Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Over the years, my school, like most, has gotten increasingly into cataloging the various disabilities of the students, but, as much as I appreciate the work of our learning specialists, I wish they would replace the term “disability” with “different ability”. The prefix “dis” is strictly a negation, implying, as one dictionary puts it, “the absence or opposite of something positive”, and I hate to place that kind of label on a student. If a student, for instance, learns very slowly, couldn’t we say she has a different way of learning, instead of suggesting that some positive skill is missing in her? There are a thousand roads to Mecca, and there are way more than a thousand ways a person can learn. Who are we to suggest that certain ways of learning are more positive or correct than others? Of course, some methods of learning lead to more “success” in our highly standardized school programs, which is why it’s important for specialists to help these “different” learners become skilled at new ways of learning – ways that will enable them to more easily keep up with our fairly uniform curriculums. I just don’t like the notion that there are only a few constructive ways to learn, and that anyone who learns in other ways is somehow deficient. There’s the negative prefix again: “de” suggests the absence of or the opposite of, implying that our unusual, atypical, out-of-the-ordinary learners are somehow incapacitated or (to use a no-no, politically incorrect word) crippled. I prefer to see them as simply different. For me, it’s as simple as this: most kids learn one way, these unique kids learn in other ways. That doesn’t mean they have a disability. Who knows, by observing them carefully instead of labeling them as disabled, we might begin to understand – and maybe appreciate -- their different, weird, even wonderful ways of learning.

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