Transforming ideas and practices

Susan Grieshaber, Sharon Ryan

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Most of the chapters in this book depict local attempts to transform practices in early childhood education. They represent endeavors to problematize the complexities and challenges facing the field and the ways in which moves are being made in everyday classroom practice, policy, teacher education, and professional development to build a knowledge base that is grounded in empirical data and that reflects the diversity characteristic of a globalized society. Globalization has brought economic, political, and cultural changes that have affected all dimensions of education, including the early years. Economically, workplace organization has changed, as have consumption patterns and the flow of trade, so that workers and goods cross national boundaries (Burbules & Torres, 2000, p. 14). In terms of politics, globalization has meant that the nation state has less autonomy, particularly in regard to matters of educational policy (Apple, 2001). Culturally, there is a tension between "more standardization and cultural homogeneity...and more fragmentation" (Burbules & Torres, 2000, p. 14). In the U.S., for example, education has been shaped predominantly by neoliberal approaches to globalization (Apple, 2001), which are characterized by an agenda of standardization that "privileges, if not directly imposes, particular policies for evaluation, financing, assessment, standards, teacher training, curriculum, instruction, and testing" (Burbules & Torres, 2000, p. 15). Because neoliberal approaches have concentrated on the agenda of standardization, arguments about fragmentation and diversity brought about by globalization have been subsumed to the extent that engaging pedagogically with different cultures, languages, and backgrounds has been forced to take a back seat and remains problematic. According to Kalantzis, Cope, and Harvey (2003), traditional curricula... strove to excise diversity through selective inclusion, [and] more recent curricula have focused on the celebration of difference. This celebration, however, is a superficial one. Progressivist curricula, delivered through constructivist pedagogies, may unwittingly entrench marginalisation by their failure to engage explicitly with the realities of different lifeworlds. These popular contemporary approaches are underpinned by powerful yet hidden cultural assumptions, by which assimilation to a defined mainstream is tacitly encouraged. (p. 25)Analyses of the celebration of difference in early childhood education have exposed the limits of this approach (Derman-Sparks, 1989; McLean, 1990), which manifests itself in tokenistic displays of cultural artifacts, food, and dress in educational settings. The complication for early childhood education is that progressivist curricula have been the mainstay of early childhood education for some time. Explicit teaching is not a feature of progressivist curricula, and because of this there is some doubt that early childhood practitioners would ''engage explicitly with the realities of different lifeworlds'', unless of course, they were from those different lifeworlds themselves. This cannot be left to chance alone. Both traditional and progressivist curricula, however, are unable to provide effective means for the management of difference, let alone teach proactively about it. The way in which marginalization occurs and is entrenched in the education system has been described powerfully by Goldstein (in Darder, 2002; Goldstein, 2002):I knew through my personal experiences as a student, teacher, female, and working class Chicano from a non-traditional family, that young students, like older students, were also silenced and coerced into blind obedience...Many were weeded out in a process so insidious that even the most well-intentioned teachers did not (and do not) recognize their pivotal role in this economic and social maintenance of the status quo. (p. 178)We have known for some time that the rhetoric of curriculum and policy documents is not enough (Ladson-Billings, 1994; Nieto, 2004). Failure to comprehend the implications of actions that play out subsequently in the social and economic arena reinforces that diversity is still mostly about the celebration of difference. Although curriculum that celebrates difference provides only a superficial recognition of the value of diversity, it is a place to begin. Reaching the next level is somewhat daunting and while the gamut of the task has been made explicit (Kalantzis et al., 2003), realizing it is no easy task. For Kalantzis et al., transformative curriculum and pedagogy pave the way to greater engagement with diversity: it involves "learning-as-transformation - the journey into new and unfamiliar places that transforms the learner" (Kalantzis et al., 2003, p. 31). To Luke (2004), this means a focus on pedagogy and a ... reenvisioning of a transcultural and cosmopolitan teacher: a teacher with the capacity to shunt between