Archive for the ‘Latin American Politics’ Category

What are the aims and purposes of human life? Who am I to become as an early childhood professional?

January 5, 2015

Thinking about Life and education with a focus on early Childhood

“This is one view of the nature of education, based on a conception of human nature … According to this conception, the child has an intrinsic nature, and central to it is a creative impulse … the goal of education should be to provide the soil and the freedom required for growth of this creative impulse … a complex and challenging environment that the child can imaginatively explore and, in this way, quicken his intrinsic creative impulse and so enrich his life in ways that may be quite varied and unique … governed, as Russell said, by a spirit of reverence and humility: reverence for the precious, varied, individual, indeterminate growing principle of life; and humility with regard to the aims and with regard to the degree of insight and understanding of the practitioners.” Noam Chomsky reflecting on philosopher Bertrand Russell’s humanist conception of education. (Chomsky, Otero 2003)

As an educator it would seem inevitable, given that we engage in a practice, a vocation, that demands we adopt a position that places children first. To take an ethical position means that we have to affirm that we are doing all we can to provide the best environmental circumstances to allow wholistic sensory and cognitive growth.

This is affirmed by the OECD (2006) report Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care proposing that the ‘social pedagogy tradition’ is one that best defines positively, a humanist approach within education systems,

“…The social approach is inherently holistic. The pedagogue sets out to address the whole child, the child with body, mind, emotions, creativity, history and social identity. This is not the child only of emotions – the psycho-therapeutical approach; nor only of the body – the medical or health approach; nor only of the mind – the traditional teaching approach. For the pedagogue, working with the whole child, learning, care and, more generally, upbringing … pedagogues seek to respect the natural learning strategies of young children, that is, learning through play, interaction, activity, and personal investigation. Co-operative project work is much employed to give children a taste for working together and to build up shared and more complex understandings of chosen themes. The belief is widespread that encouraging the initiatives and meaning-making of children strongly supports cognitive development.”

My Story

My journey toward early childhood education began with a significant personal event, the birth of my daughter – born in the month of December in 1990 – a decade which opened with the USA governments initiation of a new wave of invasion and war in Iraq. The latter decades and years of this century were marked by global shifts in power most significantly by the collapse of the all the former communist states. I did not know then just how profound the effect these events were to have on the struggle for social equality, and social welfare. After two decades one effect of collapsing Communist Parties is the significant absence of struggles for improved social wellbeing which has also boosted the neo-liberal, small government, market rule economists.

I remain an active socialist in the communist tradition and regard myself a Marxist. My ideas about class and socialism had found some purchase in my mind after a few years in the Royal Australian Navy. The hierarchical character of the armed forces was a rapid introduction to the larger issues of class and oppression that run through our societies. Decades latter a friend who was then an army intelligence officer, and an anarchist, articulated for me something I had understood but had not fully appreciated, the armed services in many ways is able to function because it relies on socialistic methods of organisation.

What has this to do with Early Childhood and education?

The collapse of communism and the influences of the Reagan and Thatcher era have been very disorientating politically as governments all over the globe sold-off our welfare to the corporations and so further concentrated ‘self-regulatory’ control and profits into fewer hands. As a labour movement activists I had to make sense of all this and seek new and different arguments and methods of organising. It was at this time that I came across the book ’Children First’ by Penelope Leach the British psychologist and child development and parenting expert. I vaguely knew of her, and was excited to see that someone who was a respected authority could write about the problems of capitalist society and its ill effects on children and human development generally.

“For our societies money is god, the market place is its temple and mass communications – from TV advertising to ‘motivational speakers’ – ensure that its creed is an inescapable driving force not just in corporate lives but in the lives of everyone of us.

With societies’ attention, energy and excitement focused on the marketplace, areas of human endeavour that cannot be directly bought with money and sold for profit tend to be regarded as peripheral. It may be thought worthy to work at personal relationships (as parents work to relate to their children and each other), but it will be usually considered more interesting to work at professional ones (as day care workers and marriage counsellors) – and get paid for it.”

“Children are a special case. Like the very old, the very young do not earn and therefore play little direct part in the marketplace. Indeed children are doubly unproductive because their maintenance and education cost money they cannot earn for themselves, and their care absorbs adult time that otherwise would be spent producing it. But because children are the producer-consumer units of tomorrow rather than yesterday, no economy can disregard them.” (Leach 1994)

Schooling and skills, is it education?

Preparing my daughter for school had a disturbing effect upon me that I had not expected. There were many good things about my school years but school itself was an indifferent experience. School had not built my confidence, if not undermining it, we sat in isolation while were encouraged not to speak unless spoken to, or asked a question, something to be avoided as it usually ended in humiliation. All said and done fertile ground for a sense of failure, as a teacher I vowed to improve on my experiences by not repeating them on the children in my care.

Studying and completing my degrees in Philosophy and Cinema Studies I then moved on into teaching. My semester in Philosophy with Children and the method of the community of inquiry, building out of Dewey’s conception of scientific inquiry, had given me fresh insights. This philosophical approach is a fine tool for facilitating children’s dialogue, engaging with each other in thinking about themselves and the world around them.

