Vol. 9 No. 1 (2022): Special Issue: A Festschrift for Professor Beth Blue Swadener
Editors’ Introduction to the Special Issue by Marianne Bloch, Lucy Heimer, I-Fang Lee, Chao Ling Tseng
We are so very pleased to introduce this special issue of the International Critical Child Policy Studies Journal, which highlights the various research contributions, as well as the generosity of Professor Emerita Beth Blue Swadener, who has recently retired from Arizona State University in the United States. The special issue editors Mark Nagasawa, Flóra Faragó, and Lacey Peters proposed the format of a Festschrift, which is defined as “a collection of writings published in honor of a scholar” (New Oxford American Dictionary, 2022). Coincidentally, the publication of this special Festschrift also coincides with Beth’s 70th birthday. As a result, we also celebrate her continuing energy, kindness, and generosity toward everyone she has and continues to meet, and her unique contributions as an academic scholar and activist as she moves into a new phase of work and play.
Marianne (Mimi) Bloch is current editor, and Lucy Heimer and I-Fang Lee are current associate editors of ICCPS. In addition, Chao-Ling Tseng is an associate editor in charge of all background details required to publish an online journal. All of us have known Beth and her work for a very long time. Along with her principal advisor, Professor Carl Grant, Mimi was on Beth’s doctoral committee at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the mid-1980s and they have done several projects and books together (e.g., Bloch et al, 2018; Nagasawa et al, in press). Lucy, I-Fang, and Chao-Ling have met Beth often through her different visits back to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but also through the Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE) conferences, and by reading and applying her written work themselves and with their students as they moved into their own scholarly careers.
It is more important to highlight and thank the people who have put together this special issue in honor of Beth. They have written beautiful and scholarly articles illustrating not only their personal ties to her, but how she has influenced their work as new and more advanced scholars, and as critically oriented activists. There are three co-editors. They were all doctoral students of Beth’s at Arizona State University. Mark Nagasawa is the current director of the Straus Center for Young Children & Families. Flóra Faragó is an associate professor at Stephen F. Austin State University. Lacey Peters is an assistant professor at Hunter College in New York City. These three friends and colleagues solicited manuscripts for this special issue, framed the purpose and theme (see next article), and gave critical editorial feedback to all authors. We acknowledge their vision and work here.
Though Beth Blue Swadener taught at multiple institutions, most of the authors in this special issue were also doctoral students with or were influenced by Beth after she moved to Arizona State University. A few of the authors are doctoral students of Beth’s doctoral students (what Beth sometimes refers to as her “grad babies”). They write with their own advisor, but follow Beth’s model of collaborative writing. Many have also worked with Beth on one of four non-profits she has been instrumental in founding: the Girl Child Network, Jirani Project, The Local to Global Justice organization, The Friends of the Girl Child Network, and the organization Beth was a founding member of in 1991, the Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education Organization (RECE).
While a Festschrift is common after or near retirement, it is often published as a book. In this particular case, we, as editors of ICCPS, were approached about publishing a special issue of the journal in honor of Beth. It seemed appropriate to publish a special issue, with an emphasis on Beth’s scholarly contributions and the ways in which these have been woven into each author’s own scholarly and career activities. The special issue editors and authors have done a wonderful job of weaving their memories with Beth, into a tapestry, or a set of personal narratives that include specific theoretical and research interests. These highlight important ideas and considerations for academic and scholarly activist work, while also honoring an academic life of worth, and a career that serves as a model for those that follow.
The International Critical Childhood Policy Studies Journal focuses on critical scholarship and policy analyses, as well as ways in which scholarly activism can be used to foster a reconceptualization of policy and practices in childhood studies and early education. Each article in this special issue draws on critical educational and social issues, and interweaves the enduring ideas Beth shared with the authors into their current work, embodying critical interrogations into theory, research, writing, and ways of shaping action inside and outside the increasingly neoliberal academy.
Not everyone can be Beth. We each have individual ways of being and of working on scholarship, as well as with others. But there are lessons she has taught us through her work and generosity. These lessons are illuminated throughout the special issue. As we introduce it to you, we want to highlight just a few important points from the collection of articles that we felt shed light on Beth’s continuing work and long-term legacy.
Beth’s spirit of generosity is the theme of this special issue. She has chaired or co-chaired many masters and doctoral theses across her career, and for many years has directed a doctoral writing group that has built a spirit of generosity, support, and collegiality across many groups of graduate students and others brought into her wide, welcoming fold. Beth’s broad reach, however, has extended way beyond her research, teaching, and policy work to over 30 years of activist work that has resulted in the creation of the four previously mentioned non-profits. In each, she has modeled socially just and scholarly activism, and how to build and sustain organizations that are inclusive, interdisciplinary, and aimed toward socially just outcomes. As she has stated, they were founded on principles of anarchy, and nonhierarchical and collaborative relationships. She has brought dark chocolate and her wonderful ability to act with creativity, a welcoming spirit, and hard work to each endeavor.
