The first post in this series of 3 posts argued that pedagogy is the space where we analyse, enquire, evaluate and reflect on the way we work with children. It criticised approaches that only value children who can pass developmental tests and that use these tests to segregate children. The second post posed questions concerning our ideas of ‘quality’ and critiqued technical rational ideas of ‘quality’ that disempower professionals and children. in this final post, John Davis begins to put forward an alternative approach that ask readers to consider how we might enable a holistic, anti-discriminatory, socially just and inclusive pedagogy.
Macmillan encouraged us to avoid assuming that what was in our adult mind was in a child’s mind. Her work promoted the concept of children’s perspectives. Her practice was underpinned by notions of ‘participation’ that encouraged children to adopt leadership roles within their settings. She liked to inventively utilise things that existed in the environment as sources of learning e.g. things the builders left behind. As such, she was very different to the prescriptive and adult led approaches of Montessori.
Now-a-days, people talk about ‘child centred learning’ but what does that term mean? Jane Read argues that Froebel’s ideas were shaped by his own childhood, where his life was very serious. His own parents were rigid, he was a pastor’s son, and his parents believed play would send you on the wrong path. His up-bringing was isolated – not loving – and he was blamed for things that went wrong. Like most children who experience punitive regimes, Froebel acted up to the way adults expected him to behave. Left to his own devices, Froebel loved the garden, animals, insects etc. and this led to his focus on out-door play.
Froebel went to live with his uncle and aunt and realised there was a different more loving way to be with children (regular readers of this blog might see connections here with my own childhood see previous post here and here). His uncle had a different idea of God – a loving God. From this perspective, Froebel developed the idea that there was not one, single, way to do life, family or religion. In a similar way, Our BA Childhood Practice course discusses the work of Montessori, Owen and MacMillan with the aim of showing that: no one theory has all the answers; that any theory has pros/cons and that different theories can be employed for different aspects of our work. But in doing so, our course also points out that some theories encourage professionals to questions issues of power, poverty and social justice – where as other theories do not.
For example, our Childhood Theory course questions the gender discrimination that existed in early attachment theory. This course critiques attachment theory assumptions concerning the role of men and women. Jane Read’s explanation of the power relationships in Froebel’s family also demonstrates that love and security do not come automatically from parents – especially parents who are living very difficult lives.
Our Children and Family course on the BA Childhood Practice takes this further to examine the structural, cultural and individual reasons that help or hinder children’s family lives. This course considers the power relations experienced within and by families; identifies diverse family types; and poses questions for students concerning how their own perspectives of family impact on their practice. The course also: challenges processes of ‘parent blaming’; critically appraises GIRFEC assessment; poses questions for students concerning whether they (in their professional roles) act as ‘storm troopers for the state’; and invites students to reflect on how concepts such as strength-based working connect with practices of ‘minimum’ intervention in family life.
Jane Read argues that Macmillan’s work raises questions about how good intentions (e.g. to address issues of child poverty) can simply lead to greater surveillance involving middle class judgment of working-class families (for more on surveillance and the named person service see our blog post here). Our Integrated Working in Children’s Services course considers the political context of family support, in relation to: information sharing; joint planning and removal of the structural barriers to children’s learning . This course combines research on the Getting It Right for Every Child strategy and the Additional Support for Learning Act when asking students to analyse case studies concerning disability, young carers, participatory mental health services, new community schools, joint assessment, etc.
Our Integrated Working in Children’s Services course critically analyses theories of social capital and social inclusion which have traditionally led some professions to take a deficit view of children. Deficit views expect children from specific back grounds to be troublesome – in contrast, our pedagogy assumes all children have abilities what ever their identity, backgrounds and living conditions. This course asks professionals to understand how different types of compensatory, developmental and preventative services can remove barriers to learning, and, to questions the nature of the support services that are employed to ameliorate barriers to learning.
