This post is a wish for a perfect world but if you agree with me, you can do something about it fairly easily. I am really trying to make a conscious effort to adjust my own thinking and the way I talk about students.
I think we need to be careful not to refer to children as special education students or GATE (gifted and talented) kids. The students who are gifted are really students who have been identified as gifted. Students who are not gifted are students who are gifted in ways we haven’t identified yet. Special education students are students who are receiving special education services.
Usually I hate things that are simply a matter of semantics but I don’t think this is one of those cases. The way we refer to a student when we speak about them affects our thinking about that student in subtle and not so subtle ways. Our expectations of our students, of course, influence the achievement of those students. As we know there are inequities in the labeling of children as gifted and special ed, it is even more important that we resist those labels as permanent diagnoses.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t differentiate instruction or individually adjust our instruction in the face of one of these diagnoses. However, what I see happening is that once a student is identified as “special ed,” the regular ed teacher often throws up her hands as if there’s no longer any way to reach that student. Students who are identified as gifted are often given additional access to the limited amounts of technology in inner-city classrooms and this is not fair or beneficial to our society. Often those other students could be gifted if given twenty-first century skills with which to communicate. I say this, having seen how those students who sit in class unmotivated and possibly unnoticed are very often the ones who are most adept at using the computer as a communication tool when given the chance.
What do you think?