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Wednesday, December 14, 2005



Thanks to mark for your comment on this post for extending my thinking on the topic of labelling. And thanks for all of the thought-provoking stuff to be found on ZenPundit!

Mark said that programs for below-average kids do make average kids feel smarter. I was surprised to read this, but after thinking about it for a few days, it started to make sense, especially when related to issues around programming for the gifted.

I was excellent at "playing the game" in school (most of the time!), figuring out exactly what would receive the most praise from each teacher. In almost all lessons, I wasn't figuring out what to learn, or following my own line of intellectual inquiry, or even working hard. I was simply doing my best to get the most of what I wanted, which was praise and attention and reassurance that I was a good person.

Of course I wanted to get good marks and be told that I was smart, because that's what was valued and rewarded most in the system I found myself part of. The teachers clearly had the authority, therefore it was best to follow their rules (written and unwritten) to get the good stuff. Simple.

I think the big problem with all of these labels of gifted, learning disabled, average, etc., is that they become value judgements simply by virtue of the Western educational system. If you asked a teacher if a gifted kid was worth more than a learning disabled kid, I'm sure they would say no. But the system is set up in such a way that smarts and rule-following determine how much reward is provided. It's as small as a teacher praising a good assignment to the whole class, choosing one student's picture to display prominently, or giving more eye contact to "A" students. It's obvious to all that achievement is valued, and the natural conclusion is that your level of achievement determines your value.

I have no idea how to fix this, as it is considered a normal way to behave in almost every educational institution and corporation in the land. But somehow we must find a way to let all kids know that they are valuable and worthwhile human beings, no matter what they are doing. Then, "smarter" or "dumber" would cease to have any real meaning except to understand how to provide what that individual child needs.

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"If you asked a teacher if a gifted kid was worth more than a learning disabled kid, I'm sure they would say no."

With many of the teachers I've encountered, I'm sure they would say yes and then proceed to ignore the gifted child because they believe they will do just fine left no matter what the circumstance.
You are welcome Jo.

I think part of the dynamic relates strongly to class size.

Once you get numbers above a small tutorial group,the natural and partly unconscious competitive behaviors kick in as students jockey amongst themselves for peer status and teacher attention.
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