The course includes international case examples of how middle-class white professionals have failed to engage with indigenous families in North America and invites students to understand that people who hold ancient notions (e.g. that connect learning to family relationships; community engagement/selflessness; respect for the natural environment,; ancestral bonds to the land; and nature/spirit embodiment) may not agree with professional plans, strategies and assessments the impinge on their cultural understanding or ways of being.
This course poses questions about what an empathetic holistic pedagogy might look like. And, how this pedagogy might engage with issues of: family poverty, complex barriers to learning and the different cultural contexts of families’ lives. Sections of this course draw from specific Canadian case studies to ask professionals to reflect on what a community-led service looks like and to questions whether staff have in-depth knowledge of and ties to the communities where they work.
This course also invites students to: question notions of learning that only focus on individuals ‘weaknesses’. It critically unpacks Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory and considers the everyday politics of GIRFEC processes e.g. co-location, shared budgets, the ‘my world triangle’ and the resilience matrix. See this link here for a recent blog post that questions processes of GIRFEC assessment and information sharing in the context of the Children and Young People Act.
The vast majority of students on the BA Childhood practice degree come from non-traditional back grounds and are mature students. Our degree (from start to finish) enables students to analyse their own learning issues and capabilities It invites them to consider the barriers to learning that they have previously encountered in their own lives and to understand how these barriers have been and can be overcome.
Whilst we promote a holistic approach to the removal of learning barriers – we also encourage students to reflect on the limitation of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory (the main theory that underpins GIRFEC). Ecological Systems Theory is critiqued on the basis that it sometimes leads professionals to blame learning issues (such as the attainment gap) on a parent’s or the child’s perceived ‘failings’. Professionals do so, at the expense of understanding that it may be their own professional or personal practices that have created a barrier to learning (e.g. their imposition of rigid pedagogy, adoption of inflexible curriculum, insensitive approach to childhood difference, or, over emphasis of a ‘pet’ learning theory).
We encourage our students to recognise that a holistic analysis of learning barriers should include an analysis of their own practice. A difficult balance has to be struck here. Sometimes socio-economic issue create barriers to learning and yet some-times it is professional attitudes that are the problem. E.g. some teachers blame children’s learning issues on things that they (the teacher) cannot ‘control’ (e.g. the socio-economics of the ‘society’ we live in) rather than reflexively analyse whether their own practice creates barriers to learning. Yet, children tell us that it is adult attitudes, as much as poverty, that inhibits their learning.
In addition to socio-economic issues, children identify learning barriers with the way teachers speak to them, a lack of choice in the classroom, adult stigmatisation of child poverty (some teachers have called specific pupils in their class ‘benefits street’ children) and/or a failures to utilise inclusive learning activities that show awareness of the children’s life circumstances. We challenge our students to consider how their behaviour and attitudes impinge on different children. When doing this, we connect our student’s to Australian notions of productive pedagogy (see link here), EU resources related to inclusive curriculum (see link here) and our own work on inclusion, transition and integrated working (see link here). These resources ask professionals to: be more thoughtful about their practice; enable children to lead creative learning activities and; connect the curriculum to children’s diverse cultures.
Educational research tells us that some professionals: fail to engage with children’s cultures, have lower expectations regarding children from specific backgrounds and fail to understand how their own prejudices make children feel unwanted, disliked, unappreciated or disrespect. In the end, blame games are unhelpful – therefore, our courses encourage students to recognise that no one issues leads to the attainment gap and that a balance of individual, cultural and structural barriers need to be addresses if we are to enable children to reduce this gap.
Jane Read argues (In a somewhat Popperian way) that Froebel’s gifts enabled children to think in oppositional ways (to question and to enquire). The difference between our courses and old fashioned psychology – is that old fashioned psychology is miss-used by some professionals to restrict, rather than, recognise children’s abilities. Piaget was keen for professionals to recognise young children’s aptitude for discovery learning – yet some professionals use his work to support the rigid imposition of age defined learning spaces that limited children’s opportunities for self-led learning.
