Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education

Critical Questions, New Imaginaries and Social Activism: A Reader

by Marianne N. Bloch (Volume editor) Beth Blue Swadener (Volume editor) Gaile S. Cannella (Volume editor)
Textbook X, 333 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the book
  • Praise for Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Exploring Reconceptualist Histories and Possibilities
  • Background and Rationale
  • Foundational Writings and Issues
  • Autobiography and Activism
  • This Reader
  • Foundational Debates and Questions
  • Diverse Imaginaries
  • Social Action/Activisms
  • A Closing and an Invitation to Read and to Interact In/With This Book
  • References
  • Section I: Foundational Debates and Continuing Questions
  • Chapter One: Interrogating the Reconceptualizing Early Care and Education (RECE)—20 Years Along
  • Brief Overview of RECE’s Early Days/Years
  • The Reconceptualists
  • Trying to Rupture Theory, Methodology, Curriculum, and Policies in Early Childhood Education: 1991–1997
  • Rupturing Dominant Discourses in Theory/Research/Pedagogies/Policy in the Early 21st Century: Again—Scientific Rigor, Standards, and the Universal Child
  • RECE Turns Almost Twenty and Some of Us Are Getting Old(er)
  • Reform That Aims to Rupture Thinking and Action
  • Selected References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Two: Reconceptualizing the Early Childhood Curriculum: An Unaddressed Topic
  • What Vision of the Future Guides Curriculum Planning in Early Childhood?
  • What Should We Teach in the Early Childhood Curriculum?
  • Who Is Taught?
  • What Is the Relationship Between the Curriculum and Teaching?
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Three: Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Research
  • Paradigm Conflicts
  • Crisis of Representation
  • Genre Bending
  • Post-Everything Inquiry
  • Legislated Positivism
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter Four: Through a Queer Lens: Recuperative Longings and the Reconceptualizing Past
  • Making a Place for Pleasure in Early Childhood Education
  • Advocating for Lives on the Edge
  • Speaking Truth to Power
  • References
  • Chapter Five: Still Waiting for the Revolution
  • Compulsory Retrospection
  • Nowhere to Grow?
  • The Troubled State of Early Education in the United States Today
  • A Third Way: The Emergence of Childhood Subjectivity Discursively
  • On Possible Lines of Rupture: Troubling Spectrality and Genealogical Filiation
  • Coda: Troubling Pedagogy
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Six: Disciplining “Safe” Bodies in a Global Era of Child Panic: Implementing Techniques for Disciplining the Self
  • Stories From the Field
  • Dangerous Desire
  • Renaming Ourselves
  • Closing
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: Social Justice, Risk, and Imaginaries
  • Social Justice
  • Standards
  • Risk
  • Risk-as-Danger
  • Risk-as-Creativity
  • Risk and Professional Standards for Teachers
  • Risk and Teacher Education
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: What About Learning?
  • References
  • Notes
  • Section II: New Imaginaries Related to Authors’ Scholarly Work and Praxis
  • Chapter Nine: Ki te Whai ao, ki te ao Marama: Early Childhood Understandings in Pursuit of Social, Cultural, and Ecological Justice
  • Maori-Led Partnerships: A Model of Implementation Grounded in Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  • Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education, Madison 2005
  • “Decolonizing/Anti-Colonial Early Childhood Research and Practice,” Rotorua, 2006
  • Pedagogy of Place
  • Tikanga a Iwi (Tribal Protocols)
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Indigenous Visibility at RECE 2006
  • Towards Reassuming Our Co-Evolutionary Relationship With the More-Than-Human World, Through Reciprocal, Responsive Countercolonial, Postcognivitist, Posthumanist Dialogue
  • References
