Vol. 8 No. 2 (2021): Special Issue: Early Childhood Curriculum in Times of Crisis
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.