It is possible to connect Froebel’s gifts to Piagetian notions concerning sensory learning in the early years. Piaget’s schemas involve four distinct stages of development including sensorimotor birth – 2 years, preoperational 2-7, concrete operational 7 – 11 and formal operational 11+). Piaget argued that these schemas were the building blocks for children’s intelligent behaviour and that these were interconnected and governed by a core meaning.
The idea of children’s stages of learning is useful but it can also be problematic (see Erica Burman’s critique of developmental psychology here). Disability research demonstrates that psychological theory is particularly problematic in relation to disabled children and Childhood Studies research problematizes the assumption that adults (being more ‘mature’ than children) should be the experts about children’s needs, wants and expectations. I critiqued psychological approaches to disabled children in my 2011 book on Integrated Working in Children’s Services:
Traditional psychological approaches have been heavily criticised for lacking an understanding of cultural diversity and imposing adult ideas of what children should be (Alderson 2000). They have also been criticised for failing to fully assess the social context of children’s behaviour e.g. many of these approaches employ simplistic tick box scales that take a few minutes to asses a child’s ‘problem’ (Davis 2006). A number of writers indicate that services often place disabled children into processes where they develop a learned dependency on service providers (Alderson 1993, Swain 1993). For example, Very often parents and disabled children are initiated by medical professionals into a medical culture which does not allow space for them to challenge traditional orthodoxy and that fails to recognise conflicts of interests between children, parents and professionals, (Avery 1999, Mayall 1998, Shakespeare & Watson 1998). In the main, adults are deemed ‘experts’ and children are assumed to be unable to put forward their own solutions to their own life problems. This very often leads adults to make decisions about children’s lives without consulting them, or assuming that they know what is best for children. Children’s problems are identified and resolved by parents and/or professionals and ownership of their own choices is taken away from children (Davis and Watson 2000). For example, in the health field too much emphasis is placed on adult/parent’s views at the expense of understanding the things that disabled children and young people want to change about the services that they encounter. In the most part, this has occurred because a perception exists that disabled children are unable to put forward their own views and that they lack competency and agency (Bricher 2001, Robinson 1997 Shakespeare & Watson 1998, Davis & Watson 2000, Corker & Davis 2000). This perception has come about because much of the health based literature concentrates on illustrating the things disabled children cannot do (e.g. how they fail to achieve developmental ‘norms’), rather than understanding their skills and abilities (Bricher 2001, Priestly 1998, Woodhead and Faulkner 2000, Alderson 2000).
Our Health and Wellbeing course on the BA Childhood Practice analyses processes of ‘norm’ enforcement and failures to recognise children’s capabilities. It encourages professionals to recognise the dangers of enforced health messages and the history of professionals sexistly blaming women for children’s health problems. Berry Mayall’s (see link here) book Children, Health and the Social Order is particularly critical of the way that working-class women have traditionally been blamed for their children’s poor health.
Similar techniques of blame and shame were employed in Canada to remove First Nation children from their families. Our course also analyses the tendency for middle-class health professionalise to hypocritically promote practice that they do not live up to in their own personal lives, whilst ignoring the impacts of poverty, dis-empowerment and poor living environments on children and families.
Our Health and Wellbeing course employs the work of Trevarthen (and colleagues) to encourage students to critique rigid notions of attachment, analyse the inter-subjective nature of babies learning, problematize fads like Brain Gym and recognise scare mongering around notions of development. It encourages students to recognise the importance, for early learning development, of relationship building activities such as rhyme and music. This course also looks at how health inequalities cause barriers to learning (including case studies of migrant and traveller families) and how poverty and local power relations prevent access to healthy, well-resourced and outdoor play spaces.
Those interested in the connection between poverty, place, class and health inequality might be interest in my previous blog posts written with my friend Christina Millarvie-Quarrell on: power within healthy relationships (see link here); perspective taking empathy, compassionate relationships and shame (see link here); ‘man up’ philosophies and mental health (see link here); and disempowerment, illnesses of despair, the Glasgow Effect and the Life of Benny Lynch (see link here).
