Stigma of a label

19th January 1996 at 00:00
In reply to the observation that "Stigma may force end of special needs label", (TES, January 5), I suggest that it would be a very good thing if it did.

Implicit in the concept of special educational needs is the assumption that some pupils are deficient in ways that do not apply to their "normal" peers. An inherent danger in categorising people in relation to "normality" is that the categories come to assume an aura of quasi-scientific reality. Abnormality and learning difficulties become "things" in their own right, things with which less than normal people are afflicted.

John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century philosopher, put it beautifully, saying: "The tendency has always been strong to believe that whatever received a name must be an entity or being, having an independent existence of its own. And if no real entity answering to the name could be found, man did not for that reason suppose that none existed, but imagined that it was something peculiarly abstruse and mysterious."

The problem today is that labelling people in relation to normality is so long entrenched in the language of the education system that the reality or unreality of a "special" educational need goes unquestioned. It is automatically accepted as a peculiarly abstruse and mysterious problem with a mystique all of its own; a problem for special educators to solve.

Hopefully, the stigma now attached to the special needs label will draw much-needed attention to the prevailing divisive misconceptions which underlie the notion of special educational needs.


4 Tamar Terrace



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