  • Section III: Diverse Imaginaries
  • Chapter Ten: Situated and Entangled Childhoods: Imagining and Materializing Children’s Common World Relations
  • Legacies and Responses
  • Situated and Entangled Childhoods
  • Common Worlding Childhoods
  • Ethical, Political, and Pedagogical Implications
  • References
  • Note
  • Chapter Eleven: Posthumanist Imaginaries for Decolonizing Early Childhood Praxis
  • Discursive Analyses of Racisms
  • Drawing Inspiration From Posthumanist Perspectives
  • Stories of Anticolonial Pedagogy
  • Stories of Entanglements
  • Stories of Diffraction
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: Radical Theories of Presence in Early Childhood Imaginaries
  • Here
  • There
  • Principle One: Systems Are Self-Organizing—Learn to Dance With Them
  • Here
  • There
  • Here
  • Principle Two: Cultivate Limbic Resonance—Relationships Matter
  • Here
  • There
  • Here
  • Principle Three: Love, Quite Plainly, Love
  • Here
  • There
  • Here/Now
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Thirteen: Black and Chicana Feminisms: Journeys Toward Spirituality and Reconnection
  • Our Relationship With Black and Chicana Feminisms, Our Theoretical Homes
  • Michelle
  • Cinthya
  • Foregrounding Black and Chicana Feminisms While Enacting Bricoleur Approaches to Childhoods Research
  • Michelle
  • Cinthya
  • New Imaginaries for Childhoods Research: Collective/Spiritual Possibilities
  • Michelle
  • Cinthya
  • Michelle
  • Cinthya
  • Michelle
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • References
  • Chapter Fourteen: The Use of Poststructuralist Storytelling in Early Childhood Education Research
  • The Fabrication of Early Childhood Education Ethnographies
  • A Story About Karen and Julia and the Ideal Child as a Spanish Learner
  • The Suppression of the Researcher’s Self in Educational Ethnographies
  • Living Ethnographic Data for the Creation of Stories on Children’s Experiences
  • Postmodernist Ethnographic Data in Early Childhood Educational Research
  • Representing Findings via Storytelling
  • Reflexivity: The Threshold Toward Storytelling
  • Poststructuralist Storytelling as Revealing the Construction of Subjectivity
  • The Inception of the Stories
  • A Story About the Latino Immigrant Child Who Needs to Learn Appropriate Spanish
  • Poststructuralist Storytelling: Final Remarks
  • References
  • Chapter Fifteen: Revisiting Risk/Re-Thinking Resilience: Fighting to Live Versus Failing to Thrive
  • Resilience as a Reframing of “At-Risk”
  • Beyond Static Notions of Resilience: Three Twists on the Story
  • Listening to Mom and Watching Out for Himself
  • A “Good Boy”: The Risk of Early Loss
  • Reframing Risk as Resilience
  • Resilience Through Risk
  • Moving Forward
  • References
  • Note
  • Chapter Sixteen: Our Story of Early Childhood Collaboration: Imagining Love and Grace
  • Denise
  • Cynthia
  • Teaching and Meeting
  • Together and Apart
  • Teaching as a Position of Grace (Re)visited
  • Social Activism and Grace
  • Dwelling in Places of Love
  • References
  • Chapter Seventeen: Bring Back the Asylum: Reimagining Inclusion in the Presence of Others
  • Gulliver as Interstice
  • Playmobil and Parakeets
  • Breaking the Reflection
  • Asylum
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Eighteen: Affective/Effective Reading and Writing Through Real Virtualities in a Digitized Society
  • The Magic of Language Project
  • The Line
  • Crayon Bodies: Affective Learning to Write
  • Walk the Line — Read the Line: Sensuous Learning to Read
  • The Confetti Room: Intensive Writing of the Heart
  • The Line and the iPad: Learning to Read and Write on That “Seeping Edge of the Virtual”
  • Discussion: Affective/Effective Learning to Read and Write Through Real Virtualities in Digitized Society
  • References
  • Chapter Nineteen: Learning from the Margins: Early Childhood Imaginaries, “Normal Science,” and the Case for a Radical Reconceptualisation of Research and Practice
