Posts Tagged ‘early childhood education politics’

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank

January 24, 2015

Teachers forced to equip schools at own expense as austerity bites West Bank.

23 January 2015

Budgets are so tight that many Palestinian Authority schools cannot afford paper and pencils. Hard-pressed teachers must spend their own stagnating wages on supplies.

Ghadeer Rabi cannot remember a time during her five-year career as a high school teacher that her salary was enough to support her family. Without her husband’s income, the thirty-year-old says she would not be able to survive.

Rabi’s monthly paychecks are inconsistent, often coming as partial payments or none at all. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority “keeps promising us a lot, like raises, but we haven’t seen anything,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

Rabi’s situation is not unique: the PA and public servants in the occupied West Bank have been at loggerheads for years.

These problems show no sign of letting up, especially since Israel began withholding taxes it is supposed to transfer to the PA as part of the Oslo accords.

Israel is withholding $127 million worth of tax funds and customs duties on goods that pass through present-day Israel before being exported, as reported by Al Jazeera English earlier this month. The Israeli move has been taken in retaliation for the PA’s decision to join the International Criminal Court.

Withholding Palestinian tax transfers, which Israel has done as a punitive measure many times in the past, intensifies the already difficult economic situation for public and civil servants, among them teachers. In response to Israel’s withholding of tax money, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch, said that “Western governments should refuse to follow suit [by imposing] their own sanctions” on the PA.

Wages stagnate

Living with her husband and infant daughter in Ramallah, Rabi teaches at the local Deir Jarir Girls High School and Mughtarabe Elementary School in the neighboring area of al-Bireh. The schools’ classrooms — which are overcrowded with upwards of forty students each period — lack heating, air-conditioning and most basic supplies.

Due to severe budgetary limitations, the twenty-eight teachers at Deir Jarir are often made to foot the bill for their own supplies, though more than 600 students attend the school. “We don’t even bother asking for additional supplies at this point,” said Rabi. “We know what the response will be.”

Aside from a one-time hourly wage increase of twenty shekels ($6) for the cost of living, “I have worked for five years and haven’t received a single raise,” Rabi said.

While the PA formally bans teachers from working a second job, Rabi said that most are forced to work elsewhere part-time.

Nidal Afafneh, a fourth-year English teacher at Anata Primary School in the West Bank, is one of those searching for a second job to supplement his income. “Some of my colleagues have even taken third jobs,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “This isn’t allowed, but they have to feed their kids.”

Afafneh, 26, said that teachers are demanding their basic rights, such as the school providing paper, pencils, and an annual salary increase to reflect the soaring cost of living, particularly in the Ramallah area. “Sometimes we don’t have electricity or water in our school for days at a time,” he added.

Israel’s harsh restrictions translate into stagnation for the Palestinian economy. In 2013, the World Bank estimated that Israeli control of the West Bank costs Palestinians some $3.4 billion each year. These restrictions have also created a dependency on foreign aid.

PA “dependent and fragile”

But critics also accuse the PA of rampant corruption. The lack of accountability within public institutions has led to widespread “embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, and exploitation of position for personal gain,” states a 2012 report by the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability, a Ramallah-based anti-corruption watchdog. “Those involved in these crimes were high-level employees, such as heads of government divisions, who were conspiring with lower and intermediate level employees.”

Alaa Tartir, program director of Al-Shabaka, a group that monitors Palestinian social and economic policies, explained that the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization “created an inherently dependent and fragile Palestinian ‘authority.’”

After years of building up its public sector, the PA today has around 150,000 public servants, Tartir told The Electronic Intifada. “When Israel decides to withhold Palestinian taxes or when the PA passes through a financial crisis — which is recurrent — those monthly salaries get majorly delayed or paid in installments over months,” he said.

“When Israel withholds taxes it does indeed commit another form of ‘collective punishment’ because it does not only punish the civil servants but also their families [and] we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people that are affected,” Tartir continued.

Yet, the PA’s neoliberal economic policies have only worsened the situation. A Western-backed agenda “entrenched the structural deficiencies in the Palestinian economy and created further distortion,” said Tartir. “It increased inequalities, poverty and unemployment. It created a status of individual wealth for some but national poverty for all.”

Harming the poor

The PA “created a capitalist class that are benefiting from the status quo and arguably from the mere existence of the occupation,” he noted, adding that “entrenching the neoliberal policies will only help Israel’s occupation directly and indirectly through adding another layer of repression that particularly harm the poor and [hinders] their process of liberation.”

As the costs of housing, food and utilities continue to increase, the Palestinian economy remains largely stagnant. According to a World Bank report published in September 2014, unemployment in the West Bank sat at 16 percent during the first quarter of that year.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 23.1 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza worked in the public sector during 2013. Of those, 16.4 percent were in the West Bank.

In addition to the punitive measures taken by the Israeli authorities, the constant disputes between the PA and teachers have resulted in several strikes over the last five years. Most of the more than one million students across the West Bank are affected, creating a difficult learning environment.

Citing the fall 2013 semester as an example, Ghadeer Rabi, the teacher, explained that there were several strikes, “making the actual class time very thin.”

“Strikes have made it a very difficult learning environment. Teachers go through the lessons really fast to catch up with what they miss,” she said. “And students aren’t motivated to be in class.”

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada. His website is www.postrickland.com. Follow him on Twitter: @P_Strickland_.

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

What Drives Human Behavior?

