The Problem with Labeling
While listening to the New Rainmaker on-line marketing/media class (which I highly recommend), the following came up as an example in one of the lessons. Of course, my mind immediately turned it into this Blog Post.
On September 17th, 2012, NPR aired a report by Alix Spiegel entitled Teachers' Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform.
In this piece the reporter cited an important study by Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard University Professor, from 1964 that showed teachers behaved differently towards students according to what they were led to believe about their IQ scores.
Wow, we all do this; based upon the information we receive, we make assumptions about people (this includes ourselves) and their abilities or, even, whether we like them or not.
That is why I will maintain labeling is incredibly dangerous for students, for co-workers, for family, for friends, for everyone. Not only do other people believe the categorization, when we personally are labeled, we begin to accept it (whatever “it” is) about ourselves.
I understand the human desire and proclivity for naming and sorting. It is what we humans do. Heck, if it wasn't for Darwin and other taxonomists, everything we know about the world today would be still be completely hidden in the age old history of the rocks surrounding us. (Yes, that was the Anthro geek peeking out again.)
However, when labeling is done on a personal level, that is when it becomes harmful. When we tell a parent their child is ADD, ADHD, or any of the other behavioral diagnoses that exist today, the child and the parent begins to believe there is something wrong with them. They believe they are broken and their parents believe the same.
When that label is brought into a classroom, the effects are compounded. We go back to the 1964 study, by Robert Rosenthal. What a teacher believes about a student will affect that students performance. Again, wow!
I have seen this phenomenon personally. It is huge! When someone tells me their kid has been diagnosed with X,Y or Z by a child psychologist, by the school, or by their own doctor; I have learned over time that I need to tell them outright, I don't believe in labeling, any more. I am not saying these disorders don't exist. It only means I am looking at that child as a whole amazingly complex, interesting, delightfully unique person, not just the diagnosis. I will work with that student with absolutely no bias, well except the one that says everyone wants to and can learn as long as they are interested in the subject.
And, we are back to the self-directed learning model. When kids are accepted for who they really are (not just the disorder), when they are given the time and space to be creative (see the previous blog post entitled Making a Case for Creativity), when they see it is OK to make mistakes and blunders, when they see the respect we have for them, reflecting back at them, then they will take on the role in the world they were destined to have all along.
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