  • Early Childhood Practices Are Political—And So Is Early Childhood Research
  • ECEC in a Changing European Policy Context
  • Crisis—What Crisis?
  • Researching Complexity
  • What Counts? Who Counts? The Case for a Democratic Turn in Research
  • Researching ECEC in Europe as Political Practice
  • References
  • Note
  • Section IV: Social Action and Activism(s)
  • Chapter Twenty: Critical Qualitative Research and Rethinking Academic Activism in Childhood Studies
  • Critical Qualitative Social Science Research
  • Constructing Critical Qualitative Research as Academic and Public Activism
  • 1. Explore Contemporary Conducts/Subjectivities From Diverse Location/Perspective(s)
  • Activism, Biopolitics, and Neoliberal Shifts in Forms of Governmentality: Considering a New Foucauldian Lens.
  • Entrepreneurialism: Self as Human Capital.
  • 2. Practice Humility in the Reimagining of Discourses: Becoming the Ethical Self
  • Ethical Substance.
  • Mode of Subjectification.
  • Ethical Work.
  • Telos.
  • 3. Construct Critical Academic Research as Ways of Being/Acting
  • Considering the Critical Research Outline
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-One: None for You: Children’s Capabilities and Rights in Profoundly Unequal Times
  • Prisms of Poverty
  • Material Income-Based Poverty and Instrumentalism
  • Child Poverty: Capabilities and Rights
  • Heather’s Story: Disrupted Capabilities and Violated Rights
  • School Exclusion and Silenced Voices
  • Stories of Adolescent Exclusion: Obstructed Capabilities and Violated Rights
  • Feminized Poverty, Child Poverty, and Child Care
  • Jasmine’s Story: Obstructed Capabilities and Violated Rights in Two Generations
  • Whither Capabilities and Rights?
  • Agency and Resistance
  • References
  • Notes
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: The Costs of Putting Quality First: Neoliberalism, (Ine)quality, (Un)affordability, and (In)accessibility?
  • Common and Good Sense
  • The State of Early Care and Education in the United States
  • Neoliberalism and the Discourse of Quality
  • A Local Case: The State of Arizona
  • Arizona’s Response to the Early Care and Education System Problem
  • First Things First
  • Addressing the cost, quality, and access problem
  • The Costs of Putting Quality First
  • Concluding Thoughts: On Activism
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty Three: Social Activism: The Risky Business of Early Childhood Educators in Neoliberal Australian Classrooms
  • Neoliberalisms in the NQF
  • (Un)Realities in the Everyday
  • The Borderlines of Compliance and Resistance
  • Borders of Resistance
  • How Regimes of Truth Disrupted Our Resistance
  • Surveillance:
  • Normalization, Classification, Exclusion, Regulation:
  • Classification, Individualization, Totalization
  • Rhizoanalysis—Exploring Alternative Positions and Unstable Spaces
  • Decal text 1. Creating Ruptures for New Lines of Flight: Naming Regimes of Truth
  • Decal text 2. Creating Ruptures for New Lines of Flight: Identify Discourses That Universalize and Oppress Women Through White Patriarchal Strategies
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: [Im]possibilities of Reinvention of Palestinian Early Childhood Education
  • Development of ECE in Palestine
  • Players in the Palestinian Early Childhood Story
  • [Im]possibilities of NGOs in Early Childhood Education
  • The Path of Reinvention for ECE
  • The Dilemma of This Reinvention
  • References
  • Note
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: The Global Childhoods Project: Complexities of Learning and Living with a Biliterate and Trilingual Literacy Policy
  • The Global Childhoods Project
  • Living and Learning in Contemporary Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong Childhoods
  • Amy: The Only Child
  • Sara: A New Chinese Immigrant
  • Learning: The Challenges of Becoming Biliterate
  • Multiplicities of Childhood Experiences
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Notes
  • About the Authors
  • Series Index