January 3, 2015

This is a very thoughtful piece. As a teacher it is something that is most misunderstood by many of my profession. I do not make any great claims to understanding but it is something we need to do more work on.

Social Health

What drives behavior

Human behavior is shaped by a combination of cognitive, social, and biological forces. Although there are various theories of behavior, my own research into psychological and sociological forces had lead to me to the following simple but often neglected insight:
We are driven by our desire to feel significant.

Driven by our desire for significance, it can be achieved in two ways:
1) a sense of belonging and contribution; 2) a sense of winning and dominating

The former operates through communal integration, where individuals are valued as part of a community or team, whereas the latter operates through communal disintegration where individuals are valued based on their individual wealth or power.

Mental stories about our place in the world informs our sense of significance by pointing to families, occupations, or organizations we belong or contribute to. Our behavior is then driven by our internal assessment of this state of…

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Brains are bodies: Brain research and understanding brain function and the brain itself.

January 2, 2015

There can be no doubting the importance of brain research and the understanding we have of brain function and the nature of the brain itself. What is worth noting though is that the research support what many have argued for years and decades about the importance of social equity and distribution of wealth and services to human happiness and its correlation to wellbeing. What is most disconcerting is the refusal by successive governments to seriously address the issues with policies that acknowledge the research. Far from it in fact the emphasis on relying on market forces to address concerns of equity have been proven to be failing.

Dr Mustard and Professor Stanley argue the importance of “investing in early childhood development if we want to encourage a healthier, fitter population, and provide opportunities for children to achieve their potential”. As with Cuba’s example, the central aspect for improving outcomes is caring, responsive communities; only then can we provide safety, quality care, and schools that genuinely support families. Professor Stanley speaks of “causal pathways” which are a set of factors that interact over time to create an outcome. If we wish to see responsible communities and “resilient” adults then we need to provide the circumstances that allow for the development of responsible, thoughtful and resilient children.

 Dr Fiona Stanley in 2003 outlined some key critical issues that policy makers have yet to seriously address. As she has stated in other interviews one has to wonder what the point of research is if we fail to act on it.

The questions she asked seven years ago are these;

  • Are outcomes for children and youth improving in Australia? As so many outcomes are related to social disadvantage, surely as economic prosperity and living conditions improved, so have the health, educational, behavioural and general status of our children?
  • Is there any evidence more recently of a levelling of social gradients, that is fewer differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘haves not’?       Are all in society winners from the dramatic economic and social changes in our society?
  • What has been the impact of services? (Mostly focussed on treatments not preventions).
  • Why have so many of the problems in children and youth not improved? Are there some common explanations?
  • What do we know about the causes and possible prevention of them?
  • What should Australia do?

Professor Stanley argues that a multidisciplinary approach is required if we are to address in any systematic way these pressing social issues. We know that the problems that will impact negatively on children, family and society begin in the womb; in reality they begin before then if we consider the circumstances of the women and men who will become parents.

An outstanding and obvious example is the issue of insufficient and inadequate housing and related homelessness. We know that instability and relocation is extremely stressful on children especially, and of course for the adults. We know about stress response and that the detrimental effects can be overcome when there is stability and consistency within caring environments which in turn improve children’s learning and wellbeing. We can easily assume that this issue alone will have to be resolved before serious in roads can be made to addressing the concerns raised by Professor Stanley.

The current debate on Health Reform is a case in point, so little of what is being proposed has to do with prevention of illness and providing social solutions. The head of the Queanbeyan Hospital suggested to PM Rudd that he should look to Cuba’s example for solutions, as did Dr Mustard who lived and worked in South Australia as Thinker in Residence in 2006 and 2007. He asked the question, why is Cuba leading the world in Early Childhood development?

As much as it may upset some people on ideological grounds, an important part of the answer is that Cuba leads the world in the practice of socialised medicine and care. Health and wellbeing are community concerns; they are not commodities to be used for the social advancement of a few. There are many other examples but another is bound up with the question of diet. Cuba went through an oil shock and import crisis when the former Soviet Union collapsed. Since the 1970s Australian permaculturalists have been assisting in improving food production and the Cuban diet which has been high in meat and carbohydrates and low in fibres. Today up to 70% of Cuba’s domestic food production occurs in urban areas. That a society was able to respond to a crisis of this proportion is due to the way fundamental social values and needs were redefined after the social and economic revolution of 1959. Cuba for this reason has been regarded as the Jewel of Central America in relation to social wellbeing ad literacy.

Thinking about what is necessary here today in this country and what should and needs to be done makes all the rhetoric of an education revolution ring very hollow. We should remind ourselves that governments do little to change anything fundamentally. Profound and lasting changes in the early childhood and education have been the consequence of the combined forces of thorough research and enlightened practitioners and educators.

As educators and practitioners we must pay attention to the current research about brain development. One aspect that does concern me is that we could be in danger of losing site of the person. While it is important to appreciate brain development and pedagogy that enhances this development, especially so for those who are living in conditions that mitigate against providing an enriched learning environment whether it be informal or formal. As we strive for informed data as evidence it would be an error to end up where we have in the compulsory sector. Schools in the public system are narrowing the curriculum, losing sight of the whole child. I have heard it said even, that we need big schools so that the data is reliable!

