Work hard at living the idea that differentness is just fine—not bad. Your child will learn most from your example. Help him to think of problems as things that can be solved if people work at them together.
~Nicholas Hobbs from The Futures of Children (p.288)
Years ago a poster circulated that said “Labels are for Jars Not People.” I bought that idea, of course. I hate special ed. labels. I still have the The Futures of Children: Categories, Labels, and Their Consequences by Nicholas Hobbs sitting where I can see it on my bookshelf.
But while I don’t like special ed. labels even today, I believe we need them now more than ever. I think losing labels in the era of Common Core would be a serious mistake. You can argue with me if you want, but this is why I believe labels are so critical right now.
Here is a passage from the book by Hobbs. And especially note the last sentence:
Classification can profoundly affect what happens to a child. It can open doors to services and experiences the child needs to grow in competence, to become a person sure of his worth and appreciative of the worth of others, to live with zest and to know joy. On the other hand, classification, or inappropriate classification, or failure to get needed classification—and the consequences that ensue—can blight the life of a child, reducing opportunity, diminishing his competence and spirit, and making him less a person than he could become. Nothing less than the futures of children is at stake (p.1).
I believe around the time Hobbs worked on the education scene (‘70s), he, like a lot of other child psychologists and special educators, was a true visionary who foresaw an education system that focused more on the strengths of all children and away from harmful stigmatization. I think they also believed that what was good for special ed., individualism, was good for all children.
I doubt that Hobbs and his peers would be happy with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that ignore variance. Many anti-Core protestors have signs that state “My Child is Not Common.” I think that message says it all.
The CCSS enthusiasts will tell you that with Common Core all children are expected to reach the same standards arriving through different avenues. This includes plugging students with disabilities into individualized computer programs. To them, this is the definition of inclusion. They believe that one bunch of standards is the answer for all children—even those with disabilities.
But that’s not the way it works. It is far from it. And parents and teachers see the lunacy of believing every child, especially students in special ed., require sameness.
With all of this comes the push to destroy labels. Like for example the recent debate about getting rid of the gifted label. These students have always had pretty slim pickins when it comes to individualized attention, even though gifted students can have an array of serious problems that need identification and attention in school.
How does CCSS address gifted? It really doesn’t.
Parents of students who belong in a gifted classification, like students with learning disabilities, or students with autism, and certainly with children who have severe disabilities understand that their children need something more than Common Core if they are going to reach their full potential. Quite often, many labels even overlap. That makes things really interesting.
Thus, with Common Core you see the push to destroy labeling.
Even longer there has been a push—since IDEA ’97 and the ’04 reauthorizations to ditch special ed. services for good. They want to cut costs, stick all students in oversized classrooms, give them all the same kind of teachers and tests and call it inclusion.
Inclusion fits with Common Core quite nicely. Along with inclusion—getting rid of the labels makes sense. No need for them if everyone does the same thing.
But their inclusion means something entirely different when every child is churned out of school like a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Instead of real inclusion, students with disabilities drown in this strange idea of a weird normalcy that implies that difference is unacceptable. They actually run the very real danger of being cast off entirely!
The CCSS folks can get by with this ridiculous message with students who require little in the classroom to reach their Common standards—even though it isn’t bringing out the best in them either.
But it is special education with all its differences and quirkiness that demands attention.
Special ed. labels make the CCSS enthusiasts squirm. These students stand out and they don’t know how to deal with them. But if you get rid of student labels—these folks win. Students with special needs will be just a bunch of kids who fail…who blend into the nothingness of Common Core.
So if you have a student with special needs…I say flaunt their labels. Be proud of their individual distinction. Demand they get the attention they deserve for those differences and remind the CCSS fanatics that diversity is what we are about in this country. Not only will you be helping your child…you will be helping all children.
And then hope that someday we will evolve to where we don’t need labels anymore. Believe that someday, public schools truly will become places where all differences are valued and the word Common is just a bad memory.
Nicholas Hobbs. The Futures of Children: Categories, Labels, and Their Consequences (San Francsico: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1975).