Beth’s work often focuses on who and what is excluded from the table. Growing up, she learned many of these ideas from her family, including the importance of giving back, welcoming all, and engaging in social action. She carried these ideas and her activism into her graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where her focus was critical theories of education and multicultural education. She worked with Professor Grant and his other graduate students with a focus on education that is multicultural and social reconstructionist (e.g., Sleeter & Grant, 1987), as well as with Professor Michael Apple, whose work focused on critical theories of education, ideology, and power. Her doctoral work was an early ethnographic study of race, class, gender, and disability in preschool classrooms, where she pioneered methodology for studying children’s ideas. Her interest in international research in Africa followed shortly after her doctoral degree, and these interests have continued throughout her career.
Beth’s focus on social, educational, political, and economic justice in all of her work has inspired a generation of scholarship among those who have followed her ideas and methods. The authors of this special issue focus particular attention on her contributions in areas such as the reframing of the discourse from at risk to at promise (Swadener & Lubeck, 1995) and her cross-national focus on participatory rights, with particular attention toward the inclusion of children’s and other voices. This work culminated in the recently published and important The Routledge International Handbook of Young Children’s Rights (Murray, Swadener, & Smith, 2020). In addition, her contributions to critiques and reconceptualizing of early childhood education contributed to the development of the 30-year-long set of conferences sponsored by RECE, and to her leadership in this field over nearly four decades (Swadener & Kessler, 1991; Kessler & Swadener, 1992; Kessler & Swadener, 2020; and Bloch, Swadener, & Cannella, 2018).
Beth’s initial leadership in critiquing what is and considering what ought to be, as well as which voices were at the table and what the relationships of power were in given situations, fostered a generation of research focused on critiques of deficit or at-risk discourses and exclusionary practices in pedagogy, policy, and research itself. Her work with Sally Lubeck, culminated in the influential volume, Children and Families “At Promise”: Deconstructing the Discourse of Risk (Swadener & Lubeck, 1995). Beth’s long-term focus on bringing marginalized voices and the knowledge and values that historically have been excluded to the table moved away from the discursive focus on deficiencies and toward the promise children, families, and diverse communities across the world can bring. As the articles in this special issue illustrate, this approach has continued in every project she has done, and guided the work of many others, including her students.
Her work in disability studies, critical narrative writing and publication (Mutua & Swadener, 2011), and child care policy (most recently, Nagasawa, Peters, Bloch, & Swadener, in press) has been an inspiration to others, pioneered new directions for research and writing, and inspired the interrogation of policies and practices, by including authors who had previously been excluded from conversations and publications. Her work has received awards and been recognized both in the United States and globally.
The authors in this special issue also highlight the importance of Beth’s example in resisting the individualism and focus on a narrow definition of merit in the neoliberal academy. Beth has always embodied the spirit and actuality of collective thinking and action. In almost every project she has done, as well as in her many publications, she has brought on others and co-authored with most, rarely taking the lead author’s position. This enabled many younger scholars to engage in research and to publish. As the articles and their authors clearly demonstrate, this is an uncommon act of generosity and wisdom. Beth resisted academic norms, and succeeded, which is a lesson worth noting and emulating. In doing so, she not only mentored countless others, helping in their success, but illustrated in each project and piece of writing what knowledge was gained by having new ideas and voices included.
The articles in this special issue speak for themselves. They are filled with gratitude for the lessons and opportunities Beth gave to each of the authors, and show how they are using these lessons and opportunities to pay it forward. Beth’s generosity and creativity, as well as her radical resistance to what is in order to create what ought to be is why we are honoring her and her career. Of course, she is not done, and we cannot wait to see all the things she will do and teach us next.
We hope you enjoy reading, and extend to you our wishes for a happy, healthy new year.
Bloch, M.N., Swadener, B.B., and Cannella, G.S. (2018). Reconceptualizing early childhood education and care: Foundational issues, new imaginaries, and social activism (2nd ed.). Peter Lang.
Kessler, S.A. and Swadener, B. B. (1992). Reconceptualizing the early childhood curriculum: Beginning the dialogue. Teachers College Press.
Kessler, S.A. and Swadener, E.B. (2020). Reconceptualizing the early childhood curriculum toward social justice. Routledge Press.
Murray, J., Swadener, B.B. and Smith, K. (2020). The Routledge International Handbook of Young Children’s Rights. Routledge Press.
Mutua, K. and Swadener, B. B. (2011). Decolonizing research in cross cultural contexts: Critical personal narratives. State University of New York Press.
Nagasawa, M., Peters, L., Bloch, M.N., and Swadener, B.B. (in press). Transforming early years policy: A call to action. Teachers College Press.
Sleeter, C. E. and Grant, C. A. (1987). An analysis of multicultural education in the United States. Harvard Education Review, 57(4), 421-444.
Swadener, B. B. and Kessler, S. A. (1991). Introduction to the special issue. Early Education and Development, 2(2), 85-94.
Swadener, B. B., and Lubeck, S. A. (1995). Children and families "at promise": Deconstructing the discourse of risk. State University of New York Press.