Dr Mustard and Professor Stanley argue the importance of “investing in early childhood development if we want to encourage a healthier, fitter population, and provide opportunities for children to achieve their potential”. As with Cuba’s example, the central aspect for improving outcomes is caring, responsive communities; only then can we provide safety, quality care, and schools that genuinely support families. Professor Stanley speaks of “causal pathways” which are a set of factors that interact over time to create an outcome. If we wish to see responsible communities and “resilient” adults then we need to provide the circumstances that allow for the development of responsible, thoughtful and resilient children.

(Fiona Stanley AC

  • Founding Director and Patron
  • Distinguished Research Professor, The University of Western Australia
  • Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, and Director – 2013 Festival of Ideas, The University of Melbourne
  • Australian of the Year 2003
  • Established the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth in 2002
  • UNICEF Australia Ambassador for Early Childhood Development
  • The Fiona Stanley Hospital named in her honour)

(Dr Mustard is involved with governments in Canada and Australia, with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, UNICEF and the Aga Khan University In Pakistan.  He also leads The Founders Network, a virtual research organisation that proposes practical solutions to the complex problems facing society and seeks to put research findings and ideas into action in communities worldwide. Dr Mustard has received numerous awards for his work including the Companion of the Order of Canada. Most recently he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.

See more at: http://www.thinkers.sa.gov.au/thinkers/mustard/who.aspx#sthash.0kg36rd3.dpuf)

Education ‘reform’ another wrong diagnosis: union protectionism and the conventional wisdom

January 2, 2015

 I found this article in Washington Post, 12-17-09 but I omitted to save the authors name so my apologies to that person. It remains pertinent in 2015 especially here in Australia as our politicians and bureaucrats are hellbent on following one bad example after another in the name of ‘reform’. I think the article represents the opinion of many good and committed teachers. I am a committed teacher union activist however my criticisms of our unions are similar to those of the author.

The standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth

“Good teachers are the key to good schools. A major obstacle to staffing America’s school with good teachers is union protectionism.” So goes the conventional wisdom. I’m no fan of education unions. I fault them for not taking the lead in education reform, for misplaced priorities, and for a willingness to support bad legislation just to keep a seat at the federal education reform table. I was hammering union leadership on those issues decades before I could do it with the click of a mouse. That said, when it comes to education reform, teacher unions get an undeserved bad rap. No way are they the major obstacle to school improvement. Mark that problem up to institutional inertia, innovation-stifling bureaucracy, and misguided state and federal policy. Trace union bad press back to its origins and it’s clear that much of it comes from ideologues and organizations less interested in improving education than in destroying union political clout and privatizing public schools.

No, the main opposition to the education reform effort set in motion about twenty years ago by corporate heads and Congress isn’t coming from go-along-to-get-along unions. The sustained and blistering attacks come from professional educators like Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Ken and Yetta Goodman, and dozens of others I could name. And me. Retired or otherwise independent, we can say what we think without fear of retribution or being accused of being self-serving. Most importantly, unlike the architects of No Child Left Behind and its gestating offspring, the Race to the Top, we’ve spent thousands of hours in real classrooms working directly with real students.

What do we think about Washington-dictated education reforms? We think they’re sufficiently abusive, counterproductive, and downright stupid to warrant a massive class action suit by parents and grandparents against those responsible. What explains the radically different views of experienced teachers and the suits in corporate suites and Congress who’re now running the education show? A sign that hung in Albert Einstein’s Princeton University office sums it up: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Data-enamoured, spreadsheet-studying, educationally clueless policymakers think Einstein was wrong. What is it, exactly, that can’t be counted? Most people think babies are born with minds like blank paper. Parents, teachers, and others, “write” on that paper, filling it with advice, information, explanations, and interpretations. Schools organize and compress the process with textbooks and teacher talk, and tests check how much kids can remember long enough to pencil in the “right” oval on a standardized test. It’s that simple. Except it isn’t. Not even close. Kids’ minds are never, ever, like blank pages. To matters they consider important, they attach explanatory theories. When a teacher or other explainer dumps information on them that doesn’t match their theories, they reject it. They may play the school game-may store the explainer’s theory in short-term memory until the test is over and the pressure is off-but rarely do they adopt it.

Kids don’t change their theories because doing so would be too traumatic. Their beliefs-about themselves, about others, about how the world works-are their most valued possessions (just as they are for the rest of us). Their theories are “who they are.” Casually exchanging them for someone else’s ideas would undermine their identities, their individuality, their confidence in their ability to make sense of experience. I learned the hard way-from thousands of adolescents-that I couldn’t teach them anything important. All I could do was try to get them to think about a particular matter, then ask them a question or give them something to do that their theories couldn’t handle and let them struggle to work it out. Changing their minds had to be their doing, not mine. Bottom line: It’s impossible to count how much kids really know. Period. Standardized tests are an appalling, monumental waste of time, money, and brains. Especially brains.

To the “standards and accountability” cheerleaders-the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Governors Association, the US Department of Education, newspaper editorial boards, syndicated columnists, and so on-the complex, counterintuitive, kid-controlled, impossible-to-measure learning process I’m describing is alien. But that process lies at the very heart of teaching and learning. Trying to shield it from destruction is why older, experienced teachers are the most vocal, determined opponents of the present reform fiasco. They know the “blank paper,” count-the-right-answers theory propelling the standards and accountability fad is an intellect-gutting, society-destroying myth. And they know that adopting national standards and tests will lock that myth in place far, far into the future.