I have never had a desire to return to school, and this remains the case. I distinguish between schooling and education and I am sure I speak for many teachers who acknowledge their enjoyment of teaching as such, but find ‘the system’ vexing. Regulation enforcing minimum standards generally works to the detriment of improving and achieving best professional practice. Fenech, Sumsion, & Goodfellow (2006) used one educator’s description of regulation through the Quality Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS) as “a double edged sword” because “notions of professional decision-making and practical wisdom are not readily identifiable in either QIAS or the NSW Children’s Services Regulation.

The chief concern I believe is the problem of regulations impinging on, or driving our pedagogical practice that is detrimental to children and is therefore not best practice. Pedagogues should begin with the question, who educates the educator? Any dialogue concerning the needs of children should begin here; what are the social, community and public needs of children generally, and the children with whom I work directly?

Love and learning

What can I do to develop their ‘Love of Learning’ that I believe that they initially come to me with? The mantras of ‘Life long learning’ and ‘learning readiness’ – within our formal institutions –suggests a view of learning that is knowledge transmitted down from the teacher, in contrast to the view that we have an innate predisposition to learn. How can we overcome or transcend the economic reductionism of the Corporate State that narrows the definition, purpose and possibilities of education?

To begin by asking, what do I have to do to be accountable to The State, is to unwittingly enforce the status quo and consequently the interests of the ruling class and the nation-market-state? Considering my position as an early childhood educator is one that needs to be regarded in terms of the real politic of education played out in each school under the auspice of education departments. As Bruer (1999) observes, politicians use ‘knowledge’ and ‘science’ to spin their gloss-over of practices detrimental to wholistic conceptions of early childhood education.

“Julia Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion, discussed ‘new’ knowledge…The new thinking that I’m talking about…is the new scientific research about the way children’s brains develop. …Gillard’s statement demonstrates how politicians can play a key role in framing and/or determining policy content and outcomes… Crucially, the quality of formal ECEC provisions for children also rests, to a considerable extent, on the policy decisions of politicians.

The problem is not so much one of science or developmental models opposing post modernist and humanist conceptions of education, but rather a crudely defined ‘medical model’ imposed on teachers and enforced through their practice. My experience of some school administrators is that they use counter reforming government demands, the use of regulations, and public service acts to enforce the medical model of testing, teaching to predetermined outcomes, and collecting quantifiable data as ‘evidence’ of ‘value adding’ to children.

Questions, questions, and more questions

The questions we should ask, how do educators defend best practice and research while they maybe dealing with draconian methods imposed by hierarchies, and unreasonable authoritarian methods at the departmental and school level? Who and what are educating the educator while they are being disciplined and undermined by those in authority? How do humanistic approaches that rely on qualitative means to measure personal achievements and growth flourish in this current period of reactionary politics?

Progressive approaches understand young children as ‘already human beings, with desires and powers of their own, and not as units of production and consumption, to be improved – potentially – for the benefit of the corporate profit-and-war machine. Part of the answer lies within ourselves as professional educators, by organising power into our collegiate and collective hands, so to build our profession and thereby serve the best qualities of all human kind.

References

Bruer, J.T. (1999) In Search of … Brain-Based Education, Phi Delta Kappan, 80(9), pp. 648-657, quoted in Brown, K., Sumsion, J., Press, F., Influences on Politicians’ Decision Making for Early Childhood Education and Care Policy: what do we know? What don’t we know?

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood Volume 10 Number 3 2009, http://www.words.co.uk/CIEC

Chomsky, N. & Otero C. (2003) Chomsky on Democracy and Education Routledge pp. 163-4

Fenech, M., Sumison, J., Goodfellow, J., (2006) The Regulatory Environment in Long Day Care: A ‘double edged sword’ for early childhood professional practice, Australian Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 31, No.3 September 2006.

Leach, P. (1994) People, Profits and Parenting, Children First: What society must do – and is not dong – for children today, Penguin, pp. 4-6

OECD (2006) A unified approach to learning: The social pedagogy tradition, Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education And Care, p59

Words 17

American influence? By Rodrigo Acuña 15 July 2009

July 24, 2009

American influence?
By Rodrigo Acuña
15 July 2009
http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2619530.htm
Last week’s military coup in Honduras highlights the limits of democracy in Latin America.
The coup’s leaders complained that the country’s president, Jose Manuel Zelaya, was attempting to extend his presidency with a referendum on the constitution which if passed, would have facilitated his potential re-election.
Much of the mainstream media have repeated this view but it is simply false.

As Latin American experts Pablo Navarrete and Victor Figueroa-Clark recently pointed out in the New Statesman, the referendum, which was “non-binding”, even if won by Zelaya, would have only paved the way for another vote that would have taken place after Zelaya stepped down from office in January 2010.

