Friday, April 13, 2007

Labels

I'll try to make this brief, as my last muse turned out as a filibuster that never got posted...

It's not so hot at this precise moment, but there has been a lot of controversy both within the frum world and without over the correctness of "labeling" people, particularly exceptional children.

On one side, you have a lot of very heated people shouting that it will stigmatize the labeled individual for life, that it will limit their ability to expand their potential by reducing optimism and accountability, and that it will cause others to look at the person differently. In short, to label is to condemn.

On the other hand, identifying and facing a difficulty is the biggest step towards remedying it. Furthermore, if a person has no label, the unusual behaviors are attributed instead to the individual himself, harming his self-image and others' perception as well.

As an educator, I see both sides pretty clearly. Here's my humble opinion:
I am in favor of labels. However, they must be used properly:
@ The student should not know his label. Most are not equipped to deal with it properly, it only confuses them and/or gives them a good excuse to cop out (I had an elementary school student once whose favorite line was "I can't, I'm hearing impaired." She wore hearing aids that enabled her to hear just fine -- but so many people just took her word for it. It was turning her into a spoiled brat). They can be told along the lines of "Morah sees ___ is very hard for you. But don't worry, you're a smart kid and we're going to help you get better at it."
@ The point of the label is to communicate efficiently in order to get services and information in order to overcome the problem. Parents and educators must not view it as a prognosis. This can be hard work but you must do it.
@ No one, but no one besides the student's parents and educators should know about this. They are not close enough to the child to use it productively.

It might help to think of it as a "diagnosis" rather than a "label." It is a description of a problem, not of the person.

Frankly, a child who could be labeled but isn't has the same problem anyway. Except no one's quite sure what to do with him because they're too busy avoiding saying anything that could be taken negatively. This irks me greatly. The kid feels terrible because they don't know why they keep on failing...don't have friends...get in trouble so often. They thin they're bad, stupid, or just doomed. This sticks with them for ages. Furthermore, the teacher, despite her superhuman efforts, doesn't see any concentrated effort from the parents to face the problem and therefore doesn't have as much patience to deal with it herself. Or, she may simply not be able to figure out your child's problem withing the busy, crowded classroom setting and would benefit from knowing what you know. There is not much that is worth hiding from the people who spend almost as much time caring for your child as you do.

So what do you think? Do the potential gains outweigh the potential losses?

12 comments:

Bas~Melech said...

Right. So much for brevity.

Anyway, I decided not to wait until my picture's done. In case anyone actually read the previous post.

Mel said...

"Morah sees ___ is very hard for you. But don't worry, you're a smart kid and we're going to help you get better at it."

My mother was telling me about some recent studies where one group the parents told the kids that they are very smart. The other kids were told that they work and try hard. Apparently, the kids who were told that they work hard scored higher on IQ tests.

I mention this for two reasons. (a) it is very clear that what parents and teachers tell their students can have a profound impact on how they view themselves. (b) There are experienced and qualified professionals who have education down to a science. This would include labels and diagnosis. If I were an educator, I would constantly read education magazines and books from qualified and credible sources to stay on top of the trends. (I don't know what they say about these topics, but you can be sure their conclusion is not based on logic or what would seem to make sense (like the smart study) but rather on science, and psychology and experience.)

Personally, I would think that awareness is a necessary part of overcoming challenges, and if a child had a learning disorder, I would make them aware of it, and probably send them to some after school programs devoted to overcoming these challenges. They need to face the music so to speak. keeping them in the dark will probably stifle them, and breed unnecessary frustration.

One way to approach this would be to explain to such a student that, "there are different learning types, and we are going to cater the coursework as specifically as possible to your learning type."
This way, the student knows what he/she is up against, but doesn't hurt their self-image or anything like that.

Whatever the case, Leave this to the special education professionals, or atleast see what they seem to know, because there are lots of learning disabled students out there, and these people know what works.

Bas~Melech said...

Mel: Thanks for your comment.
I also read about those studies. I think what they are talking about is parents who just tell their kids they're smart randomly, as praise, and since intelligence is beyond one's control this doesn't lead the kids to do anything better. In fact, it is discouraging -- if the child doesn't do well in school after being told they are smart, they might start thinking their parents are lying or don't know what they're talking about...maybe I'm not smart anymore. "Smart" is an example of an unproductive label affixation.

What I was referring to was in the case of, say, a learning disabled child who sees himself failing. He thinks he is stupid and hopeless. He needs to be told, "This is not your fault. You are ok, you have a brain, you just need to find the tools that will work for you. I will help."

That is all I would make the child aware of. He doesn't need to know that he has been diagnosed with ADHD, Dyscalculia, or whatever. These words are usually not understood and misused by children. They translate it as "I have a problem. I can't _____ and there's nothing I can do about that." Very depressing. The child should certainly be aware and involved, but in limited amounts at the right times.

You also brought up "learning types." Good point. This is basically another way of saying the same message.

Regarding your closing remark -- "Leave it to the pros" is one of the most unproductive attitudes I've encountered among parents and general-ed teachers. One should certainly work with professionals, and educate oneself from professional sources, but parents and teachers must take initiative. Parents who are afraid to get their child a diagnosis usually end up doing more harm -- or at least neglect -- than good. No one knows or cares about your child as much as you do and you need to be a very big part of the special ed team. If you "leave it to the pros" your child may be at the mercy of biased people who don't see the full picture.