Towards an expression of the spiritual in a secular curriculum by Monica Bini

January 1, 2015

Dealing with the issue of ‘spirituality’ is a very current concern for many people. The concerns raised and the difficulties identified still make this article worth reading today.

This article was written as a contribution to the now extant Australian Curriculum. However the author tackles the question of spirituality and what that might mean in a school curriculum. “The curriculum must allow for the kind of delivery that will support its intentions. The awakening and development of the spiritual is often going to be something that is difficult to plan for, and teachers need to be free to capture the teaching moment and be given flexibility to work with individual student needs. And it is an area which is an investment in students’ life journeys, where seeds planted during experiences at school may for some, only really begin to bear fruit at an unexpected time in the future. But with the support of this particular quality of education students may be lucky enough to have a relatively greater proportion of their lives that is fulfilling.”

Monica Bini – Curriculum Manager (Humanities), Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. July 2009.

Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008)

The Melbourne Declaration claims a place for spiritual wellbeing in education for all Australianswhen it declares that “confident and creative individuals have a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing”. How can the development and management of spiritual wellbeing be expressed in curriculum beyond faith based settings, so that it is indeed supported for all Australians? This paper outlines and then uses a way of articulating the spiritual that is independent of adherence to religious tradition or belief in the divine, to inform themes of secular spirituality that could be manifested in secular curriculum, and the skills and capacities that can be brought to these themes. In doing so, it aims to capture what is distinctive about the spiritual in the context of curriculum.

The Melbourne Declaration goes some way to articulating a secular spirituality when it links spiritual wellbeing to self worth, self awareness and personal identity. It takes a position that there is something distinct from the emotional, mental and physical in what it is to be human. If secular curriculum wants to claim education of the whole person, then the curriculum needs to address this aspect of being human.

Developing the themes of secular spirituality

Stating what might be further said about the spiritual in a secular sense will inform how curriculum can give expression to this goal. Some of the literature avoids defining the spiritual, as it is not only complex, but partly an experience and therefore partly ineffable. However for the secular to stake a claim in the spiritual it is necessary to show how it can be conceived without an appeal to religion or the divine. For educators, it gives them the language needed to understand the thinking behind any spiritual themes in the curriculum and to support them in engaging in discourse on the spiritual.

The spiritual is something that is perhaps better experienced than explained. It is a particular quality of consciousness that responds to the awesome in nature and the awesome in human creation or expression, where paradoxically in the experience we are drawn out of ourselves and yet deeper within ourselves. It is that part of ourselves that we are not happy with characterizing as emotion. It is, at times, linked rather with a deep sense of satisfaction or fulfillment. This sense of satisfaction is often linked to goals that are in fact unattainable, for example perfect wisdom. And yet it responds to meaning and purpose and can create meaning and purpose. The spiritual is associated with a detachment, that is, a separation from the egotistical aspects of the self, rather than the world or the other.

The Melbourne goal speaks of having a sense of self that enables management of wellbeing, including spiritual. The term ‘management’ suggests cultivating a certain kind of discrimination or discernment that in the first instance begins to recognize the spiritual in the self, in response to particular kinds of experiences and then is ultimately used to make choices that support wellbeing and in turn refine the self. One of the most important contributions that curriculum can make is to assist students as they develop and attend to this faculty or key skill, in what is for most, a lifelong journey.

What follows links the broad conception of spirituality introduced above with ways that this may be manifest in the curriculum. It should be recognized that many of the areas overlap and that somewhat artificial distinctions have been made to draw out distinguishing characteristics of each area.

Themes of secular spirituality that could be manifested in the curriculum:

Awe and wonder:

– providing for engagement with the beautiful in nature and human endeavour, including the bigger or more profound stories, that may resonate, inspire or allow for moments of gratitude and appreciation.

– giving permission to wonder, not only intellectually but a deeper, reflective wonder.

Meaning and purpose:

– providing opportunities to serve something larger than oneself. By isolating such service from material gain, students have a chance to notice a different kind of satisfaction.

– enabling the development and expression of vision.

– engaging students with concepts such as truth, courage, including moral courage, honour and so on, and recognizing their contentious nature yet central role in human endeavour .

– allowing for meaningful self expression. In a wider sense this may be personal meaning realized in public contexts.

Being and Knowing:

– providing opportunities for students to integrate knowledge with action; to ethically bring both considered rational judgment and intuitive insight to bear on practical problems.

– engaging with concepts such as justice, compassion and other areas of ethics.

– assisting students to be aware of and attune the quality of their consciousness in action and thought, for example the level of integrity.

– supporting human dignity by for example valuing the welfare, learning journeys and stories of the students and giving them a voice in their education.

Developing the skills or capacities that can be brought to these themes

What the student brings to the opportunities for awe and wonder, meaning and purpose and exploring being and knowing is important. For example, being presented with the beautiful is enriched with a capacity to notice and attend to the response of the self. Students can build skills to assist in the interpretation of experience. The key skill here is a kind of discernment or discrimination. Developing the ability to discern or discriminate in the context of secular spirituality is particularly related to the following elements of the curriculum:

– building the capacity to notice and attend to the self and how it engages with and responds to certain experiences. For example, noticing different levels of fulfillment. This can occur not only through quiet reflection and silence but through dialogue.

– developing students’ capacity to engage with and express the ineffable, for example in powerful literary and visual metaphors and other non-verbal means of expression such as dance, or design and creative process.

