To speak only on the notion of applying labels, the trick seems to be finding a way to offer praise and distinction without also categorizing or creating perceived divisions. We want to communicate status, recognize abilities, etc., but we don't want to isolate individuals or marginalize people.
This is not only an educational issue, but a social one. As mentioned already, this issue is centrally a political correctness issue, however, the problematic nature of the issue is psychological. The perceptions that are interpreted to have political content actually, first and foremost, have a psychological content.
I think the first question is: How do people respond to labelling, positive or negative?
The next questions then deal with how to weigh the problems of labelling against the benefits of tracking in education and the political (large scale social) ramifications of creating policies that actively use labelling.
I think the focus should not be on "labeling" gifted children, but in increasing their education at a level with their intelligence. It is incorrect to think that singling out students for being smarter will help them either academically or in their development; most of the gifted students I studied with and have met suffered stigma and ridicule for their talents, because children are very cruel and focus on anyone who is not baseline or "average." Instead, the focus needs to be on helping these students with their studies in a constructive way; I think separated classes can be helpful, or perhaps additional classes. Deep research has been done into the usefulness of these tactics; perhaps we should focus on bringing the general education level of all students up to "gifted" levels, instead of trying to isolate those who are naturally talented.
As a parent of two "gifted" children, both hated being identified. My daughter hated it because she always ended up being the leader of her small group which meant more work. My son hated it because he disliked attention in any form, and found the classwork for the 'gifted' to be incredibly boring. As a teacher, I loved teaching my gifted classes as those students do need to be taught differently and allowed to explore farther than the rest are able to do. The debates, the discussion questions about the world around them, the investigative project they had always wanted to do, could really only be done with an identified class. However, even within those classes, several of the students truly didn't fit intellectually but were there to balance class loads. Others were social misfits who DID belong there but were often not scheduled there because of past grades. I believe that students should be identified, but not at a young age where the stigma of labelling is so hard for kids. I also believe that students in middle school should be put in the classes they qualify for despite their achievements in grading. High school can do that.
The proof that homogenous grouping is an effective way for students to progress in learning at paces and levels geared for them is in recorded history. How much higher did U.S. students achieve against other nations forty years or so ago than they do now? But, now if students are grouped or labeled, will not educators be leaving someone behind? Let us not forget that we are yet bound by that politically correct mantra of "No Child Left Behind" and politically correct measures.
There is another problem with labeling children as "exceptional" at an early age and not readjusting and retesting them later. For instance, since some children's minds develop more later on or they do not test well, they may not be counted among the brighter ones when they really should be. Then, too, some students rest upon the laurel of "exceptional" and display no higher talents at all.
Yes, exceptional children should absolutely be labelled in the educational system--not in a reductionist type manner as the above post indicated-- but perhaps a better word would be "identified." I strongly believe that educators should identify all varieties of special needs students, and gifted and talented students have very specific educational needs.
I just happen to be the Gifted and Talented facilitator on my campus, which means that I identify and test students to be in the GT program. We identify students through nine different indicators--everything from nonverbal logic to giftedness in the arts. To this end, I have been through a lot of training, all of which strongly points to a need for gifted students to have either an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or to be grouped together in a gifted class where their specific needs can be met. These students really do thrive in an environment where they can experience the 'power of like minds'--when their fellow students and teacher all function on the same wave length as they do.
Let's move away, and I mean, totally away from the term "labeling" when it comes to exceptional children. Why? Because the term "labeling" has acquired a very unfair meaning.
Popular culture assigns the term "labeling" a reductionist meaning as if it were meant to imply that society wants to assign a pseudo-diagnosis to a much more complex cause.
However, the fact is that every type of special education child, whether it is a child with impairments or a gifted child, needs to be properly diagnosed and, yes, that involves being given a category (i.e, a "label") in order to receive the services that this government is supposed to safeguard a budget for.
Additionally, if a child is not properly diagnosed, how in the world could a teacher know what to do for the child? Teachers need the proper paperwork so that a CSC/SST team can meet to discuss strategies to lead the student to succeed.
The only parties that could be opposed to a child to be properly "labeled" would be parents who ridiculously feel personally responsible for the limitations of their exceptional child/ren. However, educators have been trained for years on end to work with these situations effectively. The whole "labeling" concept is a ridiculous idea that sounds more political than rational. Yes, we, the teachers, need to know what your child is suffering from in order for us to put our expertise into practice. How else could we possibly help?
Technically, any student who is not average is exceptional. If you are discussing gifted children, I do think there are benefits to identifying them. Over my teaching and academic career I have specialized in teaching gifted children. I currently work at a school for gifted children. They are different. They think differently, and they need to be taught differently.
However, it is important to note that “the presence or absence of a gift or talent is dynamic, not static” (New York Times, Susan K. Johnsen). Also, not all kids are actually gifted in everything. Often they are extremely talented in one area, but might even be behind in another.
School districts need to use multiple measures and multiple methods in identifying children for gifted and talented programs. (New York Times, Tanya R. Moon)
I do not think that very young children should be ignored just because they have not reached school age. At my school, most kids learned to read by age 3. If a child has an affinity, you need to develop it. Kids need to have the opportunity to learn.
Universal access means everyone has a right to learn. For Johnny to get extra help in reading and Jermaine to sit in class every day bored to death is not fair. Teachers need to realize that some kids really do need more. They deserve an education.
There are varying extents to which children can be labeled, and greatly varying impacts follow from some of those labels. The first difficulty lies in defining what is being considered as "exceptional" within any given group of children.
Children may be considered "exceptional" because they are capable of learning quickly and retain/apply knowledge efficiently - these children may be labelled "gifted" and face the issues addressed in the previous post. Other children may be labeled as "exceptional" because they have difficulty learning in a given academic area or in more than one subject due to any one or more of numerous factors. Such children may be labeled with a descriptive title and acronym that is based on the causative factors of their learning challenges. Other individuals are labeled based on physical or emotional or social exceptionalities from "normal" children.
Labeling a child as "exceptional" is a positive process if the label leads those involved in working with the child to become aware of particular needs that this child has and brings about coordinated efforts to address and meet those needs. If labeling a child causes him/her to be denied opportunities or prevented from gaining access to activities because of the label, or if the child is isolated or penalized as a consequence of the label, then it is counterproductive. Increased awareness of the needs of students should lead to provision of educational experiences that are more appropriately tailored to the individual student - labeling a child as "exceptional" has the potential to lead to very positive educational outcomes when used constructively.
The main benefit of labeling some students as gifted is that you can single them out for special instruction. These students can be placed in programs that allow them to get education that is more aligned with their abilities. This will be beneficial to them as it will keep them challenged.
The major disadvantage is that it labels and stigmatizes children. Those who are not designated as “gifted” may feel that they are not smart enough. Conversely, those who are labeled as gifted may be ostracized by other children because they are seen as too smart.
In short, this is a very difficult thing to manage for teachers and for parents.