the local and the global, to explicate and engage with the broad flows of knowledge and information, technologies and populations, artefacts and practices that characterise the present historical moment. What is needed is a new community of teachers that could and would work, communicate, and exchange physically and virtually across national and regional boundaries with each other, with educational researchers, teacher educators, curriculum developers, and, indeed, senior educational bureaucrats. (pp. 1438-1439). As progressive and traditional teaching approaches are not enough, this new kind of early childhood teacher requires a different set of knowledges and curricular approaches. The critiques of child development (Bloch, 1992; Burman, 1994; Cannella, 1997) and developmentally appropriate practice (Hatch et al., 2000; Lubeck, 1998a, b; Mallory & New, 1994) point out the difference between curricula based on psychological theories and those that attend to factors such as race, ethnicity, and socio-economic issues, placing greater demands on the field to respond to the characteristics of a globalized world. In other words, the "social facts of mobile and heterogeneous, multilingual, and multicultural populations are calling into question conventional models of child development and their normative models of childcare, schooling, and early education" (Luke & Grieshaber, 2004, p. 8). Spodek (1977) and Silin (1987) have both challenged the knowledge base on which early childhood curriculum is founded, condemning the total reliance on psychological criteria for making educational decisions and emphasizing that educational goals have political and moral concerns as their origins, thus making psychological theories unable to inform questions of what to teach. Over 20 years ago, Spodek and Saracho (1982) and more recently Silin (1995), called for the creation of a highly developed specialist early childhood research base that focuses on "theoretical and conceptual work within the field" (Silin, 1995, p. 107). There is no doubt that the economic, political, social, and cultural characteristics of society have changed considerably since Spodek (1977) made his appeal for an early childhood knowledge base that moved beyond sole reliance on psychological theories. Along with calls for the creation of a specialist research base came a proposal from Goffin (1989) for the field to shift from research about the effects of early childhood programs, to a new research agenda that concentrated on the complexities of teaching and the significance of the role of the teacher. Peters (1993) also noted that teachers and what they do has not been a feature of research and this omission is echoed by Genishi, Ryan, Ochsner, and Yarnall (2001) who have argued that for most of the 20th century, research in early childhood education focused on learning and the development of young children, and "not the practices of teachers" (p. 1179). These calls for a different kind of knowledge base for the teaching of young children have not gone unheeded. A number of scholars have been drawing on alternative and mostly critical and postmodern theories over the past 15 years (Cannella, 1997; Grieshaber & Cannella, 2001; Kessler & Swadener, 1992; Silin, 1995; Tobin, 1997), to rethink early education in response to the social, economic, and political changes catalyzed by globalization. However, some seem to prefer to insulate the field from the changing circumstances of everyday life by resisting moves to introduce information and communication technologies into early childhood curricula (Alliance for Childhood, 2002; see Clements, 1999), by banning superhero play (Hampton, 2002; Boyd, 2002), and by being reluctant to move beyond the shelter of developmentalism (e.g., Charlesworth, 1998). Others hark after what they perceive childhood has lost in this globalized world and cling to notions that position children as innocent, vulnerable, and naïve (see Cannella, 2002; Foley, Roche, & Tucker, 2001; Wyness, 2000). These resistances persist in part, because there is a lack of empirical data available that illustrate transformative approaches to dealing with diversity in early childhood education. Perhaps this is because "Critique is...the easy bit" (Luke, 2003, p. 95) and the hard part is not so much finding those pockets of innovation that challenge the status quo, but making these ideas available to others. The chapters in this volume are an effort to communicate some of the ongoing work that is occurring in early childhood settings, schools, and universities that is aimed at improving, and ultimately transforming practice.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPractical Transformations and Transformational Practices
Subtitle of host publicationGlobalization, Postmodernism, and Early Childhood Education
EditorsSharon Ryan, Susan Grieshaber
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAdvances in Early Education and Day Care
ISSN (Print)0270-4021

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