Thursday, November 13, 2008

Topic: Labels in Education

10-second review: The term “remedial” as applied to writing implies failure and deficiency. How does that label influence the way the teacher teaches?

Title: “Remediation as Social Construct: Perspectives from an Analysis of Classroom Discourse.” G Hull, M Rose, KL Fraser and M Castellano. College Composition and Communication (October 1991), 299-329. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: When it comes to labeling students “remedial,” the authors believe that the implied sense of difference leads to a sense of inequity and failure. “To talk about difference in America, given our legacy of racism and class prejudice, requires us to talk, as well, about the many reductive, harmful ways difference has historically been represented.” Given the negative label of “remedial,” the authors believe that teachers approach these students negatively.

Comment: I suppose the negative connotation of “remedial” is the reason people in the writing field have not borrowed the term from professionals in reading, why writing professionals use “basic” or “underprepared” as terms for people who do not write very well. I don’t doubt for a minute that the negative label prescribes the approach of teacher to student as primarily negative, which results in negative effects on the personality of the student.

For years, I have mindlessly used the term “remedial” in the field of reading. I have seen the negative results on students. I suppose the best way to approach any student is as an individual and to determine what the student can do well and what needs improvement. Difficult task in our group-oriented approach to teaching.

The cure for racism in society is not to label people, but to look at each person as an individual. (Try telling that to the pollsters who drive the election process.) In education, we should not label students as failures or “A” students, or high-IQ’s and average or “low.” And colleges should not admit students on the basis of SAT scores, but they do. I’m not sure about a solution, but I am sure that even well-intentioned labels limit the richness and complexity of human personality and I have plenty of examples in my own experience in education to illustrate it.

All of this is getting too philosophical for the purposes of this blog. But the issue is important and I would like to discuss it with others who might be interested. RayS.

No comments: