Special Issue: Early Childhood Curriculum in Times of CrisisVol. 8 No. 2 (2021)
Special Issue Co-Edited by Daniel J. Castner and Shirley Kessler
Editor’s Introduction to the Special Issue by Marianne Bloch
As one of the initial academics to be part of the Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE, see www.receinternational.org) group, it is a particular pleasure to introduce this issue on Early Childhood Curriculum in Crisis co-edited by Daniel Castner and Shirley Kessler. Thirty years ago, in 1991, Beth Swadener and Shirley Kessler co-edited a special issue of the Early Education and Development journal that focused on reconceptualizing early childhood education (Swadener & Kessler, 1991.) This was the same year that the initial conference of RECE held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (see RECE archives for the 1991 conference program; https://receinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rece-program-1991.pdf). In 1992, Kessler and Swadener also coedited their book Reconceptualizing the Early Childhood Curriculum: Beginning the Dialogue (Kessler & Swadener, 1992.) That year again, the second annual RECE conference was held at the University of Illinois-Chicago Circle and a panel presented a series of critiques and questions related to the first edition of Developmentally Appropriate Practices (Bredekamp, 1986) (commonly referred to as DAP) published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in the US. At the Chicago conference of RECE in 1992, the panel presentations were followed by comments from Susan Bredekamp, with further questions from the audience. There were sharp criticisms and recommendations for change. Susan Bredekamp suggested that the DAP document was not a curriculum but a set of guidelines.
Critical scholars identified numerous issues with DAP, or developmental guidelines. On one hand, the critiques centered on DAP as a national “guide” for educators that represented, and indeed was taken for, guidance for best practices in curriculum. On the other hand, critiques focused on the normative developmental focus embedded in the DAP document--on what should be considered both normal and appropriate development and behavior, respectively, with corresponding focus on the construction of abnormality, abnormal development or inappropriate behavior. Shirley Kessler and Beth Swadener as well as other authors and speakers stated in 1991 both in the special issue and at the first RECE conference, the guidelines were based on a largely white and middle-class sample of children from the United States or Western Europe; thus to build standards of normal/ abnormal development and appropriate/inappropriate behavior based on that narrow sample was itself “inappropriate” and at the worst reinforcing of a white hegemonic idea of normal childhood. In earlier work, Tom Popkewitz and I (Bloch & Popkewitz, 2000; Popkewitz & Bloch, 2001) suggested that developmental norms were used as governing discourses for families, pediatricians, psychologists, many sociologists and child welfare advocates, as well as educators since at least the late 19th century. Others focused on developmentality or developmentalism (Burman, 1992/2019; Cannella, 1994; Fendler, 2001) or postdevelopmentalism (e.g., Edwards, Blaise, & Hammer, 2009) and a decolonization of developmental discourses that privileged western, white, and economically privileged group behavior and ways of acting over others from non-western, more indigenous, or non-white and lower socioeconomic class backgrounds. These debates and others surrounding the early childhood curriculum have continued over these thirty years, along with the generation of other critiques, and what in this issue Shirley Kessler and Daniel Castner suggest is the Early Childhood Education Curriculum in Times of Crisis.
During a recent 2021 NAEYC presentation that included Susan Bredekamp as a panelist, echoing her response to critics at the 1992 conference, Bredekamp argued DAP was not a curriculum but guidelines for educators (Bredekamp, 1991; Bredekamp, 2021.) The need to repeat this over thirty years signals there is some confusion over whether it is used as a “curriculum” or misunderstood to be guidance for a curriculum. As there are various widely used curriculum programs that claim their curriculum is based on DAP (e.g., Dodge’s Creative Curriculum, 2002), as well as teacher training textbooks, state standards, and assessment tools based on the NAEYC DAP guidelines for developmental appropriateness, many conclude DAP is a type of national curriculum for ECE in the USA, or a very prominent, set of guidelines—as Bredekamp initially claimed.
Thirty years later, and in light of the 2021 NAEYC presentation, we are delighted to have Daniel Castner and Shirley Kessler team up to co-edit this special edition of the International Critical Childhood Policy Studies journal in order to, in their words, reconceptualize the early childhood curriculum by continuing the dialogue (Kessler & Castner, n.d., personal communication.) They solicited authors with, they felt, significant work that had meaning or implications for reconceptualizing and challenging the current early childhood curriculum. In the first introductory article, Kessler and Castner highlight some different ways in which curriculum can be understood, ranging from the notion of a standardized national document understood or used as curriculum (e.g., DAP) to the notion of curriculum which children and educators co-create. In addition, Kessler and Castner focus on the experienced curriculum “as is” and “what is” versus “what ought to be” as visions or ideals put forward by different groups, often with differential power to enact or enforce what is taught. Castner in the final article of this special issue, restates many of the above issues while calling for new educational leadership that would embody a clearer more inclusive and heterogeneous vision for what could be or ought to be in the curriculum for young children.
The various articles in this special issue focus in different ways on the early childhood education curriculum in times of crisis, the title of the special issue. Articles were written during the COVID-19 “pandemic” and articles by Mara Sapon-Shevin, Dana Bentley, Ayesha Rabadi-Raol, all focus in various ways on educators’, children’s, and families’ difficulties in touching young children. Each, again in different ways, focus on young children and adults surrounding them during a world-wide health crisis that also became, along with other sectors, an early child education and care crisis. The ways in which young children’s curriculum required instant change, with long-term repercussions, is discussed in each article. Miriam Tager’s article also focuses on education during the pandemic in a public school setting; however, her work focuses more on differential experiences Black and Indigenous children of color had compared to richer White children. Evandra Catherine and Beth Blue Swadener’s article also focuses on race and educators’ and young children’s differential perceptions and experiences, including the high rates of suspension and expulsion at the preschool level. Evandra Catherine’s research on emotionally supportive teaching strategies reminds us of the importance of teacher and child experience in creating the curriculum, as well as the critical importance of racial and social justice that includes examination of school discipline and expulsions. Sara Michael-Luna’s article highlights the importance of different ways of looking at curriculum standards, as well as the context for learning—in her case phonetics and early reading. Finally, Catherine Hamm, Jeanne Marie Iorio, and Clifton Tanabe’s jointly authored article helps to reinforce social and environmental justice issues by having us look at what and whose knowledge is important or privileged in the curriculum; by highlighting diverse ways of knowing, and the vision for new ways to understand our “Common Worlds”—animate and inanimate—they remind us, as Dan Castner does in the final article for the special issue—that the curriculum can be remade to be more democratic with visions of common good, care for others, relationships, and with regard for social and environmentally just practices.
Collectively, the articles continue the conversation, suggesting that in times of enduring crises, Early Childhood Curriculum must also be reconceptualized. What knowledge does count as important? Whose vision should guide what young children experience and might or should learn? Should caring, touch, understanding, or early learning standards, including phonetics, or “correct” behavior (Catherine & Swadener, this issue) guide priorities for educators—especially in a crisis such as we’ve all experienced? How does a care curriculum and a caring society or world care for all of its children, and for the world we share in common? Thank you to all the contributors, and especially to Daniel Castner and Shirley Kessler for their leadership in continuing this conversation.
Bloch, M. N. and Popkewitz, T. S. (2000). Constructing the parent, teacher, and child: Discourses of development. In Soto, L. D. (Ed.) The Politics of Early Childhood Education. Peter Lang, 7-32.
Bredekamp, S. (1986). Developmentally Appropriate Guidelines in Early Childhood Programs. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Bredekamp, S. (2021). Plenary Address. Symposium on Developmentally Appropriate Guidelines Newest Edition. Washington, D. C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Burman, E. (1992/2019). Deconstructing Developmental Psychology. (4th Ed.). Routledge.
Cannella, G. S. (1994). Deconstructing Early Childhood Education. Peter Lang.
Dodge, D. T. (2002). The Creative Curriculum for Preschool. (4th Ed.). Teaching Strategies.
Edwards, S., Blaise, S. Hammer, M. (2009). Beyond developmentalism? Early childhood teachers’ understandings of multiage grouping in early childhood education and care. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 34(4), 55-63.
Fendler, L. (2001). Educating flexible souls: The construction of subjectivity through developmentality and interaction. In K. Hultqvist & G. Dahlberg, (Eds.), Governing the child in the new millennium. (pp. 119-142). RoutledgeFalmer.
Kessler, S.A. and Swadener, B. B. (1992). Reconceptualizing the Early Childhood Curriculum: Beginning the Dialogue. Teachers College Press.
Popkewitz, T. & M. Bloch (2001). Administering freedom: A history of the present- Rescuing the parent to rescue the child for society. In K. Hultqvist & G. Dahlberg, eds. Governing the child in the new millennium. (pp. 85-118). Routledge.
Swadener, B. B. and Kessler, S. A. (1991). Introduction to the Special Issue. Early Education and Development.Vol. 2 (2), 85-94.
Independently Peer-reviewed ArticlesVol. 8 No. 1 (2021)
Lucinda Heimer- Associate Editor
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
University of Wisconsin-Madison
The current issue is made up of five unique research-based articles. They are excellent contributions, and we want to thank the authors for their patience while awaiting publication. We also want to thank many reviewers for their feedback, and to thank copyeditors for their careful attention to the details that make publications consistent across time and with other international standards for publication.
The articles reflect ways to rethink and interrogate what we know, and how we come to think we know children’s, teachers’, and community members’, including parents’, experience. They reflect new questions about policy (Cahill, Jozwiak & Kim, Neal, and Heimer, Nayquonabe & Sullivan), theory and research (Novosel & Dahlberg, Heimer, Nayquonabe & Sullivan, Neal, Cahill, Jozwiak & Kim, and Dash & Peters), and the relationship between power and knowledge, and truth/what we take as truth. A few specific points we want to highlight across the articles are briefly illustrated below.
A Focus on Indigenous Knowledge Systems, and on, Children’s Voices, and Experiences
The article written by Heimer, Nayquonabe, and Sullivan questions representation by exploring personal stories of historical legacy/trauma centering on Indigenous knowledge systems that could be used and were used to create ECE higher education pathways. The three coauthors use a long history of collaboration and a privileging of local knowledge to highlight the importance of credentialed Indigenous teachers within the community that, as they illustrate, shifts the balance from outsiders/settlers to teaching from a base of knowing that fits the lives of Anishinaabe children and their community.
In the Cahill, Jozwiak, and Kim article, children’s and families’ voices are used to disrupt the dichotomy of a normative construction of the terms discontinuity and continuity that permeate policy and standards discussions in many early childhood education and child care settings. They call for more flexible interpretations, and the creation of relevant practice, authentic advocacy/co-conspiracy to understand the complexity and specific moments when our notions of continuity/discontinuity break apart, are non-linear, and require new policies and practices that recognize their “entangledness”, the notion of both/and rather than and/or.
Novosel and Dahlberg’s article draws on Stern’s theory of affect/vitality to examine one year old’s nonverbal behavior and utterances. They ask us to look more closely at the moment, to see when young children are making sense of experiences that others might see as unimportant or non-sense. They allow us –through illustrations of children’s affect and vitality at particular moments to see – “things in the making.” The elegant way in which their piece draws our attention to vitality in toddler’s nonverbal as well as verbal experience as moments to recognize also calls into question our more superficial understanding of how and what children know more generally.
Using the above theme, Dash and Peters’ research uses persona dolls to offer stories from children’s own understandings of the “other” or of those they see as the “same.” They ask us to draw on children’s voices more and to dig deeply into their understanding rather than assume we know. Similarly, Rebecca Neal focuses on the written and told stories of young adolescent males over time as they are constructed as “bad.” The contrast between the boys’ stories and those constructed by teachers reminds us to do our research, and teaching differently. It also reminds us of how we use very incomplete knowledge to construct stories, and form and act on discipline policies around children without including their voice, their understanding, their ideas into understanding of, in this case, black boys as “others.”
Theory and Methodologies
Heimer, Nayquonabe, and Sullivan utilize Critical Race Theory and duoethnography – to center on Indigenous knowledge as an epistemological option toward rethinking Eurowestern influences; they model research strategies that focus on reclaiming, reframing, and recreating research through their autoethnographic work as Indigenous and Eurowestern authors. Cahill, Jozwiak, and Kim, on the other hand, extend the stories of educators and families re: (dis)continuity to consider how a binary or rigid definition extends to four ECE subsystems: QRIS standards, Professional Development, ECE standards, and data collection. The author’s apply insights from their research to consider varied and fluid approaches to data collection and end with the idea of building from community knowledge to better define new and unique systems that fit-- rather than fitting systems to the community.
Novosel and Dahlberg by observing without judgement, without a filtered lens of developmental psychology, draw on the theory of translanguaging to consider the significance of affect/vitality in one year old children. Similarly, Dash and Peters center on the experience of the child in terms of stories they know and tell if listened to; they ask us to look closely at what children say and know about racism and to ask ourselves as educators to – “never stop asking ourselves: are we doing the right thing in the way we teach? Do we understand how children are thinking as a basis for lessons?” And finally, through a close reading of what her young adolescents were doing and saying, and by following them for a length of time, with comparisons between the teacher and students, Neal magnifies the voices of Black Boys as powerful rather than ‘bad’.
Questions and Implications
Across all articles the authors’ raise the voices of those too often not viewed as experts. They prioritize the children (toddler to teen), the researchers (Indigenous perspectives), and the teachers as the ‘experts’ for sharing life experiences. Our work as early education researchers and thinkers exists to question, explore, learn from and support these very ways of being. Using utterances, photos, analyzed recordings, and surveys the research in this volume successfully exposes important gaps in early childhood education, and beyond, and, in all articles, a need to reexamine terminology and our knowledge or “truth” that currently guides important policies and practices.
(New) Critical Readings of Aotearoa New Zealand Early Childhood Policy and PracticeVol. 7 No. 1 (2019)
Editors’ Introduction to the Special Issue 7(1) by Gaches and Gunn, by Marianne Bloch and Kenya Wolff.
In this special issue, the special issue editors, Sonya Gaches and Alex Gunn draw on their own work, and the work of four post-graduate students from the University of Otago, New Zealand to discuss then proposed revisions to the Te Whāriki early childhood curriculum and policy document that were under debate at the time of the 2016 Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education conference held in New Zealand. At that conference, keynote speakers spoke of the history of development of the world famous Te Whāriki curriculum policy. In this issue, Gaches and Gunn introduce the key aspects of debate surrounding the then proposed reforms, as well as the political context shifts that have been affecting New Zealand’s early childhood (and educational) policies over the past decade. Gaches and Gunn’s introductory article, as well as the articles that follow, focus on neoliberal political and economic perspectives that have constrained the full implementation of Te Whāriki. In addition, the articles by different authors illustrate various ways in which alternative theoretical perspectives—drawing from theoretical framings by Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, and Simone Weill, help frame different ways to interrogate or reconstruct the policy and curriculum debates, opening new ways to imagine and to act. These articles are important not only for the New Zealand context, but are significant to the journal’s global readership--as similar discursive and material forces have permeated most regional and country policy frameworks, affecting the funding and nature of program delivery, affordability, the ways in which curriculum is developed and promoted, as well as the promotion of diverse ways to assess children or evaluate programs. The presentation of the case from New Zealand, where strong actors in the early childhood sector, in collaboration with self-selected Maori elders and others from the Maori communities across the nation, have developed and maintained an exemplary bilingual/multicultural curriculum for families and children, highlights the importance of presenting the debates and issues in these articles. As suggested earlier, these issues are critically important to bring to the global community of scholars in our on-line open access journal, as they illustrate important issues and debates as well as challenges that impact the opportunities and experiences available to diverse families, children, and early childhood teachers in New Zealand, and around the globe.
In addition to the importance of the collection of articles, we are excited to share this body of work from four post-graduate students from Aotearoa New Zealand who found that their work presented at the 2016 conference was significant not only to themselves, but to a larger audience. Gaches and Gunn worked with the students to bring these articles from research to conference presentation to publication. Drawing directly from Gaches and Gunn’s introductory article, “It is in these ways that the globally nomadic Reconceptualising Early Childhood Education (RECE) Conference affords scholars from around the globe regular opportunities to come together in diverse geographical locations and cultural contexts with an overall common purpose to “challenge and dismantle traditional assumptions about childhood and theory and/or feature new directions in research, policy and practice in early childhood education and care (ECEC)” (RECE 2014, 2015, 2016 Call for Proposals, p.1). Conferencing in a diversity of global settings also provides the local researchers, practitioners, and critically minded early childhood education community members access to presentations, provocations, and an expanding reconceptualist conversation and community that may otherwise be limited or completely unattainable on this international scale” (Gaches & Gunn, this issue, p. 1).
We are excited to share this body of work from Gaches and Gunn, and their post-graduate students from Aotearoa New Zealand as the first issue of the International Critical Childhood Policy Studies Journal to be published in 2019. Thank you to the many reviewers of the articles, as well as to the editorial team that has come together to bring this and other journal issues to publication. A special thank you to Associate Professor, and Associate Editor, Dr. Lucy Heimer and Dr. Shirley Kessler, along with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for a grant that has enabled editorial and copyediting assistance for the journal. We invite you to submit articles to the journal, sign up as reader and reviewer, and to keep watch for the next exciting special issue that will be published in 2019, co-edited by I-Fang Lee and Michelle Salazar Perez, Foggy Futures in Education: The Looming Storms of School-Choice and Voucher Programs.
Foggy Futures in Education: The Looming Storms of School Choice and Voucher ProgramsVol. 7 No. 2 (2019)
University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
This special issue, co-edited by I-Fang Lee and Michelle Salazar Perez, titled Foggy Futures in Education: The Looming Storms of School Choice and Voucher Programs, focuses on many key issues facing the provision and visions of education at all levels. As this journal is focused on critical policy studies related to childhood and childhood studies, we note that some articles focus on early childhood while some address research at the high school level. The co-editors in their own work—not presented in this special issue—have focused on school choice and vouchers in the USA as well as in multiple other nations. The philosophy of choice, public or private provision of educational or school-based options is very contentious, but also very important. In early education, throughout the globe, there are debates whether governments should provide publicly funded early education “choices” or “allow” families to privately make choices about whether children are at home or in an early childhood or child care setting. Increasingly, governments are choosing to subsidize or fund early childhood out-of-home child care/early education for children: some countries have a long history of public funding while others are moving slowing from private non-subsidized care by family (most often mothers or other female relatives) to limited or full funding for certain age groups of preschool or kindergarten age children (e.g. Universal pre-Kindergarten programs for four year-olds). At the preschool level through high school levels, options for private education that is publicly funded (charter schools, voucher programs) have increased ---theoretically to allow more families to choose what they want for their children. While the articles in the special issue illustrate the neoliberal philosophical and research background for growth in charter or voucher “choice” schools in various contexts around the world, they also raise questions about the very nature of “choice,” and the construction of public/private itself in making choices. For example, if there are few choices, and the choices are imperfect, or obscured for many families, does this constitute “free choice” or an “open market?” Similarly, if there are no choices but private schools, is this a private choice? Or is it a public choice to not provide government funding for schools or child care programs—especially for some children? There are many questions of great importance involved in the notion of both public and private “choices:”
- Who gets to choose, and who doesn’t have a choice?
- Who decides whether public funding will be used for education/child care at what levels, or for which children and families?
- What are the political, economic, historical and philosophical discourses that frame international, country, or local debates?
- How does a lack of, or decrease of public financing, because of an increase in private choices (possibly publicly funded as in charter or voucher programs) affect public provision of good programs for other children?
- If private options increase with public funding, is this “good” for children, or good for the private sector of the economy; could it be both/and? If there is a growth of private programs, for profit, and a decrease in public provision, is this a “choice” made by a society for its children or is it part of a global movement toward neoliberal capitalism?
- What is “free choice” when choices are severely limited?
- Which children and families benefit, which lose-- from the movement of public funds to private concerns?
There are many other questions we might ask. The editors’ introduction and the five articles that make up this special issue illustrate the critical need for interrogation of these questions, and issues worldwide. Thank you to authors, editors, and all of those who reviewed these articles, and helped with the publication of this journal and special issue.