– assisting students in developing the language to express to others and themselves what can be said about secular spiritual experiences.

– allowing the creation and expression of what is deeply satisfying for the student, for example in athletics, woodwork or social activism. Here the student can practice and test their developing discrimination. This may ultimately impact on their choice of life pursuits as well as in a more generic way.

Disciplinary or Interdisciplinary?

Spirituality can be triggered and nurtured by different things for different people and in this sense is interdisciplinary, where students are given the chance to widely explore and test where spiritual wellbeing may lie for them. Students can be invited to engage with facets of the spiritual in the context of a discipline or learning area. For example, service learning in Civics, aesthetics in Mathematics, ethics in Philosophy, or vision in History or Science. Key skills can also be developed in this way, for example through the study of poetry in English or participating in the design process in Technology. The extent to which the spiritual is brought in will be linked closely to pedagogy.

Bringing spirituality into the curriculum in this sense need not be so much about an addition to the curriculum but rather involves considering the disciplines through a particular qualitative lens. The nature of this qualitative lens does need separate documentation however, and this paper attempts to go some way towards supporting educators in this.

Early years learning framework (2009)

The themes of secular spirituality in this paper were used to inform the definition of spirituality in the national Early Years Learning Framework. The framework is built around the concepts of Being, Belonging and Becoming, recognizing that life is more than transactional. A range of groups gave strong feedback that spiritual aspects of young children’s lives should be recognized. In particular it was thought that the play experience for a child had a spiritual dimension. The groups identified a need to capture in a secular way the spiritual dimension of what it is to be human.

Recognition of the spiritual is not unusual at a higher policy level – for example both the 2008 Melbourne and the 1999 Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling, or the 1957 NSW Wyndham Report (naming spiritual values as one of eight key aims for the education of the individual). These high level statements aim at all sectors including faith based, but this aspect of the goals of schooling has not traditionally been picked up by the government sector in particular. One significant gap has been the lack of translation of this part of the goals into formal curriculum structures. This is a necessary part of the mechanism by which high level documents ultimately get delivered in the classroom. Creating a key definition of spirituality began to close the gap.

A definition of spirituality was proposed and welcomed :   “Spirituality refers to a range of human experiences including a sense of awe and wonder, a search for purpose and meaning, and the exploration of being and knowing.” A paper underpinning this definition was a valuable part of the process as it supported decision-makers in understanding that an interpretation of the definition compatible with the secular was possible. At the same time the definition does not exclude the faith based sector, while acknowledging that these settings may bring elements of their different religious traditions into how they interpret it.

Challenges

National Curriculum

The national curriculum will be accountable to the goals for schooling. ACARA’s Curriculum Design paper states at 4.2b that “the national curriculum documents will indicate how much learning in each area contributes to the national goals.” Articulating themes of secular spirituality may assist in the mapping of this aspect of the goals to the curriculum. Curriculum writers have been given some discretion beyond literacy, numeracy, creativity and ICT in how other general capabilities and indigenous, sustainability and Asia related cross curriculum perspectives will be embedded into the curriculum.

The spiritual is a qualitative aspect of the curriculum that cuts across disciplines, general capabilities and cross curriculum perspectives. In this sense it is likely to be more clearly expressed in content elaboration rather than content description, although content description sets the framework that allows particular teaching and learning activities to be developed. For example if students will learn to analyse indigenous history in Australia (as a content descriptor) then content elaboration could include learning about vision and Aboriginal people of vision in this context. In Science a content description derived from the content organizer of science as a human endeavour could be something like ‘students will learn to analyse and evaluate the role of science in human endeavour’ which in turn could lead to content elaboration regarding discussion of meaning and purpose within science or what concepts like moral courage might mean in scientific contexts. The curriculum has many demands placed upon it and selection of more overtly spiritual aspects needs to be not only well informed but judicious.

Spirituality is a personal journey and teachers must be given the flexibility to work with student needs and to allow time for and response to the student voice. A curriculum dense with prescriptive content would work against this.

Assessment

The question of the assessment of spiritual development in students is more broadly related to the question of assessment of those aspects of the curriculum concerned with dispositions, values and attitudes. Curriculum is tending more towards the provision of a holistic education while at the same time there is a growing assessment culture. Are there limits to what a teacher can confidently assess? Dr. Ruth Deakin Crick identifies four stations in the learning journey that are useful to consider:

“Using the metaphor of ‘learning as a journey’ there are four ‘stations’ which learners and their mentors attend to in the process of learning. The first is the learning self, with its particular identity, nested sets of relationships, stories and aspirations. The second is the personal qualities, values, attitudes and dispositions for learning….The third is the acquisition of publicly assessed knowledge, skills and understanding. The fourth is the achievement of publicly assessed and valued competence in a particular domain – such as being a competent citizen, or artisan, or carer.” (Deakin Crick, 2009, p.78)

The spiritual is clearly related to the first and second stations but there is interplay with the third and fourth as spiritual development occurs and is expressed. Deakin Crick has developed a self assessment tool of values, dispositions and attitudes of effective lifelong learners. The rationale for this being a self assessment tool is relevant to spiritual development too:

the first two stations are personal and unique to the learner, and although formed in the context of community and participation, and thus not necessarily private, the authority to create and make judgments in these domains rests with the learners themselves.”(Deakin Crick, 2009, p. 78)

Assessment of learning belongs in the 3rd and 4th stations of the learning journey where authority to make judgments lies outside the self. This kind of learning is accountable in a public way that spirituality is not. It is fair to set achievement standards for these stations of the learning journey but somehow unfair, if not absurd, to grade students on their spiritual development. The difficulty in gathering direct evidence would also make this attempt invalid and unreliable and could indeed be counterproductive. It would be more coherent to undertake assessment of the educator’s provision of opportunities for deep learning and expression.

