Sunday Interview Highlight – Kathleen Lynch

Professor Kathleen Lynch is the Chair of Equality Studies at UCD. She has a particular interest in education and in October 2015 she was invited to give a keynote address to the Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South (SCoTENS). I met up with her after her presentation and in one part of our conversation I mentioned having heard her speak before about the language we use to describe children in schools. I asked her if she could say something about that.

Kathleen Lynch: I suppose I have very strong views about how we label people because I think that language is very, very powerful and very, very positive or very, very dangerous. So often people use words like “People are stupid” or “People are thick” or they classify children as “A” abilities or “D”. I think those kinds of languages are really dangerous. Negative labels like that are really, really dangerous because if you have a label of being a D student or you know, you’re given a label of having a test score of….
SD: Or even a “weak” student.
KL: Oh, that dreadful language of “weak.” How could you be weak? I think of falling over. A weak student, what do you mean? What capabilities …. we are all full of capabilities and some students just may not have the opportunity, others may not have the interest, I often say that, you know, of being academic but they all have capabilities. They may not want to use them. They may not be able to use them. They may not be empowered to use them. They may not have the resources. But that idea of classifying people into those categories, I think it’s extremely dangerous because what you’re saying to yourself as a teacher: “Now I don’t have to bother with that student now because they belong to the weak category” and you create a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby you don’t expect things and you don’t believe it. And you know, we have numerous examples of that from history in this country. I mean the history of schools and teaching whereby certain children from certain backgrounds were put at the back of the class etc. etc. Because the assumption was they would not be good at school. The assumption was they would be weak, “And sure I knew their mother and their mother wasn’t any good at school.” I mean that kind of dangerous talk and there is dangerous talk. I think we need to constantly check ourselves and not allow that and have a discussion of what, what labels do we use and maybe what labels should we not use about people in school.

I interviewed Kathleen Lynch and you can hear a podcast of the full interview here.

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