We’re delighted to be the 50th volume in the Rethinking Childhood series started by our friends and colleagues in Rethinking and Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE), and original series editors: Janice Jipson and Joe Kincheloe. While Jan was unable to contribute to this current volume, her publications, and work on the initial Rethinking Childhood series remains so very critical. She is also a founding member of RECE, and co-hosted two of its conferences. We also want to acknowledge the continuing contribution of our volume co-editor, and the current series editor of Rethinking Childhood, Gaile S. Cannella, who supported the publication of Reconceptualizing Early Care and Education: Foundational Debates, New Imaginaries, and Social Activism in the Peter Lang Rethinking Childhood book series.

This volume reflects more than two decades of scholarship and dialogue focused on reconceptualizing research, practice, and policy related to early childhood. We acknowledge the role that the Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE) conferences played over the past 21 years. We also would like to acknowledge the many people who have influenced our work in what is now a large global network. For all three of us, readings, critical scholarship, policy discussions, and work have informed this volume. As we’ve done our individual and collective work, dialogues and debates with a global network of scholars/teachers/policymakers and members of different global and local cultural communities have played a very influential role in helping us to continue to ask: Why and why not?

This global network, including those in and out of academic contexts, has provided an environment for challenges. It has also provided each of us a space for sharing our work, questions, and diverse imaginaries. We especially thank all of the contributing authors for raising critical issues and sharing their newest work and thinking.

In addition, we want to thank Christopher Myers, managing director of Peter Lang, who was responsive and helpful as well as our excellent copyeditor, Linda Henry. We also appreciated ← ix | x → working closely with book series editor and book co-editor Gaile S. Cannella and production editor Bernadette Shade. We benefited greatly from the assistance of Nathalia Biscarra in formatting and reference checking, and Dr. Ruth Peach, a colleague and friend, in helping us prepare the final manuscript for submission. Finally, we deeply appreciate the support and patience of those who assisted us throughout the book editing process. In particular, we want to acknowledge Peter Bloch, Daniel Swadener, and Bert Cannella who have been patient and supportive during our many projects; this one and others could never have happened without that sharing of interests, and respect for each other’s work.

While we have worked together before, we have never co-edited a book together. What fun! We also have become grandmothers within the past seven years. So to our grandchildren—Jordan, 5 years; Evan, 2 years; Liam, 8 years; Chloe, 4 years; Violet, 4 years; and Sophie, 1 year; and to other people’s children throughout the world—we hope our small efforts to work toward peace and social justice, and toward continued acknowledgment of your rights, knowledge, and experiences bear fruit, some day soon. ← x | 1 →



Exploring Reconceptualist
Histories and Possibilities

Marianne Bloch, Beth Blue Swadener, and Gaile S. Cannella

The primary purpose of this book, as a volume in the Peter Lang series Rethinking Childhoods, is to show new directions in ways of understanding and imagining childhoods, rethinking early education and child care, as well as thinking about ways in which scholars in diverse fields are engaging in action and activisms related to childhood, early education, and child care. Each chapter in this volume consists of a newly written or revised contribution by leading authors working across the fields of critical childhood studies, early childhood education/care, and/or reconceptualizing early childhood education/care. Authors were asked to write chapters because the editors (Bloch, Swadener, and Cannella in collaborative discussions) felt each could contribute distinctly new and innovative ways to dialogue, dream, and envision childhood studies, including how early education and child care theory, policy, pedagogy, and curriculum might be re-imagined. While many authors contributed, no volume could contain the many others whose work, knowledge, and voices might have been included.

We especially want to acknowledge the past and continuing scholarly influences of Sally Lubeck, Liane Mozère, Jeanette Rhedding-Jones, and Leslie Williams, who all passed away in the past decade. Liane Mozère, who wrote a chapter for this book, passed away while it was in press. All four have been friends and colleagues with each of us, and with many writing in this volume. Their germinal work has been important in so many ways to dialogues, publications, critical policy analysis, and mentorship of a new generation of scholars. In addition, Sally and Jeanette hosted the Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education Conference; Sally at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (U.S.) in 1993, and Jeanette at the Oslo University College in Oslo (Norway) in 2004. Leslie served as the editor of the Teachers College Press Early Childhood Education Series, one of the first in the U.S. to support critical, reconceptualist scholarship. Liane brought her intellectual knowledge and spirit to our discussions of, especially, French philosophers whom she had worked ← 1 | 2 → with since the 1960s. We, and many others, miss their continuing wisdom, scholarship, laughter, and friendship. Our book is dedicated to their memory and their contributions to our collective dialogues and work.