The Scottish government recently announced funding for more inclusive nurseries. But, it remains to be seen how effective these resources will be at enabling disabled children to attend their local nursery. There is a danger that the expansion of early years services will lead to the segregation of disabled children from their local peer group because do not have locally accessible and inclusive settings.
Froebel promoted a pedagogy that embraced the diversity of natural environments and the diverse nature of childhoods. He sought to promote unity and inclusion – but, as MacMillan indicates, this becomes problematic in specific socio-economic contexts. By combining Froebel and MacMillan ideas we raise a number of pressing questions for our students e.g.:
- How inclusive are modern early learning and play settings?
- Are early learning and play settings meaningful, sensitive and sophisticated in the way they engage with diverse cultures?
- Is the thinking that under pins our practice related to gimmicks or based on an understanding of the pros and cons of a wide range of theories?
We think of Froebel’s ideas when we encourage students to use oppositional thinking to question the pros and cons of different approaches. In a ‘post-modern’ world, this attention to diversity and complexity is important. it is important because no one approach works for the complexity of children’s identities and no one child’s way of being totally fits with any single learning theory. Hence, professionals need to adapt quickly to the choices that children make in front of them. Professionals need to be flexible in their practice – in order to enable children to follow through with their interests, rather than adult agendas.
Jane Read argues that Froebel placed importance on the role of parents in child development in a way that blended his adapted religious ideas with notions from Romantic Pantheism. Frobel emphasised; the spiritual significance of the natural world; the importance of perception and intuition; a new vision of family life; a new view of the child; and new ideas concerning the beauty of unity. Similarly, with the changing nature of marriage and greater engagement with LGBT rights, rigid notions of the family (as involving a man, a woman and a child/children) need to be questioned in our contemporary early years and play settings and professionals need to avoid assuming that a child’s parents have different genders.
Froebel’s ideas emerged at a time of great political unrest (including the French Revolution 1789 -1799). His work was banned for connecting religion, politics and atheism. A Nursery World article by Julian Grenier (see link here) tells us that Froebel died wondering if his ideas would survive:
Froebel died feeling deeply anxious about the future of his life work, as the Prussian state moved to outlaw his methods. Yet his great, radical theories and practices survived: his organisational flair, evidenced in his successful calling together of a German-wide convention of teachers, spread his approach widely. Persecution in Prussia did not kill off the movement, but rather dispersed the teachers across the world. Across Europe and especially in America, the kindergarten flourished. Through principled resistance and some deft political footwork, Keilhau survived both Nazi oppression and the enforced conformism of communist East Germany. Artefacts and documents were hidden behind panelling: the ideals never died.
In England, Pantheism was associated with poets such as Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge:
A sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850).
Poets who connected objects of nature to human emotions (such as weeping or wondering clouds) seek to invoke a sense of movement (see link to Paul Harrison blog here for more on this). Such ideas, can also be seen in the work of DH Lawrence and the Bronte sisters. McFarlane identifies different strains of contemporary rural romanticism (e.g. home county NIMBYism versus new age traveller escapism see link here). He indicates that, in England, these ideas have been sneered at by the right wing press – for promoting a naïve idea concerning nature:
‘When, for instance, Alice Oswald’s book-length poem “Dart”, which follows the river Dart from its source to its mouth, was read recently on Radio 4, it provoked a snidely flippant attack from AN Wilson. “Thanks to Wordsworth,” Wilson sneered from his eyrie in the Daily Telegraph in March, “we all have the idea that ‘poets’ ought to be country dwellers, ought to live up lanes and use a bucket for a lavatory.” Nature writing of this sort, he continued, “appeals to all that is gentlest and best in us, the lovers of unwrecked England”.’
Drawing from Richard Mabey, McFarlane argues that such criticism overlooks the sense of belonging that comes from our connection with the land:
Vanished is writing motivated by an interest in duchthas, the Gaelic word that means something like “the sense of belonging in a place”. And vanished is writing that might help us to reacquire, even temporarily, the sense of inhabitation and attunement out of which modernity has hustled us.
When we draw from Froebel’s ideas to promote learning in, with and through nature – we are not naïve. We, deliberately, seek to eschew the cynicism of the right-wing London centric press. When we connect early years and play pedagogy to our very routes of Scottishishness, our past connection with the land and our sense of identity, it is not naivety that we express – but our right, in keeping with ideas of social justice and reconciliation, to have people recognise our current and past dislocation from our communities.
Rather than a genetic thing, we see Scottishness as something interconnected to ideas within other nations and places. Indeed, this blog has, on many occasions, unpack the contemporary meaning of Scottishness that came to international attention during the 2014 referendum. Whatever their genetic and geographic history, this contemporary meaning attributes Scottishness to people that live, love and labour here.
When we draw from Froebel to develop our pedagogy – we connect to historical ideas in other countries, yet, we also draw from our own history. Our pedagogy seeks to support young children to confidently grow up with a sense of what it means to belong to a specific space, place, or, community. We hope that they can experience what it feels like to be related (through kinships or co-location) to other people; and to have the collective right to make use of their local outdoor spaces and natural environments.
Previously, I employed the writing of Norman Maclean to explain the importance of rhythm (rather than repetition) for learning. Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my admiration for Maclean. Norman Fitzroy Maclean (b: December 23, 1902 – d: August 2, 1990) was hugely proud of his Scots heritage and he talked of how his family had moved from Scotland From the Isle of Mull (Southern Hebrides) via Fairbanks Alaska and Nova Scotia, Canada, to relocate in Missoula, Montana (in 1909). Maclean wrote about the land, water, words and unity (see my blog posts on his approach to writing here and here):
Maclean worked at the University of Chicago, where the School of Literary Criticism emerged in the 1930s. He argued, following Aristotle, that we should value the unity, structure and form that literature, poetry and art expressed (the way the parts of a work come together as a whole) rather than concentrate on analysing the nature of the language used within a piece of writing…. …..Maclean’s advice came from home schooling (especially in the art of fly fishing) and from the bunk-rooms of the woods of Montana (where he worked in early adulthood). Maclean suggests that if you want people to stay with your story it better have: high adventure, accuracy, and interest. He also argued that stories should: be speedy; depict what you know best; unpack the feeling of doing (performing); involve beauty; have a unifying structure and utilise the principles of design. Maclean depicted writing as an inexact craft, as a journey, as process of discovery and as an artistic endeavour. Maclean’s work sought not to judge others (though at times it was judgemental). Maclean sought to understand, represent and give feeling to life’s core meanings. Where Orwell mercilessly taunted his opponent, Maclean sought to mystically enchant his reader, employing the magic of words to kindle, convey and convince.
Maclean valued the ambiguities of life (see link here). He, like Froebel, believed that natural world beauty touches you inside. Maclean, loved his Scottish ancestry, loved matriarchal Scottish women and associated Scottishness with using your hands (as well as issues of migration, strength and faith). Maclean utilised connections, movement and time when seeking to write a convincing story. Maclean, in a critique of commodity and ‘production’ ideas of writing, argued that it was not how much you wrote that mattered but what had changed in the world because you had lived. In so doing, he promoted a more meaningful criteria from which to judge our efforts that involved beauty, innovation and change.
Previously in this blog I have discussed how Karl Weick (see link here) builds on Maclean’s work to define wisdom as something able to deal with ambiguity and as something diverse and different from notions of the correct/appropriate way to behave.
Wisdom is an attitude taken by persons toward the beliefs, values, knowledge, information, abilities, and skills that are held, a tendency to doubt that these are necessarily true or valid and to doubt that they are an exhaustive set of those things that could be known. In a fluid world, wise people know that they don’t fully understand what is happening right now, because they have never seen precisely this event before. Extreme confidence and extreme caution both can destroy what organizations most need in changing times, namely, curiosity, openness, and complex sensing. Hopefully the connections between this concept of wisdom and our qualifications is plain for you to see.
