” and the right-hand onesie reads, “I’m super.”
My issue with the second is likely quite obvious, but you may be wondering what it has to do with the title of a journal and/or what the two situations have in common.
For me, it’s the underlying issue of labeling.
When I read the title of the Teaching Exceptional Children issue, I immediately thought, “Well, don’t all children have gifts and talents?”
Knowing full well that the issue was devoted to a sub-set of children….
Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.”
– US Department of Education, 1993
In the second situation, despite the stereotypical negative and positive attributes assigned to girls vs. boys, it was again the label, or the classification of a set of ideals; and values is for one group, and another set of ideals and values is for a different group.
I’ve been in special education (see there is another label) long enough to know that labels come and go, labels “help” us to communicate complex ideas in quick ways, and labels are an integral part of our educational system.
That said, despite our efforts to use politically correct labels and to use labels to help children receive the services and supports they need, they still end up classifying, sorting people into boxes, and, all too often, creating negative images.
“Labels limit our identity of self, how others see us, and who we can become.”
If we do use labels, then let’s use them to empower, to motivate, and to celebrate our unique gifts….the video should provide a bit of inspiration to that end.
P.S. This blog is available in audio format and was read by my dear friend Nikita who lived a short and vibrant life.