The volume’s title, Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education: Critical Questions, Diverse Imaginaries, and Social Activism, is comprised of three major sections, beginning with “Foundational Debates and Critical Questions.” The second section is titled “Diverse Imaginaries,” for which authors were invited to bring in new issues, theoretical frames, critical questions, and to imagine new possibilities. The third and final section is titled “Social Action/Activism(s),” for which we selected authors who are engaged in “direct” ways to connect theory/research and critical social action and activism. Authors were given latitude to develop their chapters to reflect older debates and persistent issues, as well as newer ways to envision doing action/activism, or imaginaries of what could be, opening new spaces for thinking and action within childhood studies, as well as the reconceptualization of early education and child care. Our hope is that this volume brings together diverse contemporary perspectives on a global “movement,” to critique, rethink, and reimagine early childhood and childhood studies in ways that encourage deeper analysis, new ways to reason and to act. Many chapters, though not all, embed a way of looking for equitable, socially just ways to consider children in local as well as global spaces (concepts) and places (constructed geographical spaces. Contributors were invited especially because their ideas, we thought, would shed light on old and new questions, ideas, and action/activist opportunities; nonetheless, the authors write from the spaces they know—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, and Sweden, East Asia, Chile, and the U.S. Again, more diverse dialogues and discussions can come from these chapters, and in a next publication. This book was meant to highlight conversations and debates between more senior authors and newer authors within and across chapters. In addition, we intentionally mixed, especially, the second and third sections to highlight different ways of thinking, doing, and imagining.

Background and Rationale

From the late 1970s and into the mid-1980s, critically oriented psychologists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists interested in early education and child care were asking questions about the narrow perspectives of the dominant empirical research in child development/ECE in research in the United States and in Great Britain, Australia, Northern, Western, and East-Central Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Others were involved in research that allowed us to recognize the value of qualitative/ethnographic research, and the diversity of childhood cultural contexts in which children lived and grew (e.g., Whiting & Whiting, 1975; Tobin, Wu, & Davidson, 1989; also see Mallory & New, 1994; Rogoff, 2003). Some were beginning to form a group examining the sociology of childhood (e.g., Jenks, 1982; James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998.) While many anthropological studies of childhood helped illuminate the narrow view “child development” promulgated as universal “truth” in Western contexts at the same time, writers critiqued the “representation of ‘others’” (e.g., Marcus & Fischer, 1986) that is part of the history of anthropology, sociology, and psychology. While the 1970s and 1980s provided a foundation for many critiques of the role of science in determining what is legitimated as “truth,” the role of power relations (political/economic/social) in development and education (for a few examples, see Apple, 1978/2012; David, 1980; Pinar, 1975; Popkewitz, ← 2 | 3 → 1987, 1991) and the politics of cultural/racial/gendered identities, inclusions and exclusions, also became critically important in discussions (e.g., Ellsworth, 1989; Sleeter & Grant, 1987) as well as in many political and educational research and actions.

In the U.S., especially, theory, research, policy, and curriculum were organized around positivist methods and, as Kessler and Swadener (1992; Swadener & Kessler, 1991) suggested, most research was descriptive, focusing on what “is” rather than what might or ought to be. In early research in the U.S. by Bloch (1987); Hatch (1995); Lubeck (1985); Polakow-Suransky (1982); Tobin, Wu, and Davidson (1989); Silin (1987); and Ayers (1989); as well as many others, represented in a special issue of Early Education and Development (Swadener & Kessler, 1991) or in the volume edited by Kessler and Swadener (1992), alternative methodologies, often qualitative and interpretive, as well as a variety of critical theories were used. These diverse contributions examined a variety of issues related to early education and child care policy (e.g., Bloch, 1987; Lubeck, 1985; Polakow-Suransky, 1982), pedagogy and curriculum (Silin, 1987; Ayers, 1989; Kessler & Swadener, 1992), and the ways in which dominant modes of inquiry and thought limited the types of questions that might be asked or the “evidence” found that propelled policy in early education and child care (Bloch 1992; Hatch, 1995; Swadener & Lubeck, 1995; Mallory & New, 1994). They illustrated the importance of new ways of doing research, the contributions of different theoretical frameworks, and the questions and practices in need of interrogation, or illumination.