The current Honduran constitution was written in the early 1980s, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and shortly after 16 years of military dictatorships. Like other constitutions in Latin America, which were created during or briefly after the generals stepped down, Honduran’s has countless restrictions, loop holes and flaws. The same could be said about the country’s other institutions.
Commenting on the Central American state, Greg Grandin – professor of history at New York University – recently said:

“The Honduran military is effectively a subsidiary of the United States government. Honduras, as a whole, if any Latin American country is fully owned by the United States, it’s Honduras. Its economy is wholly based on trade, foreign aid and remittances.”

During the 1980s, with heavy backing from the Reagan administration, Honduras was used as a permanent base for the right-wing Contras against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Currently, the country hosts one of the largest US military bases in Central America and receives $US 1.4 million per year in education and exchange programs.
It is precisely because of the nature of the relationship between the United States and Honduras that the role of the Obama administration in recent developments needs to be scrutinized. Did Washington give the Honduran military the green light to remove Zelaya? While for now that question cannot be answered in full, we do know the following.

Both the head of the Honduran military, General Romero Vasquez and airforce General Luis Suazo, who led the coup against Zelaya, are graduates of the notorious US School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), where key Latin American dictators and tortures during the Cold War were trained.
According to lawyer Eva Golinger, who has been crucial in uncovering Washington’s role in the 2002 coup in Venezuela, the US has been providing up to $US 50 million to organisations in Honduras which look favourably on US interests.
In a recent report in the Washington Post on June 29, it was claimed US diplomats had been negotiating privately to stop the coup. An official quoted in the paper said events had “been brewing a long time”.
Also, while after some hesitation, US President Barack Obama did call events in Honduras an illegal coup, the British newsagency Reuters reported that “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was not formally designating the ouster as a military coup for now, a step that would force a cut-off of most US aid to Honduras”.

For those familiar with US-Latin American relations, the above pattern is all too common: a coup takes place against a leader not adhering to Washington’s interest, the US at the time denies involvement and then 20 years later archival evidence confirms the White House did in fact support a military take over.
Zelaya’s own political trajectory fits the scrip neatly.
Elected to the presidency in 2005 on a conservative law and order ticket, once in office Zelaya soon moved to the political left.
Criticising the practises of local and international business, he increased the minimum wage by 60 per cent. Justifying his actions, Zelaya claimed he had the support of the country’s unions and that his decision would “force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair”.

On other fronts, the president increased teachers’ wages and invited Cuban doctors into the slums. In a country where 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, Zelaya’s actions did not go unnoticed by most Hondurans.
Then he crossed another boundary. The president travelled to Cuba and Venezuela and signed Honduras to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) – a fair trade agreement between nine Latin American countries which stands in sharp contrast to free market doctrines.

In late 2008, it was reported that Zelaya sent Obama a personal letter harshly criticising Washington’s history of “interventionism” in the region, and demanded a new approach to fighting the drug trade.
Earlier this year, at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, the ALBA countries declined to sign the final statement of the conference which was heavily promoted by the Obama administration. It claimed the declaration did not “respond to the global economic crisis” and “unjustly excludes Cuba, without mentioning the general regional consensus that condemns the embargo”.
As numerous experts on Latin America are aware, the region is now clearly divided between those which want to remake the status quo (ie the ALBA camp through agreements such as a regional currency), and those which want to reposition it – eg Brazil or Chile.

While the Obama administration may make all the appropriate diplomatic statements about the coup in Honduras, it is doubtful it is really lamenting the removal of Zelaya.
In past Unleashed articles I have argued that the US has not taken kindly to the ALBA alliance, or any country which has joined the Venezuela-Cuba alliance.
Whatever one may think of these countries, they are pushing for a regional alliance which questions US hegemony in the region.
Organisations like the Union of South American Countries (UNASUR) and the Bank of the South stand in direct contrast to the aims of the US-led Organsiation of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Bank in the way they do business.
Also, various countries (again led by the Venezuela alliance) have been moving to have US military bases removed from their countries.
Honduras may have eventually moved in that direction and this is why Washington is not pushing for sanctions on the new military government.

Even if Zelaya did not move in that direction, the fact that he joined the Venezuela-Cuba alliance was enough to upset the local political right and again, the United States and its pro-free market organisations.
Back in Honduras, developments still look bleak despite recent talks in Costa Rica to end the crisis. Zelaya’s attempt last week to return home failed after his aeroplane was denied entry into Tegucigalpa’s main airport. Awaiting supporters were gunned down by police in front of the international press.
Throughout the country, military repression has cost the lives of several of the Zelaya’s supporters. Dozens others have been arrested and beaten after protesting against the coup. A media black out has occurred with Amnesty International reporting that:
“Many broadcasters appear to have closed for fear for their safety. Others, such as
Canal 36, have been closed by the security forces and members of the military are
reported to be patrolling their premises.”

Despite almost universal condemnation, the new Micheletti regime is confident it will hang on to power claiming credits from the US and the European Union will continue to flow into the country.
And with a US-trained military, Honduran ‘democracy’ should be more than safe.


%d bloggers like this: