Diagnostic labels for learning differences hinder educators from celebrating the natural diversity of all students' learning styles.
Imagine living a world where everyone was a flower instead of a human being. In such a floral society, it's likely that the psychiatrists would be roses. Now, imagine that the psychiatrist calls in his first patient: a lily. "Hmm," says Rose. "I can see that we might have a problem here!" He looks Lily over carefully and then gives his diagnosis: "I'm sorry to inform you that you have PDD, otherwise known as Petal Deficit Disorder." Lily leaves, saddened and anxious, and the next patient, a bluet, comes through the door. Rose gets out his magnifying glass, examines Bluet minutely, and then declares: "I believe that you have GD, or Growing Disability. You really are much too small!" Bluet exits, feeling punched down a few sizes. Finally, a giant sunflower comes through the door, and the psychiatrist doesn't even have to conduct an examination: "This flower clearly has Hugeism! Unfortunately, it's genetic, and there's not much we can do about it."
This story may seem silly, but it serves as a scary metaphor for how we are treating students these days. Instead of celebrating the natural diversity of all our students, we package many of their natural differences into neat little pathological categories. We strip away their humanity by using lifeless words and phrases to talk about them: "Judy has learning disabilities"; "Roy has ADHD" (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder); "Brian was just diagnosed with autism"; "Billy has PDD" (Pervasive Developmental Disorder); "Ed's got Asperger's syndrome." By adopting these labels as the dominant descriptors of a student's learning potential, we block ourselves off from understanding who these children really are. In 1949, George Orwell's bleak futurist novel, 1984, showed how words can manipulate, dominate, and repress authenticity. Unfortunately, in education, we have not been vigilant enough to see that we have been similarly negating the worlds of students through these sterile phrases.