Mel said...

When I said leave it to the Pros, I meant deciding whether labels are good or bad.
Obviously when it comes to treatment, or a child's education, one of the most important things is good communication and coordination between all parties involved (i.e. parents,professionals, teachers, principal, possibly siblings, actual student, etc..)

Parents who refuse to do everything they can to make sure their kids are properly educated, obviously don't love them, and really dont deserve the tax deduction.

Bas~Melech said...

No more takers?!

Come on, I thought I was finally posting about something someone might care about...

And if not that, at least the graphic was nice...

Bas~Melech said...

Only one commentator. Was this post doomed because of Friday the 13th? Or is my blog really too boring to read?

The Dreamer said...

too boring.
:P
(jk)

forgot to comment, that's all.
You've got two blogs!

maybe consolidate, and you'll get more....

Anonymous said...

it is an understatement to say that You have raised some extremely Important points:

It is an unfortunate fact that too many parents fear that the "stigma" of labels placed upon their children might become a hindrance when their children will enter the "Parshoh" of Shidducheem.

Unfortunately, these same parents are often in "denial" about the fact that - unless their precious children will receive the necessary special help while they are still young - these children (especially boys) will face much more severe challenges when trying to enter the Shidduchim "marketplace" without having learned anything in school - and without being able to doven properly or learn Torah - and without any real knowledge of Halochoh.

Additionally, if these children (Both boys and Girls) will be constantly "put down" by their teachers (and maybe even their own classmates) then their self-confidence will be destroyed, and they will not have any ability to interact socially with most other individuals.

This will be the greatest hindrance to them in Shidduchim - and in All other aspects of life.

The only possible remedy for these children's long-term prospects of success in all aspects of life - including Shidduchim - is to get them the necessary help when they are still young - at the earliest age possible.

Wouldn't you rather have your child viewed as one who Overcame the obstacles which he/she faced at an early age (with thanks to the "labeling" which helped the child to overcome these obstacles)
- than have your child eventually become an adult (at least chronologically) who still can't (and doesn't) perform as most adults do (just because you were afraid of "labeling") ?

If this were my child, I would get him or her the necessary help Right away.

This way, later in life, when the child will become ready for Shidduchim (and life's other challenges) it will only be a source of pride to the child (and his or her family) - that the child overcame such challenges.

(Unfortunately, many parents of such children - have received well-meaning but harmful "advice" to the contrary - to avoid the labeling.

These parents need to be approached with understanding and sympathy and with a very great deal of patience - in order to help them see the fallacy of such misinformed "advice" and to help them see that such "labeling" will only Help their children - both in Shidduchim and in all other aspects of life.

Please don't deny your children the special help which they need.

And may HaShem Please help your children as well.

Frumteacher said...

Thank you for your post on tznius. I totally agree with what you write on educating our girls with a feeling of pride, in stead of with burdening them with more rules. What I find difficult is how to start infusing this feeling of pride. Whenever the word tznius or 'dress' is mentioned, they are extremely cynical. It will take a lot of inspirational ideas to break through this wall. Any suggestions?

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

I can agree with your points. I say giving a label can make the child end up like that but for sake of treating it can help too, not sure what I would do.

Bas~Melech said...

Yay! Comments!

Dreamer... I am actually thinking of doing that. Maybe next post. It will be hard to let this go though.. I am rather fond of my first blog. ("Half Baked Torah Thoughts?!")

Anono-- wow. To think I forgot to mention shidduchim. You brought up a very important and relevant point. Sometimes frum life these days seems to be all about shidduchim. While we all want to be happily married, sometimes I think people are losing sight of the big picture.
And this is one of the foremost reasons why frum people are hesitant to diagnose and treat problems.

FrumTeacher-- nice to meet you.
To clarify my stance on the issue:
All teachers in all subject matters should be infusing the students with a sense of pride in Judaism and womanhood, be it through Tanach, history, literature, yahadut, etc. Then, imho, I think they'd be more accepting when you tell them that tzniyus is also about the dignity of the Jewish woman. Frankly, I think it is silly of people to think that they can give kids negative vibes all the time, stress tests and externals with their attitude, and expect them to believe you when you say something is in their best interest. First, show that you care, give them what they crave, then they'll want to do almost anything you say... eventually they'll do it for the right reasons, too.

SWFM-- that's exactly the controversy. Like I said, both are valid. The best thing would be to use a label very carefully, but it's really hard to protect yourself against making assumptions and self-fulfilling prophecies.

Mel said...

FrumTeacher,

Pride means just that, show them the reasons to be proud that they are Jewish. History is a great way to do this. Show them that this is an exclusive club, where we all care and look out for one another. Israeli pride is a great method if you can find the right balance.

If you want your students to want to dress like a Bas-Melech, you have to make them truly believe that they are extremely special.

More importantly though, don't think you aren't infusing pride just because you dont see the results today. Children listen, even if they are too stubborn to show it. When the time is right, your teachings will make a difference. Most importantly, respect them, and listen to them, let them know that what they say and do matters to you. This is the only way to truly reach them.