In 1991, the first Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE) Conference was held; the 20th was held in 2012 in the United States at Pennsylvania State University, and the 21st (just prior to this volume’s publication) was held at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. The RECE Conference turning 20 was one of the instigators for this new volume, as we grappled with persistent questions and issues, including the following: What foundational arguments and debates influenced the development and continuation of the reconceptualist ‘movement’ and its annual conferences? What are new imaginaries in our collective teaching, pedagogies, political action, and research? In what ways were the initial ideas of “reform and change” realized, and in which ways are we still “waiting for the revolution”? (see Michael O’Loughlin’s chapter and title, this volume). Have we tried to engage in different actions/activisms over the years—with some success? In which ways has there been a renarrativized or deterritorialized notion of universal developmental psychology or child development as a foundational way to construct childhood, children, and curriculum, given that this was an initial important debate? In which ways and for which reasons might there have been little apparent shift in reasoning, action, or conduct? These questions motivated the development of this book, and the ways in which we selected representative authors, the foregrounding we gave for their thinking prior to writing, and the publication of the volume itself.

Foundational Writings and Issues

Along with those already discussed, this volume focuses on initial critiques and debates that provided a foundation for the diversity that emerged as part of the rethinking and reconceptualist writings from the late 1970s onward in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and in the U.S., at least. While some critiques drew from critical theories originally coming from the German Frankfurt School, others drew from continental philosophers’ deconstructions ← 3 | 4 → of discursive language and practices. Others drew from feminist, postcolonial, decolonizing, liberatory pedagogical, political-economic, historical, sociological, philosophical, and/or anthropological/cultural studies lenses. We have tried to include representative writers from the early periods of critique, as well as newer contributors whom, we hope, add questions or forms of diversity/being that were unimagined in the work of two to three decades ago.

Among many early critical childhood researchers, we want to highlight the early and influential work of scholars like Miriam David (1980), Valerie Walkerdine (e.g., 1984/2005), Erica Burman (1994), and Bronwyn Davies (1982, 1989), all of whom have published influential volumes critiquing constructions of “child,” child care, and pedagogy through a variety of critical, poststructural, and feminist theoretical lenses. Valerie Polakow, whose work is published in this volume, in The Erosion of Childhood (Polakow-Suransky, 1982) provided early U.S.-based critiques of the dominance of child development as a foundation of truth about children, using phenomenological and existential theory and research to shed light on poverty, the existential lives of low income families, and “other” people’s children in what Polakow named “the Other America” (Polakow, 1993, p. 200). Gaile Cannella’s (1997) Deconstructing Early Childhood Education and Gunilla Dahlberg, Peter Moss, and Allen Pence’s (1999/2007) Beyond Quality: Early Education and Child Care in Post-Modernity were then and remain highly influential volumes that have illustrated how and why interrogating taken for granted concepts and practices is important. These, collectively, have been influential in the rethinking or reconceptualizing of early childhood education, child care “quality,” and the concepts of development and childhood itself.

A variety of conference venues, including conferences of the Council on Anthropology of Education, which focused on anthropological studies of children in and out of school, and the Bergamo Conference in the U.S. that focused on curriculum theory, were influential for many of us in the U.S., early on, and throughout the years. RECE from 1991 onward, and the Critical Perspectives in Early Childhood Education Special Interest Group at the American Education Research Association (which began in 1999) also offered spaces for new debates and challenges. These different meeting spaces and places allowed for an informal, multidisciplinary, and multitheoretical space/place for discussions and a space to try on “new ideas” and to grow in specific, dynamic, and unpredictable ways as we began to move both globally and locally. Through these different discussions and meetings, a variety of publication opportunities grew, which further allowed the discussions to grow: the Peter Lang series focused on Rethinking Childhood in which this book is published (edited at first by Joe Kincheloe and Jan Jipson, and now by Gaile Cannella), several books published in Teachers College Press’ Early Education; two Routledge series, Contesting Early Childhood and Changing Images of Early Childhood (the first co-edited by Gunilla Dahlberg and Peter Moss; the second by Nicolla Yelland); as well as the Palgrave Macmillan series Critical Cultural Studies of Childhood (co-edited initially by Bloch, Swadener, and Cannella). These new opportunities provided important windows for new discussions and the formation of a global network of scholars and scholarship.

