In personal email and on our message boards, I sometimes get questions about the Classical Writing curriculum that pertains to certain learning styles. My son is a “hands on learner” or my daughter is “a big-picture person”. In addition, some students are labeled as resistant, sloppy, slow, uninterested, etc. All normal things that we observe about our children or about our students, hurdles to be – if possible – overcome.
While I do agree that we all as humans develop certain tendencies towards certain approaches when we are faced with learning challenges, I would be careful with slapping labels on students, especially with labels that we freely verbalize in front of the student.
One friend of mine many years ago described one of her toddlers as “my funny looking one”. It seems to me that labels such as “my funny looking one”, “my slow one”, or “my non-academic kid” imply two things that I think may not be so healthy
1. This is the way he or she is, and there is no help for it.
2. When I say that it is indeed “MY” slow one – there is a certain, not only ownership, but an implication that in that ownership this student specimen is part of a larger collection of mine. Kind of like my slightly defunct mechanical pencil, the one where the button gets stuck, unlike some of my other mechanical pencils where the buttons work better. It objectifies the student.
(When my youngest son was born with Down syndrome and a slew of health problems, some friends tried to comfort me that at least I had two healthy normal sons. That sort of comfort goes along with 2. above, the idea that the sons are ‘mine’ and while I got one that was defective, I at least have (in my collection) two more or less intact specimens.)
But I digress.
Yes, educational labels can help identify issues. Labels are used in medicine to identify specifically what disease a person is struggling with, and identification can lead to the appropriate therapies (physical, medicinal, or surgical), in hopes of strides towards recovery, or at least improved functioning, if not full recovery.
So, labels in learning may help you identify what it is your student is struggling with, or what” ”less-than-optimal” strategies that your student is employing when faced with a particular challenge in his or her education. But labels can also limit the problem, limit your ability to see that there may be more to the issue than the one simple solution you just discovered, thanks to the label, so labels have to be approached cautiously.
Also, labels can hurt students, who are human beings, and not the sum total of whatever label we may have branded them with.
That being said, we are only human, and our tendency is to look at issues, identify the parts that need fixing, changing, or at least modification, and then we label those issues in order to put them in a category for which we have strategies for alterations. Nothing wrong with that, just try not to subsume the student into being a specimen for that label. The student is of course more than that label.

About Lene Jaqua

Co-author of Classical Writing books
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