There is a tendency in writing on childhood and education to look to Scandinavia and other countries for wisdom. The tendency to look for solutions to our Scottish problems in other countries is ok, as long as we do this in a critical way. There is no doubt that Scandic approaches can give us useful insights. For example, some Scandic children are much more connected with the land than their Scottish counter parts. Similarly, in New Zealand, the Te Whāriki Early Childhood curriculum seeks to connect early learning with the wisdom of indigenous culture. Like Froebel (and Highlanders and First Nation People), the Te Whāriki Early Childhood curriculum seeks to enable children to learn though nature, land and the environment.
A central aspects of this curriculum involves the indigenous concept of self-empowerment:
English words may not always be completely defined in Māori terms, there are differences between the Māori and English text in some instances. For example, one of the Principles of Te Whāriki is ‘empowerment’ which is translated into Māori as ‘whakamana’. The English meaning of ‘empowerment’ concerns a hierarchical control by someone above (e.g. adults) on those below (e.g. children) and endowing or granting those below with what they have. Whereas Māori understanding of whakamana concerns not something to be given or imposed by someone in higher authority but is more about reciprocity and supporting the capacity of children through listening, guiding, and respecting. (See link here)
Aspects of the Te Whāriki curriculum, that are relevant to Froebel’s work, include:
- Mana Whenua: Children and their families feel a sense of belonging
- Mana Tangata: Opportunities for learning are equitable, and each child’s contribution is valued.
- Mana Reo: the languages and symbols of their own and other cultures are promoted and protected.
- Mana Aotūroa: the child learns through active exploration of the environment.
The key goals of this curriculum are: that children’s lives are understood holistically (e.g. as the whole child, mind, emotions, creativity, history and social identity); that we connect notions of children experience with the environment (e.g. we value outdoor play as meaningful learning); that we recognise the importance of spontaneous play; that children gain confidence in and control of their bodies; that children learn strategies for active exploration, thinking, and reasoning; and that children develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical, and material worlds.
These words seem full of wisdom, yet, we should never assume that approaches used in other countries are somehow ‘better’ than our own. We should never assume that these countries do not have their own ‘issues’ regarding equity and social justice. For example, in some Scandic countries the past treatment of disabled and Romani people (particularly Women) has been very discriminatory and discrimination against Māori folk has not disappeared, simply, because New Zealand has a more culturally sensitive curriculum.
Indeed, on a recent visit to New Zealand, some Māori early years specialists explained that not all aspects of the Te Whāriki curriculum have been introduced in the manner originally agreed and that many teachers do not have the necessary cultural or linguistic knowledge to promote the key cultural meanings of the curriculum (see link here). Other critiques include: that the curriculum has not been properly evaluated; the content is vague; the outcomes unclear; and it lacks engagement with the cultures of more recent migrants to New Zealand (see link here).
Our Childhood Theory course includes critical case examples of anti-discriminatory early years, play and school-based pedagogy (including work by Robinson and Jones Diaz that critique multi-cultural tokenism; research by Derman-Sparks that explains the concept of Anti-Bias Multicultural Education; research by Thorne on gender play; research by Connolly on gender/ethnicity; and writing by Skelton and Hall on gender, equity and pedagogy). Our Childhood Theory course sets the tone for our Education and Social Justice course by considering issues of: intersectionality, discrimination, homophobia, sectarianism, sexism, inclusion and power in children’s lives.
My own work (Davis 20011), which is utilised in our Education and Social Justice course, has identified specific problems concerning culturally sophisticated practice in early years settings:
Davis and Hancock (2007) found that issues of racism in their study were not always overt. This is similar to other writing that suggests that underlying inequalities might remain hidden in early years settings and that disadvantage may be both intentional and unintentional (Siraj-Blatchford 2010). This writing encourages us not to assume that all members of ‘structurally oppressed groups’ experience the same types of oppression because identity is multifaceted (Siraj-Blatchford 2010). It also requires us to understanding the different types of racism and that those that work with children may unintentionally undermine their self-esteem due to a connection of issues including gender, religion, socio-economic status, language or ethnicity (Siraj-Blatchford 2010, Figueroa 1993). … …Some writers differentiate between the way that professionals conceptually frame community based family support suggesting that it can be seen as a context (for planning), a target (of intervention) or a unit (of identity/action)(Chaskin 2008). They also outline different definitions of ‘community based’ (e.g. located in a community, involving relationship building/outreach, or as a way of connecting families to broader services/support systems Chaskin 2008). Davis and Hancock (2007) found that the settings that parents had most confidence in, carried out all of the above functions. These early years centres had very strength-based and integrated approaches to service development for Black and Minority Ethnic children and families. However, these centres were in the minority. In the UK, there is a tendency for early years approaches to race and ethnicity to focus on ‘educating’ parents and children about racism and how to deal with racist incidents (see Siraj-Blatchford 2010, Rixon 2008). These approaches give very useful advice e.g. to ensure you make parents aware of your policies, develop topic work around the theme of difference, work restoratively with both the children who make offensive remarks and those who experience the remarks. (Siraj-Blatchford 2010). However, the Canadian examples suggest that we should avoid creating a false division between parents within a local setting and that by adopting culturally sensitive and strength based approaches from the start all parents and children should be made to feel central to developments within early years provision.
Our 2007 research found that Black and Minority Ethnic parents were routinely excluded from powerful roles in nurseries and that they preferred to work with staff who were; caring, warm and good listeners, than staff who were abrupt, rigid and rule bound. In my 2011 book, I argued that we needed to go well beyond, simply, telling families what our anti-racist policies were, to actually enable a shift in power relations in our early learning and play settings – where Black and Minority Ethnic parents and children were viewed as knowledgeable people who could lead learning in our settings.
Irish research encourages us to recognise the resources that such families possess and to utilise their values, skills, knowledge and wisdom within our community-based services. During our trip to New Zealand we concluded that Scotland is currently standing at a cross-roads, it has choices to make concerning the society it wants to be and the extent to which we wish to move to build a society that recognises all our citizens capabilities; appreciates our natural environment; eradicates poverty; enables equal access to land; values the things we can make with our hands; challenges neo-liberal ideas concerning individual ownership, wealth and status; and utilises the wisdom of all our citizens. As we go forward, post-Brexit, the skill will be to create an empathetic society – without imposing a single notion of empathy on the population.
Our theory courses, on the BA Childhood Practice degree, compare and contrasts various ideas from philosophy that have influenced the New Sociology of Childhood and that pose difficult, and interesting, questions for those of us who seek to enable a more creative, sensitive and empathetic society. For example, the New Sociology of Childhood compares Lock (1632—1704 the idea that the mind, prior to sense experience, is like a tabula rasa; blank slate that has not been implanted by God), Hume (1711—1776 the idea that there is no perfect self, nor, theory), and Kant (1724-1804 the idea that no single person is an empty vessel). We tend to conclude that neither parents, children or students are empty vessels – they come to us with already framed ideas.
Hume’s philosophy of ‘scepticism’ suggested that we invent our sense of unity through necessity, context, time, sight and/or touch. He argued that our sense of self is not static, that ‘free-will’ is problematic (it always has prior cause) and that ‘liberty’ means leaving things to ‘chance’, or, simply involves us acting (or not acting) upon prior motives (see link here). Hume’s work encourages the realisation that, we can create more empathetic ways of being out of necessity (e.g. in response to the financial crash); we can create new ways of being because our need for pedagogical unity encourages us to make specific choices; or, we can leave everything to chance.
In keeping with Maclean’s ideas, Froebelian thinking has enabled us to develop a narrative concerning creative pedagogy that has: high adventure, accuracy, and interest. Our Froebel courses are currently over-subscribed. It appears that early learning, play and school-based professionals do not want to leave their pedagogy to chance. My impression is that most-professionals currently feel oppressed by top down performance regimes – the Froebel course may help them to feel ‘liberated’ but it will also bring with it a new set of ideas that they will have to constantly review.
