Rethinking Labels

May 13, 2015
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This is a guest blog post written by Carreen Schroeder.

I formally entered the professional realm of education in Southern Ontario, in
1999. I was initially hired by the Catholic district school system in my
hometown and was extremely proud to be part of a district that pioneered
inclusion – all children, regardless of their disability, were (and are) educated
in the very same classrooms right alongside their abled peers. Now back
then, a disability was any seemingly abnormal function from a behavioral,
intellectual, physical or developmental standpoint. What is ‘abnormal’? Well I
suppose for the powers that be at the decision-making level, it is anyone who
operates in a way that places him outside the operational function of the
majority. And let’s face it, it is just more convenient that way. If we can place
labels on children who are functioning outside the norm, we can get on with
the business at hand: teaching and learning, right? And those with labels will
be given the educational guidance that we, the educators decide is
appropriate based on their disability.

A few years later, a new term was introduced to the educators. The term
disability would now be replaced with the term, exceptionality. Again, the
powers that be felt this was a more fitting term because its connotation was
set in a more positive light and I totally bought into it. I bought into it to such
an extreme that when I relocated to New York State, I would proudly
enlighten the educators and the professors (yes, I continued to take university
courses in Special Education so I could continue to be an authority in the
field, or so I thought) by subtly and sometimes directly using this new term,
as though I was some sort of an expert – hypocrite.

I reflect on all of this now and realize I knew nothing of this amazing and
dynamic group of individuals I had the privilege to call my students year
after year. I only wish I could go back and apologize to each and every one of
these young men and women and humbly ask for their forgiveness. I knew
NOTHING of their amazing talents, gifts, intelligence and wisdom. I
professed that I did. I tried to have the greatest of open hearts and open minds
but sadly, I had learned that I was the expert and that my job was to teach
according to each individual’s ability or exceptionality. Definitely and
entirely the wrong track.

I have changed a great deal over the past number of years and so much of
what I thought I knew has also dramatically changed for the better. Up until
my late 30’s, I was part of the vast majority who feel we must be the authority
(or at least pretend to be) on a great many subjects, or else we fear
humiliation by the masses – authority on religion and spirituality, authority on
parenting, on education, on societal values, race relations, women’s issues the
list goes on. The truth is, none of us are. What we are, are eternal
students, should we be humble enough to admit this truth. The world is in
desperate need of the global humility of man. I urge you to contemplate this
for awhile and consider your stance. Only the bravest will be able to attempt
complete humility but those who do, may come to realize the most magical of

Is it entirely possible that all of these uniquely talented individuals we once
termed disabled for our own convenience, possess qualities we just don’t yet
comprehend? Have we been so conditioned by our own egos to be the
authority, that we have missed out on extraordinary human beings who bring
enlightenment, inspiration and healing to this broken world?

I ask that you take the next 20 minutes now and……… FORGET WHAT

It may just change your life. I know it changed mine.

Carreen Schroeder of New York Adventures in Homeschooling, has been a certified teacher in Ontario and in New York State since 1999, holding an Ms.Ed in Elementary Education, a B.A. in French Language and Literature and a Specialist in Special Education. She has been homeschooling her youngest of three daughters since 2012 and is passionate about assisting homeschooling families with free resources and homeschooling services. Visit Carreen at: