The Sticking Point of Labels

The Sticking Point of Labels

Thursday, 19 May 2016  | Narelle - MECS Principal
One of the things that impresses me about airport logistics is how your luggage ends up at the same destination as you. This is an impressive feat when you think of how many pieces of luggage airports handle each day! Obviously the labelling is crucial. The long white label that goes around the handle of your luggage provides all the critical information – who you are, where you are going, and on what flight! Labels on luggage are important and critical to the success of your journey.

It’s also handy to label other things, such as containers in the pantry and tins of nails or bolts in the garage. These labels are necessary to keep different food or tools organised and separate. As a reasonably organised person, I like keeping things in an orderly manner where I can find what I need immediately. Labels help me to do that. 

However, it’s not helpful to label people even though we fall into the trap of doing it all the time. We can give people the negative label of being fat, lazy, ugly, uneducated, racist or even an illegal refugee which reduces them to just one aspect of who they are. This is also true of seemingly positive labels, such as pretty, intelligent, strong or good. Just as labels separate luggage or food, they can separate people as well. Labels stop us from getting to know other people or encourage us to fear those we don’t really know, because we’re focusing our attention on just one aspect of who they are. Even words like ‘they’ or ‘them’ can group other people into categories that we can easily dismiss or stereotype, by making general statements about a particular group that may not be true.

Last week our Year 3, 5, 7 & 9 students participated in NAPLAN testing. Whilst these tests provide us with valuable information about their literacy and numeracy skills, we need to be careful that we don’t label students according to their results.  

We need to remember that these tests do not assess all of what makes your child exceptional and unique. The scores you get from these tests will tell you how they did on that day, but they will not tell you everything. They can’t tell you that your child has improved on something that they once found difficult. They can’t tell you that they brightened up their friend’s day. They can’t tell you that your child speaks confidently in front of the class, or that they have skills in sport, drama and art. They don’t assess patience, kindness, courage or persistence. They can’t tell you how amazingly special they are to the MECS community, wonderfully made in the image of God. I’m sure you also agree that your child’s real value comes in being a child of God, not in a standardised testing score.

So, be encouraged that while we take such tests seriously, both in the way we conduct them and in the way we analyse what they tell us about the learning of each child and each cohort, they only make up part of the picture.

The bigger part is not only the way in which each teacher knows each child, but in the ongoing partnership we have with parents as we seek together to grow and nurture each child in knowledge, skills and maturity. We look forward to giving you a broader insight into how your child is progressing in the reports that are presently being prepared. As mentioned in Sketcher’s Scoop last week, teachers put a lot of effort into making sure that they communicate accurately about your child’s learning and how further improvements can be made.

Just as we wouldn’t think of physically sticking a label onto someone else, Jesus also reminds us to take care that we don’t label others with our words. We are warned in the New Testament to not judge others or speak evil against them. Instead, we are encouraged to speak words of love, affirmation and encouragement. Ephesians 4:20 says, “Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.” Similarly in Proverbs, we are reminded
that “thoughtless words cut deeply like a thrusting sword, but the speech of the wise is a healing balm.”

So let’s keep labels in their right place, and build each other up rather than use them to wound and limit the potential of those around us. Let us be like healing balm to one another in all our interactions.

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