A partnership is necessary between all the stages of the learning journey to result in a holistic education. Deep engagement with learning is not guaranteed and neither should it be demanded, but rather invited. But it is important that the educator at least present the opportunity not only through good curriculum but also good pedagogy. Spiritual development is thus a well supported ‘hope’ of the curriculum rather than a demand. (Rossiter, 2006).

Conclusion

The curriculum must allow for the kind of delivery that will support its intentions. The awakening and development of the spiritual is often going to be something that is difficult to plan for, and teachers need to be free to capture the teaching moment and be given flexibility to work with individual student needs. And it is an area which is an investment in students’ life journeys, where seeds planted during experiences at school may for some, only really begin to bear fruit at an unexpected time in the future. But with the support of this particular quality of education students may be lucky enough to have a relatively greater proportion of their lives that is fulfilling.

References

NSW Government 1957, Report of the Committee Appointed to Survey Secondary Education in New South Wales (the Wyndham Report), p.40

Bigger, Secular Spiritual Education?, e-journal of the British Education Studies Association, Vol 1(1) August, 2008

Crawford and G. Rossiter, Reasons for living – education and young people’s search for meaning, identity and spirituality, ACER Press, 2006

Deakin Crick, Inquiry-based learning: reconciling the personal with the public in a democratic and archeological pedagogy, The Curriculum Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1, March 2009, 73-92

Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI), owned by the University of Bristol and the Lifelong Learning Federation, at http://www.ellionline.co.uk

Thomas and V. Lockwood, Nurturing the spiritual child: compassion, connection and a sense of self, Early Childhood Australia Inc., Research in Practice Series, Vol. 16., No. 2 2009

http://www.acsa.edu.au/pages/images/Monica%20Bini%20-%20secular%20spirituality.p

Challenging assumptions about play

January 1, 2015

 In the book Play and Pedagogy in Early Childhood: Bending the Rules, authors Sue Docket and Marilyn Fleer challenge four assumptions about play.

The assumptions they challenge are:

  • Play is a characteristic of childhood (Play is a characteristic of childhood. However, thinking of play only in this way may result in a view of play as immature and childish. p.107)
  • Play is carefree and free of constraints (Play is rarely free of constraints. Adults constrain play through the environment they create and the time, space and resources they commit to play as well as though their attitudes towards play. Children place constraints on play when they follow social obligations, set and enforce rules or adhere to patterns displayed by their peers. In addition, adult’s expectations of children, derived from a conceptualisation of childhood as innocent and relatively ignorant, constrain play. p110)
  • Play is pleasant (Many play experiences are pleasant for the players. However, if we are serious in our study of play, we need to recognise the potential negative effects, as well as the positive effects, and to consider what this means for our promotion of play as a universally positive experience for all young children. p.112)
  • Play is characterised by stages of development (Understanding children’s development may provide some useful guidance to understanding children’s play and planning suitable play environments. However, we need to be wary of expecting to see particular patterns of play and then fitting our observations in with our expectations, and wary of ignoring the great diversity among children. p.114)

What evidence supports these assumptions?

What evidence contradicts these assumptions?

Can you identify any other assumptions about play?   What evidence do you find to support your assumptions? What evidence contradicts your assumptions?

Reference:

Dockett, S., & Fleer, M. (1999) Play and Pedagogy in Early Childhood: Bending the Rules. Harcourt Brace. Australia.

Some thoughts on challenging assumptions about play

Is play only a characteristic of childhood or is it indicative of a fundamental human trait? Something childlike does not mean it is immature because that would depend on the child and where our particular observation corresponded to a general schema to guide our understanding of human development.

I am immediately reminded of a quote from Pablo Picasso, “Every child is an artist; the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. I take this to mean that an artist would equate play with intellectual activity, imagination, discovering, and enjoyment of the journey even when it requires effort. To describe play this way is to remove it from notions of immaturity. To think of play in this way is to think of ourselves as an artist and the inextricable link between defining an educator as an artist, as a creator, rather than simply a transmitter and technician.

Play is not carefree and free of constraints; it is an aspect of human behaviour that allows is to appreciate that there are limits that impinge on us whether they be naturally or socially imposed limits. Limitations are a fact of life. Most of what makes us human is culturally communicated and transmitted. Play for children is one of the ways they explore their personal and social world but within an environment that is relatively safe. In this world limits can be tested other children and adults. It is the world of play that allows adults to observe and appreciate the imaginative and social development and maturation of children without the direct imposition or immediate constraints of an adult perspective.

Should play be pleasant; should it be a universally positive experience for young children? The question is begged, what is a ‘positive experience’? A negative or unpleasant experience can be a positive for children’s development. We know that an important aspect of educating is to develop personal resilience and the social understanding that the world is not the pleasant place we might like it, or expect it, to be. One of the roles of the educator, at any stage of development, is to assist this appreciation of the world around us. This is important for developing human agency, and equally, it informs our ideas about the causes of injustices and our need for establishing rights. So, play does not have to be pleasant or positive in the sense that we try to avoid conflict. Through meeting resistance and understanding conflicts we are provoked to ask questions and learn from mistakes.

