An age-old inspirational words of wisdom reads, “Don’t expect clean water from a well that was just dug up. It takes time for the dirt to settle before one could enjoy the freshness of clean water.”
Teachers and parents are always confronted with situations that require them to decide on whether or not a child or student needs to be assisted right away or given more time before he/she displays behaviors and attitudes that comply with the norm. In a typical school setting, non-compliance with status-quo (or norm) is shunned and almost immediately labeled.
Having worked with teachers and school counselors, I recognize such eagerness on an adult’s part to engage in systematic diagnosis and labeling of a child. Usually, adults in the helping profession such as teaching and counseling do not delay or reserve their judgment for a later time when it comes to dealing with perceived behavior, academic or social-emotional differences.
In close examination, I realize that adults do so to reduce the stress involved in constantly dealing with out-of-norm experiences of students. In other words, dealing with an “unknown” (or not-yet-labeled) out-of-norm behavior, performance and emotion of a child is more stressful and frustrating than dealing with a tentatively known or labeled condition.
In such cases an adult feels less apprehensive about a child’s condition and hence is more comfortable to deal with the crisis at hand. As erroneous as this sound, adults are able to discount their roles and responsibilities for the out-of-norm experience of a child when he/she is labeled as having significantly different experiences from his/her peers.
Believing that a child has an inherently imposed condition which adversely affects his/her academics allows teachers and parents to excuse themselves for failing to remedy the condition and/or situation. This allows them not to be too harsh on themselves. In this sense, labeling is and has been used for the convenience of adults more than to help any child to improve and develop holistically.
There are many arguments against labeling children at school, home or even outside of the learning context. Two arguments deserve our immediate attention!
When we label someone, our sight, foresight and insight about that person become notably limited. For example, when we label someone as hyperactive, we look at the person from a narrow point of view and we expect him to behave in ways that typically characterizes a hyperactive individual. We do not care to pause and think of that person as being an individual with different talents, preferences, aspirations and strengths. All we choose to see is the features represented by the label itself.
The moment we label someone, we fail to see anything beyond that label. We deliberately close ourselves from exploring everything else about the individual. In the process of doing so, we miss all the more important and meaningful information that makes up the person’s true identity, experiences and potential.
Labeling creates a barrier in the minds of adults dealing with children/students. And most often, these barriers exist only in the mind of an adult (teachers and parents) and may not be present in the child’s mind. This explains why sometimes children unexpectedly surprise us with their tremendous capacity to create, innovate and problem-solve, especially when our biased expectations dictated otherwise.
Taking right action
Professionals argue that labeling is important to facilitate efficient communication among themselves in an effort to assist an affected child. At the same time, they also acknowledge the ill-effects of labeling. My personal take on this would be to stop labeling because the damage it causes outweighs the proposed benefit, added to the fact the so-called benefit is more for the convenience of adults rather than helping children/students.