Learning Without Labels

Have you given much thought to the labels which infiltrate the education system?   “Gifted” children recieve their label and go on to enjoy academic activities which will help them thrive in a system which otherwise may not adequately challenge them. “Learning support” kids get their label and become eligible for tools and assistance to help them suceed.  Individualized Education Plans (IEP) are constructed to make sure kids with this label have a learning environment which will support their individual needs. Those who have not  been granted “gifted” status but are still quite bright get labels such as “college prep” or “AP”. These kids get to travel advanced placement pathways which provide greater academic challenges. The flip side are those who did not get the “learning support” label but are a bit slower with reading or solving math problems. I know this “low level” group well because I always landed there. Imagined how shocked I was when I graduated from college with honors. In public school however, we were ultimately directed towards business classes, vocational programs or work release opportunities where we could be prepared for the blue collar workforce. The goal for us seemed to be surviving more so then thriving as learners.

All of these labels are intended to help kids get connected with resources which will enhance their academic experience. They help advocate for research, education for professionals, legislation and public awareness. In fact, labels can be a powerful tool to give children access to experiences they may not have otherwise had. But still, there are several reasons that learning without labels, as we do with homeschooling, is a pretty good idea.

Labels can receive more attention then the child.

When children receive labels during the course of their education adults risk becoming focused on the label, not the child as a whole. Academic strengths or weaknesses are only one part of a childs growth experience.  Developmental achievements such as, becoming self-reliant, forming identity and problem solving are equally as important and should receive as much attention as cognitive development.

Labels give children false pretenses.

At the end of the day a child may look at educational and vocational opportunities as being outside of their reach because of a label. For example, I never saw college as an option for myself after years of lower track classes in elementary, middle and high school. When I timidly approached our community college to complete genreal college courses I was amazed to find myself flourish, grow and succeed. This was an environment I thrived in. I completed my bachelor degree with honors. In retrospect, it is a shame I spent my highschool years traveling the lower level academic track when I was likely capable of greater academic challenges.

Individualized Education Plans (IEP) shouldn’t be a formalized process – education should just be individualized (period).

Perhaps I’m being a bit facetious here but I won’t apologize because I feel it is true. The core of educating is captivating the learner. An IEP is a wonderful way to help many children with the label learning support or learning disability obtain the resources they need to engage in learning. But shouldn’t we be looking at all children and asking what do they need to thrive as a learner? What about the kids who don’t get academic labels- who is individualiving their education? Hopefully, an amazing teacher – but not everyone is that fortunate. We all have different ways of learning. Connecting with a childs learning style makes the difference between survival or success. In homeschool, everyday is an opportunity to individualize your kids education to capture their desire to learn.

Labels effects how we interact with a child.

It’s not my opinion- it’s been proven. Numerous studies have found that placing a label on a child often influences the how teachers interact with the child. This is not out of malice; it’s subconscious. It is difficult not to apply all the characteristics we associates with a group or categlory to everyone or thing that falls into that category. That is simply how our brains work. This means expectations may be lowered, experiences altered and opportunities for challenges limited – without meaning to do harm.

Labels help children set their bar for performance.

Children with labels that indicates academic weakness may fall into a cycle where lowered expectations from adults lead to the child having lower expectations or belief in themselves…which leads to lower academic performance and so on. Research has shown that teachers and parents tend to lower expectations of children labeled “learning disabled” or “learning support”. While the label may be a comfort to a struggling child or parent, it may not serve a child well to have the bar lowered. Instead, adults should think of different ways to approach expectations which will help the child succeed.

My personal experience with the system’s use of labels and academic tracks was enough to push me into a search for something alternative for my child. Without any labels or pre-determined academic pathways I hope to provide her a engaging education which cultivates in her the strongest passion to grow – with not even the sky as a limit.

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