Play provides the context for observing indicators of social and cognitive development. Professionals have used these indicators to characterise stages of development, and observe behaviours that may indicate that a child has a problem that may need to be addressed if it is to be happy and flourish. The environment for productive play is not one that is imposed by the adults but rather one that supports the understanding that education is communicating, and participating in a dialogue with children. What we consequently discover can assist us to realise opportunities for extending children’s understanding.

Response to Challenging Assumptions about Play and Changing Childhoods: A Changing World.

As the economic world changes so does the social world. This may be stating the obvious but it is important to keep that in mind as it can be seen very clearly in the super- politicised world of the compulsory years of education. There are tendencies within society that can support both positive and negative conceptualisations of childhood. It is not unreasonable to say that to work with children in a supportive and constructive way means to challenge the status quo.

The status quo can be broadly defined as that which is defined by pro-corporate capitalist economic models and pro-corporate formal political systems both of which do not encourage reasonable and sensitive attitudes toward children, and provide their particular construction of childhood. This has been clearly stated by the current federal government in the EYLF which states that the intention is to provide for a more productive nation. Given the prevailing dominance of the free market economy this means maximizing corporate profits. Concurrently the corporatisation (popularly misnamed ‘privatisation’) of childcare puts profit making at the centre of their concerns and the mass media culture assists in the commodification of children and childhood which all impinge on families, children, and practitioners and educators.

The changing patterns of work and life remind us that they are increasingly fragmented or atomized. More mothers and fathers, single and coupled, are participating in part-time and full time work, the absence of child care places, and the cost of childcare create particular expectations of what early childhood education is and should provide. The anxieties of adult social life impact on children and our adult expectations. Many parents understandably see education as a race up the rungs of the ladder of opportunity, and feel that their child must receive appropriate preparation for this race. This is particularly evident in North America where the pressure on children to ‘succeed’ and for testing for that success is virulent. This view negatively impacts on the playful practice of early childhood education.

Play is not a ‘free-for-all’ as non-practitioners, and educators who work beyond the early years often suggest. Play in early childhood allows the practitioner to work with the individual child, and as well, their combined or collective interests. Children bring with them their particular construction of the world, which by virtue of being a social being correspond in many ways with the constructions of others.

Play provides opportunities for children to explore and build on their own interests at their own emotional, and cognitive pace. That is, when there is a readiness to move beyond where they may currently be at any moment in those respects. It is this idea that informs the Zone of Proximal Development suggested by Vygotsky. This approach also corresponds with the Reggio Approach developed with Loris Malaguzzi. Equally this play approach is a critical teacher for the educator. Careful observation and critical regard of children’s emerging ideas and activity informs practice and where the direction of content, mindful of their playful environment, should proceed.

How have political events shaped education policy and the production of regulatory and quality frameworks in Australia?

December 30, 2014

How have political events shaped education policy and the production of regulatory and quality frameworks in Australia? What effects may this have on how and who you can ‘become’ as an early childhood professional?

Political events will always shape our society and culture generally. Politics is the activity of organising people and society to achieve purposeful collective outcomes. What these outcomes may be, and how they will be achieved, and who for, is defined as ideology. Politics per se should not be defined primarily by political parties and parliamentary participation; organised people, community members, trade unions, involved in extra-parliamentary activity have and can also significantly shaped early childhood policy and regulatory outcomes.

The State (the rule of law, parliaments and local government, the military and paramilitary) mediates the expressed interests of the contending parties. The State is the product of the means to achieving said social organisation which is partly defined by policy and regulations

Policy as quality and regulation while expressed through the transactions of The State machinery is shaped by the relative power of contending forces that work under and within its mandates. While the current federal government works to protect the market and the needs of corporate business and power it must, as an emperor sans culottes, must attempt to disguise prevarication and counter reforms as an ‘Education Revolution’.

Current ALP policy is a reminder that policy rhetoric and actual practice need to be interrogated if we are to make sense of the political landscape; what political and departmental representatives say they mean and what they do should never be taken at face value.

‘Productivity’, the business person’s and politician’s euphemism for ‘corporate profits’, informs the direction of ALP policy for children and education. The former deputy prime minister in addressing corporate business groups says it as it really is;

‘In today’s world’, she told a gathering of the Australian Industry Group, ‘the areas covered by my portfolios – early childhood education and childcare, schooling, training, universities, social inclusion, employment participation and workplace cooperation – are all ultimately about the same thing: productivity’. …. Further to the point ‘I’m going to be ignoring the old battles between unions and employers, public and private schools (taxpayer-funded-non-government-schools), the trades and universities and welfare and work’ … ‘Instead, I’m going to be measuring policies against the all-important criteria of how effectively they increase national productivity.’ (Dusevic 2009)

The question now is what should be done and by whom? For advocates and activists the real questions are; what are Australian governments hiding; where are the support and resources for; children who are having social, emotional or academic difficulties; school libraries and librarians; science and art rooms; maintaining and cleaning schools and care for gardens; to incorporate the creative arts, music, and dance? Why are essentially human activities regarded as distinct to literacy and numeracy, and good learning generally? These questions tell us quite a deal about what quality may mean. Is there a connection between the absences and regulation?

