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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Labels Are Bad, But Is Tagless Better?

By Jon Harper — January 28, 2014 3 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Jon Harper, who is currently the vice principal of Choptank Elementary School located in Cambridge, Maryland.

About ten years ago, Hanes, the company famous for their underwear commercials, designed a new product line that has become quite popular: tagless shirts. I happen to own a couple of tagless shirts, and I must admit they are quite comfortable. Yet, while the tagless shirt still has the same information printed on the inside, it is more difficult to find without putting forth considerably more effort. It is tough to see where it was made and what it is made of. More importantly though, it is difficult to see the instructions for proper care.

Much like the tagless shirt, many of the children who we work with every day wear their tags hidden on the inside or not at all. They choose to hide them because they are not comfortable with them or because we give them the impression that we do not care what is on the inside. Either way is heartbreaking. We want children to feel comfortable expressing themselves, and we need children to know that we care about who they are on the inside.

My daughter is eight years old and I imagine she is similar to most girls her age. She watches the Disney Channel, she swoons over One Direction and she loves to shop for clothes. The outfits she chooses to wear are probably very similar to what most eight year old girls wear these days. But, it wasn’t that long ago that she would sometimes choose to dress differently. She would mix colors and patterns and the result would be a unique combination that was quite adorable. It would be colorful. It wouldn’t match, and yet it would reflect how she was feeling that particular day.

We rarely see these outfits anymore! Maybe her preference in style has changed. Maybe it hasn’t.

I tend to think that as an eight year old girl, she is now more aware of what other people think of her outfits, and it influences how she dresses. Just this week while showing me her new boots she remarked, “girls are wearing these boots these days.”

While it is understandable that as children grow older they care more about what their peers think, it is upsetting to think that children begin to value what others think of them more than what they think of themselves. So as they get older they begin to lose a little bit of themselves. They begin to become less of who they are and more of who others think they should be.

It is even more upsetting when the children that we interact with everyday believe that we are not going to be accepting of who they are and so they never feel comfortable expressing themselves to us, the people entrusted with their care. They begin to keep their tags hidden away on the inside where no one can see them.

They become tagless.

This way they “fit in”.

This way they don’t get noticed.

Unfortunately though, this way we do not know where they are from, what they are made of, but most importantly, we don’t know how to properly take care of them. Those of us in education see the results of this every day. More of our children are stressed. More of our children are exhibiting violent behaviors at school. More of our children are depressed. Most alarming, is the fact that suicide is still one of the leading causes of death among teenagers and young adults.

I think it significant to note that Hanes’ slogan for their tagless products is; “Tags are annoying.

So we get rid of them”.

This slogan is good for selling tee shirts, not so good for nurturing children. We must know as much as possible about the children we interact with each and every day. We need them to know that we want to know about them.

In her book White Teacher, Vivian Paley, former kindergarten teacher and author of numerous books on primary classrooms, tells a very powerful story about acceptance and recognition. She writes about an incident that was told to her by one her black student’s parent. The parent told

Paley that one of her child’s former teachers had expressed to her that all of her student’s looked the same and that she did not see color in her classroom. Clearly this teacher had good intentions when she made this statement to the parent. The parent’s response was one of the most powerful statements about diversity that I have ever read.

The parent responded by reminding the teacher that her children are black and don’t look like the other children. She said,

“They know they are black, and we want it recognized. It’s a positive difference, an interesting difference, and a comfortable natural difference. At least it could be so, if you teachers learned to value differences more. What you value, you talk about.”

Tagless may be more comfortable, but it is not always what is best.

Connect with Jon on Twitter.

Follow Jon’s Bailey & Derek’s Daddy blog.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.