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Culture diversity in early childhood education
: sex roles and gender bias
In spite of substantial assessment of gender and gender equity within early childhood education
, gender inequity remains problematic in many early childhood
settings. Using qualitative methods, the study reported in this article investigated four early childhood
teachers' understandings about gender and their commitment to promoting gender equity. It adopted a triangulated investigation of the teachers' understandings, attitudes and commitment to gender equity that involved talking with the teachers about their practice, observing their pedagogic practice, and inviting them to reflect on gender-based scenarios. While the participants believed gender to be a significant issue for early childhood
teachers, their understandings about a lot of aspects of gender and gender equity were heavily grounded in socialization theory. In addition, their reliance on socialization theory seemed to contribute to a sense of fatalism regarding their capacity for intervention. The study concludes that engaging with feminist poststructuralist theory may enhance teachers' understanding about gender and gender equity and offer a way of intervening effectively at the local level. (MacNaughton, G. (2000)
Changing period and postmodern perspectives have disrupted the taken-for-granted association between child growth knowledge and the training of early childhood
teachers. Despite ongoing exchanges about how best to respond to the critique of the developmental knowledge base, few descriptions of how particular teacher educators have gone about reconceptualizing their curriculum exist. Employing postmodern views of knowledge, power, and subjectivity, this article describes three pedagogies employed by the authors to enact a postmodern teacher education
. After describing each of these pedagogies--situating knowledge, multiple readings, and engaging with images--an example from classroom practice is given to illustrate how these strategies come together to assist students to understand how teaching enacts power relations. The article concludes with a discussion of some of the challenges involved in trying to shift from developmental to postmodern practices in the preparation of early childhood
educators. (MacNaughton, G. (1998)
With the globalization of economies and cultures, contemporary social life is characterized more by hybridity rather than similarity. As a consequence, there is increasing recognition of diversity and minority groups and children are being raised in a range of family circumstances (extended, sole parent, gay, and step families. At the same time, accessible technologies such as the computer and the Internet are transforming social relations and providing children and families with new means of communicating and learning. Because of these social changes, children enter the classroom with a wide variety of experiences, making a focus on patterns of growth and what is developmentally appropriate increasingly difficult to discern, let alone apply. Postmodern views of knowledge and inquiry have not only accompanied these changing times but are also disrupting the taken-for-granted relationship between child development knowledge and the preparation of early childhood
teachers. Drawing on a range of theoretical perspectives (critical theory, postcolonial theory, poststructuralism) and tools of analysis (e.g., deconstruction), postmodern scholars question the modern belief in the power of science to objectively determine the universal laws of human development. As an alternative, science is viewed as a social construction, imbued with the values of its creators and therefore enacting a particular set of power relations in its application. In the world of early education
, postmodern examinations of the developmental knowledge base have shown that the research being used to frame practice has been conducted predominantly on homogenous (White, middle-class) student populations, with little attention to the ways culture and class mediate patterns of growth. Similarly, critical analyses of developmentally appropriate practice demonstrate that the use of a set of guidelines grounded in hierarchical theories of growth results in teachers overlooking childhood
agency and regulating children's learning to what is considered to be "normal".
The world of early childhood
teacher preparation has attempted to act in response to these social and intellectual forces in two ways. First, in answer to what other knowledges teachers might need to know if they are to respond effectively to increasingly diverse student populations and contemporary social issues, several scholars have suggested the inclusion of ideas and concepts drawn from other disciplines. In this way, teachers can be provided with an understanding of early education
from historical, political, sociological, and philosophical perspectives. Recognition of the validity of practitioners' personal knowledge and the gap between child development research and classroom practice has also led teacher educators to use teachers' theories and research in their programs. A second approach to reforming the teacher preparation curriculum has been to incorporate more contemporary knowledge and research from developmental psychology that describes children's development in context and from sociocultural perspectives. Thus, where there has been reaction to the post- modern critique of the early childhood
knowledge base, it has been to add updated versions of child development theory and research, along with other disciplinary insights on children's learning. (Browne, N. (2004)
Even though the assimilation of other knowledges about children's learning is important, this additive approach has resulted in child development retaining its prominent position in the curriculum. A continuing reliance on child development knowledge raises several concerns, however. The first of these is the ongoing lack of resolution about whether developmentally appropriate practice is, and can be, inclusive of all children's learning styles and, therefore, whether it should be promoted as the base for best practice. A second and related concern is that most programs of early childhood
teacher preparation currently in operation offer little, if any, coursework in linguistic and cultural diversity and the education
of children with disabilities. Thus, many future early childhood
teachers are not necessarily learning about diversity and the limitations of a developmental lens for addressing the multiple ways children develop. Finally, there is an additional concern that has been catalyzed by the current policy focus on "harnessing" early education
as a means to ensure children's ongoing educational success. In an effort to shift the focus of preschool programs away from care to education
, policies such as Good Start, Grow Smart are pushing for a retooling of the early childhood
professional preparation system to educate teachers who both have a command of domain-specific knowledge and are able to use research-proven practices to ensure that all children are prepared academically for formal schooling.