The view of education implied by the likes of PM Gillard is a default setting for a second-rate, standardised mass education for the mass of the people, the working class. Are Australian governments (COAG) the best advocates for school improvement? Do they assists to raise the sights and standards of teacher moral and professional learning. How does the Ministerial Council’s (MCEETYA) ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians’ compare to the past two declarations?

How do we argue for, and provide a choice between an education worthy us of us all, as creative citizens, rather than a mass education suitable only for entraining teachers, students and the masses for the needs of corporations? For these choices to be made there needs to be a voice alerting our communities to other possibilities. This is the role of the early childhood teacher who regards themselves as an activist and advocate.

Dusevic, T. 2009, The Great Gillard Experiment, The Best Australian Political Writing 2009, MUP.

Mal-nutrition

December 28, 2014

A letter sent to the Canberra Times (Australian Capital Territory, Australia) in response to the Education Minister’s call to ‘crackdown’ on vending machines in schools.

Fat lot of good it’ll do

August 29, 2014

Vending machines and school canteens in public schools are once again the easy target in the ”war” on obesity (”Crackdown on school junk food: vending machines may go”, August 25, p3).

I do not know how many vending machines are left in schools but it cannot be so many as to be a significant contributor to the high sugar diets that too many people subject themselves to. The school canteen is another issue. They are expensive to run and there is a slim profit margin. The commercial imperative pushes canteen contractors down the junk food path. It would be a mistake to think that either of these is a significant causal contributor to the mal-nutrition that plagues Western diets. In fact it could be argued that it is obfuscation and avoidance of more significant issues.

The problem begins in the profit-driven corporate food manufacture and distribution, and the general anti-social character of our working lives.

Lunchboxes that come from home are loaded with disturbing amounts of high sugar and salt items. Chocolates and chips were once occasional treats but they have now become a lunchbox staple. Time-poor parents are attracted to these substitutes for good food because they are generally dressed up to appear healthy and are packaged to fit in a lunchbox.

If the Territory government were serious about addressing obesity and diet amongst our most vulnerable people, children, then it would need to initiate a campaign against all advertising of high sugar and salt ”food” in much the same way that tobacco has been dealt with. In the long run it will be only radical social change in the conduct of our daily lives and the manner of food production that can begin to address these multiple concerns.

Early Childhood and curriculum

March 5, 2010

My critical reflection on the ‘fit’ between my own approach to early childhood, the current national political agendas in early childhood education, and the curriculum framework that I am required to work within’.

I am yet to work in the early childhood area however I have had the opportunity to run a Prep/1/2 using the principles of the approach of Reggio Emelia for two years. A situation that would similar to Victoria and the ACT where they are introducing integrated maternity services, childcare, and K to 2 learning places. My practice could be defined as respecting and valuing the ideas of children; emphasising the critical role of communication and relationships for productive learning, and learning to be a learner; art as the primary medium for the expression of children’s thinking; a pace of learning that is in accord with the needs of the particular children; and so, appreciating the different roles this means for teachers. My situation then included team teaching in the classroom and the support of a visiting part-time teacher conversant with the emergent curriculum, and close collaboration and integration with the Art and Garden teacher’s program.

These experiences convinced me that there are better ways to organise public education that is conducive to maximising children’s happiness and flourishing, and that with appropriate support it can be achieved. At this time I was also responsible for overseeing the introduction of Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) and the Principles of Learning and Teaching (PoLT) within the school. The VELS is the curriculum framework and the PoLT addresses the pedagogical questions around student and teacher engagement and curriculum relevance. Many committed and engaged teachers greeted this curriculum reform with enthusiasm. I was fortunate enough to have participated with a number of these teachers in forums under the auspice of the Victorian Curriculum Assessment Authority.

I remain with the conviction that what we were doing at that school in Prep to 2 was in complete accord with the intention of the VELS and PoLT. For me education means power through knowledge. My interest in education came about partly due to a lifetime of overcoming the sense of failure that my own (non-government) school experience had left me with. I had been encouraged to enter teaching at a time when the Thinking Curriculum was de rigueur. I had a background in community arts, where I had first come across the work of Paulo Freire the Brazilian educator who had illuminated the way in adult literacy and political agency – he coined the phrase ‘Reading the word; reading the world’. While at Latrobe University I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to study Philosophy with Children as a part of my philosophy degree. It was here I found the work of Dewey and Vygotsky. It is all these experiences, and others, that inform my approach to Early Childhood.

In many respects I believe my pedagogical approach is in accord with the aims and intentions of the VELS and the PoLT and the Early Childhood Blueprint which has the vision of providing the means for the holistic development of young children from Year 0 to Year 8 to develop “optimal health and wellbeing”. However I do believe that government Blueprints are one thing and the actuality in schools and learning places for preschool children another. The Victorian Government has been working closely with Early Childhood Victoria and its national office to implement the National Early Childhood Learning Framework. In this regard dues must be given to the latter organisation for keeping the bureaucracy up to the mark and the government honest, so to speak.

I believe as practioners and educators we have an obligation to meet the standards being set by these various blueprints and frameworks. However many of the methods being employed by departmental and regional bureaucrats to improve quality are counter-productive to building teacher confidence and self-respect. If we are to be respected as professionals, and build the profession we need to be prepared to challenge and argue against these pedagogical and industrial counter-reforms that determine so much of what happens in practice. If we wish to recognise the social and political agency of children, preparing them for their active adult participation so necessary for a democracy, then we as the current adults must also actively model our agency in democratic classrooms and learning places.


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