Thursday, 12 February 2015

Labels

My husband is a social worker.  Or rather, he was. Now he does counselling and massage. All three come in handy!  More times than I can count he has listened to me as I've enthused, vented, chaffed at restrictions, showed off, planned and debriefed. He's been incredibly patient and I'm more grateful that he realises.

Tonight, over shredded duck and snow pea stir fry,  he helped me unpack some ideas I have around the way we label children. I'll be honest: I have issues with it. I think we 'other' children with labels, whether that is the intention or not.  There is more than one way to view this. Of course there is. This is just MY thinking, right now.

As a parent, I have seen first hand how this works. Our two oldest children are gifted. They are both enrolled in a gifted programme that runs parallel to the mainstream programme at their high school.  They are segregated classes, have different subjects, and go on alternate camps.  The staff of this programme are largely, but not wholly, specialists in gifted education. The school recognises the need for specialist services for these kids. They are quite clearly 'other'. (Don't get me wrong: we advocated for the boys to be included in this programme; we used the label to get the support they need.)

As a teacher, I see a different side of it.  Children come to me with labels. Sometimes I seek a label for them. Sometimes, I'm chastened to admit, I give them one. And these labels change the way the children engage with school. Sometimes the label means that the children have different expected outcomes. Sometimes they are taken out of the classroom for extra support. Sometimes they have extra support in the classroom. Sometimes they have specialised equipment. Sometimes they have behaviour plans that keep them in particular parts of the playground. Always they end up making it clear to the rest of the class that this child is 'other'. 

My issue is that there is an assumption that there's a problem that needs to be fixed. The deficit model which has us approaching students based on our perception of their weaknesses is pervasive.  And insidious. 

By the end of our stir fry, I was quite worked up. My husband reminded me that whatever else I may or may not do, I do see the child in front of me, rather than the label. I can quote their labels, and learn everything I can about the labels but by the time the child is standing in front of me I'm done with that. I see the child in front of me. He or she is welcomed into our class family and celebrated. Nobody is singled out as special. There are no 'others' in our class. There are just people.

And so is my husband, but right now I might just ask him if I can take advantage of his masseuse label. :)

4 comments:

  1. A young aboriginal student who was puzzled at your manner in approaching her. "You have the same expectations of me as you do of the other [white] kids. No teacher has expected the same [standard] of me before." How her statement is a perfect example of the insidious influence of 'othering.'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right. It often happens without anyone intending it, or intending anything malicious.

      Delete
  2. Arrgghh!! I wrote a whole comment and it lost it.....

    The main point was, this blog post brought tears to my eyes - thanks for being you

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh! And your comment brought tears to mine! Thank YOU! :)

      Delete