By Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson
“The direction in which an education starts a man will determine his future life.” Plato
Given that the underlying motivation for my recent book (“MUGAMORE: Succeeding without Labels – Lessons for Educators”) was to help protect children from senseless labels, Imagine my frustration upon hearing the news this morning that a boy only six years young in Texas was suspended from school, with sexual misconduct placed on his permanent record, for the irreparable crime of kissing a girl on the hand. Thankfully, more sensible minds prevailed, and his record was changed to reflect only misconduct. Yet, based on my own subjective reasoning, I do not believe anything should have been placed on his record. This was clearly an innocent teachable moment, an opportunity to admonish the child that chivalry observed on television should not be mimicked in ‘real life’ for multiple reasons including that some people are uncomfortable being touched in such a manner and their personal space should be respected. This, in my view, would have been a sufficient way to address the boy’s act.
As educators we must be extraordinarily sensitive to the fact that our actions involving children can lay the foundation for the trajectory of the rest of their lives; positively and negatively. We are aware that children’s success correlates directly with the expectations teachers hold for them. What will a teacher expect from a student labeled a sexual deviant? Dangerously, the teacher may fulfill the prophecy by taking another innocent action (e.g. hugging a classmate out of joy) by the child and distorting it. It is not only labels associated with social behaviors that can affect the direction of a person’s life, but those related to learning disabilities as well.
…I was given the label “learning disabled.” From that day forward, I was looked down upon by my peers as being “stupid” and “dumb;” a feeling that stayed with me for many years to come. The social rejection I experienced made it difficult for me to even function in the classroom setting. (Gibson, 2008).
In a study awarded for outstanding research by the Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD), the following results were reported by Bianco (2005) as it pertains to students with learning disabilities (LD) and emotional behavioral disorders (EBD):
…teachers were clearly influenced by the disability labels LD and EBD when making referral decisions for gifted programs. Overall, both special education and general education teachers were much less willing to refer students with disability labels to gifted programs than students with no disability label. (p. 290)
This is just one study among many that addresses the limitations associated with opportunities that labels prevent. Labels have their place when established by experts over time with thorough observations and valid evaluations; however, in general, educators and parents alike have become far too comfortable with quickly affixing labels to children – a practice which, for the sake of present and future generations of children, must be comprehensively reined.
Bianco, M. (2005). The effects of disability labels on special education and general education teachers’ referrals for gifted programs. Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Autumn, 2005), pp. 285-293.
Gibson, C. P. (2008). Overcoming the stigma of the learning disability label: A story of survival and recovery. ACA Special Education News, Article LD-8-3.