Foucault’s suggested (in a similar way to Hume) that when we seek to free ourselves from oppression, surveillance and other people’s power, we can find new ways to ‘be’ (new technologies of the self) but that these new ways of ‘being’ create another set of rules by which our lives are government. By combining Hume and Foucault we come to the realisation that the merry go round of pedagogical practice never actually stops. Our practice has to be constantly reviewed because our new approaches have different consequences and meanings for different children and contexts.
Our work on creativity and childhood argues that creativity does not occur in a vacuum and that creative learning spaces need to be honest and open about their conceptual staring points. Creativity is hindered by ‘total freedom’ (what Hume calls ‘chance’), therefore, creative processes and pedagogy benefit from having clearly defined, agreed and, yet, flexible frameworks.
Myself and Lynn McNair have written on creative pedagogy with our colleagues Vinnarasan Aruldoss and Nick Bizas (see link here) we argue that creativity, like self-empowerment, is not a gift that children should only receive from powerful adults:
Creativity and innovation are enabled by environments that engage with diversity, celebrate complexity, and value collaboration. We have argued that rather than silencing creativity (e.g., through the imposition of a rigid, strict, universal pedagogy), we should create enabling environments that recognize children’s and adult’s creative potential and employ flexible frameworks to support that potential to flourish. At the centre of this argument is the idea that creativity is not a gift that powerful managers or teachers should give to young children, pupils or staff. Creativity is something that can be achieved by us all and can flourish in social spaces where people are enabled to achieve their aspirations.
Creativity is individual, collective, emergent, intergenerational and interpersonal; it stems from internal and external sources of inspiration and is motivated as much by communitarian as individual goals.
Froebel advocated that ‘gifts’ enabled children to gain a sense of unity but Macmillan understood the needed for children to experience equality of access to play, outdoor space and the natural environment, as of right, not as a gift. In 2015 myself and Jamie Mann developed an article for Bella Caledonia (see link here) that argued, drawing from our involvement with the Common Weal Book of Ideas, that the massive expansion of early years provision (to 1140 hours) should enable us to create bright, attractive well-resourced and outdoors focused childcare centres – right in the heart of our towns and villages. We argued for an increase in innovative ‘participatory learning’ environments that could utilise Scotland’s contemporary cultural contexts as a source of inspiration for learning.
When we advocate for innovative buildings, greater learning in the outdoors and further development of creative play-based pedagogy, we are not advocating for something trivial. Even though play is a fun thing, it is also a serious issues and we are aware that it takes great wisdom and sensitivity to enable such spaces. As I come to the end of this series of posts, I wish to stress that no pedagogy is ever apolitical, neutral or independent. We cannot disconnect children’s right to such places from the socio-economic context of Scotland. Any pedagogy or pedagogue that claims to be apolitical, claims to be perfect, or, claims to be textbook – is bogus.
The Scottish Government has published a substantive action plan for early learning and play – we need to ensure that there is plenty meat on the bone of their proposals; if we are to achieve our vision of an inclusive and socially just pedagogy.
In spite this discussion being stretched over 3 blog posts, I have not exhaustively covered every aspect of our BA Childhood Practice course (I will say more about the influences of Gramsci, Derrida and Freire in future posts). These 3 posts, simply, provide an inexact and partial picture of our pedagogical starting points. Indeed, our next post with Christina Malervie Quarrell and Lynn McNair will investigate, in more detail our ideas of empathetic pedagogy. Including our concerns about transition to school-based pedagogy. It will also pose questions about what schooling is for. In so doing, it will connect John Maclean’s argument (see link here) that education should enable children to think revolutionary thoughts, to arguments in this post regarding ‘correctness’, ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’. It will do so, to question the form, function and purpose of schooling in Scotland – a never ending activity.