Regardless of the differences flanked by critics of the developmental knowledge base and current policy makers about the purposes of early education
, the current social and political context is demanding that early childhood
teachers are able to respond effectively to the diverse ways of knowing and learning that they will encounter in their classrooms. Although the problem of how to address the issue of teaching for diversity is not new to teacher preparation, we contend that by infusing postmodern perspectives into the curriculum, students and teacher educators alike are able to gain an understanding of the politics of their work as well as the roles that they and the educational system play in perpetuating educational inequities. A postmodern orientation assumes that all knowledge in its use exercises power relationships and that even knowledge of culture, disability, gender, and class can limit some students' learning. Rather than exploring diversity as a topic in and of itself, therefore, a postmodern approach urges teachers to consider the values and interests framing classroom practices, to view teaching and learning interactions from more than one perspective, and to think about how else they might respond pedagogically. (Alloway, N. (1999)
At the same time as the teachers understood gender to be significant, they seemed to underestimate its impact on children. They talked primarily about boys when discussing gender issues, identifying rough, overt, nonconforming, loud, violent and intimidating behaviors. Quiet, passive and withdrawn behavior was less often identified as illustrative of gender enactment. Therefore, the detrimental effect of gender enactment was less likely to be recognized and addressed in quiet, passive and subservient children, thus allowing the dominant discourse to be continually reproduced, and its acceptance reinforced. The teachers discussed how gender could limit development by dictating participation in particular areas. They referred at length to male domination of particular play spaces (block play, gross motor play, and manipulative play). However, the perceived effect of that domination was restricted in many respects to what boys were missing out on, rather than the inhibiting effect of their domination on girls and non-hegemonic boys in the setting. There was little reference made to the negative effect of domination and use of power and the resultant displacement of less powerful groups, although participants wanted to make play spaces equitable, so that all children had access to all available resources. The teachers' philosophies concerning gender equity often centered on the ideal of achieving equal division of space and resources. They considered non-segregated play, mixed-sex interactions, and shared resources and spaces as definitive of a gender-equitable program. Segregation was identified as an indicator of inequity, and freedom of choice and participation as an indicator of equity.( Goffin, S. (1996)
The use of an evolving query process and children's literature to ask hard questions about gender bias has proven productive in a variety of settings associated with a teacher education
program (e.g., campus-based, junior level education
methods courses; field-based liaison work with interns, residents, and mentor teachers; master's and doctoral level education
courses; and staff development activities with veteran teachers). For several reasons, the relative presence of gender bias in children's literature was a viable focus for inquiry. It aligned with the literacy methods courses that precede the year in the field. Finding evidence to support a hypothesis about gender bias in the books of the 1990s was an accessible--and interesting--exercise for both children and adults. The issue of gender bias was suitably complex, yet readily transportable, so that the inquiry process continued in new settings of interest to the participants. The stories collected about the use of this intervention suggest that having to ask hard questions discouraged students from being complacent and that the emergent inquiry strategy provided a subtle reminder of the lasting presence of gender stereotypes. (Goldstein, L. S. (1997)
Alloway, N. (1999). Surveillance or personal empowerment? Macro and micro politics of gender and schooling, in B. Kamler (Ed.), Constructing gender and difference: Critical research perspectives on early childhood
(pp. 153-166). Cresskill: Hampton.
Browne, N. (2004). Gender equity in the early
years. Maidenhead, England: Open University Press.
Goffin, S. (1996). Child development knowledge and early childhood
teacher preparation: Assessing the relationship--A special collection. Early Childhood
Research Quarterly, 11, 117-133.
Goldstein, L. S. (1997). Teaching with love: A feminist approach to early childhood education
. New York: Peter Lang.
MacNaughton, G. (1998). Improving our gender- equity 'tools': A case for discourse analysis. In N. Yelland (1998). Gender in early childhood
(pp. 149-174). London and New York: Routledge.
MacNaughton, G. (2000). Rethinking gender in early childhood education
. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin.
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