In contrast, while there have been fewer refereed journals over these years with a focus on critical theoretical perspectives in early education and child care, or childhood studies, the online journal Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood or CIEC, the Journal of Early Childhood Research, as well as several newer journals (Global Childhoods, International Journal of Critical Childhood Policy Studies) gave space for the growing discussions and publication of open-access “peer-reviewed” theoretical arguments and research. As this is an important space for wider ← 4 | 5 → readership, and required for promotion at many higher education institutions, the continuing scarcity of refereed journal possibilities has been an ongoing issue.

This volume reintroduces some of the initial debates and questions raised during what we have termed the foundational period for critiques and questions (see Section I chapters by Bloch, Kessler, Hatch, Silin, and O’Loughlin, especially on these issues), and reflection on the aims, objectives, strategic successes/failures, as well as new issues and openings as we imagine the future. In the volume, we and many leading researchers and writers in the various fields mentioned, from multiple countries, examine several strands of research and key themes discussed in the areas of critical childhood studies, critical theories of curriculum and pedagogy related to childhood, pedagogy, theory, policy, and research. In addition, we include initial debates and critiques as well as authors’ new perspectives envisioned by authors within each contribution, but especially in the different sections focusing on “diverse imaginaries,” and “social action and activism.” Many of the contributions aim to open further dialogue, and to facilitate discussion and debate, to tell stories about research—tales from the field, and to talk “research stories” about what some refer to as the “reconceptualist” early childhood education movement. Others use different terms to recognize the general importance of critical childhood studies scholarship, policy analysis, new important theoretical frameworks and social and political action and activism in the fields of childhood studies, education, curriculum theory and research, social actions related to global and local childhoods, as well as social and environmental justice that includes attention to global and local economic inequalities, power relations, and complex ways of understanding and acting.

Whether critical perspectives, rethinking, or reconceptualizing, the aims of the contributing scholars have been to open up alternatives for theory, research, policy, and practice in the fields of early education and child care, to deconstruct the importance of child development, or a narrowed individualistic perspective on ways of examining children, and childhood itself, and to decolonize Western research and the “science of knowledge” on/about/with children and families (see, for one highly readable example, Rhedding-Jones, 2005). The chapters highlight the contributors’ own and others’ contributions, while also leaving space for additions, discussion, and continuing critical dialogue. Moving backward and forward allows movement that is unpredictable, nonlinear, and rhizomatic (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Drawing on various theoretical frameworks (critical, postmodern, feminism/gender studies, queer theory, posthumanist, decolonizing, postcolonialisms), the contributions to the volume continue the tradition of interrogating and asking questions of what is constructed as “normal”; the authors also continue their work toward the use of new critical qualitative methodologies and critical policy analyses.

Autobiography and Activism

For many of us, to engage in the varied work we’ve done over five, ten, 30, or more years, focused on critiquing constructions of the “normal,” has also been useful, transformative, and personally/professionally important—though at times also dangerous, risky, and certainly lonely. But the critiques that began in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s also require continuing reflection and critique: What were (and are) the aims, successes, barriers, and contributions of this work? But it is critical also to ask what, currently, are the macro-politics and micro-politics of our work, especially within the frameworks of global hypercapitalism, neoliberal economic ← 5 | 6 → policies, and a massive return to “gender wars” against women, children, early education/child care teaching and teachers, and families? We look at macro-politics as well as the minor politics of our writing, actions, politics, and daily work (Dahlberg & Moss, 2005; see also the chapter in this volume by Polakow and the chapter by Nagasawa, Peters, & Swadener). How do or could our strategic alliances and actions work in different ways toward various notions of inclusion, social justice, greater equity, redistributive economics and social politics for young children, their families, and teachers/caregivers (note these questions by Grieshaber & McArdle in their chapter)? In which directions might specific strategic actions move us further in fighting, resisting, or renarrativizing how truth is understood in relation to children, families, and “good education and care”?

We also collectively examine ethical perspectives that might be envisioned—including, at the least, an ethics and responsibility toward children’s care/education, not only in the richer, Western nations and the economically/socially richer communities within them, but globally and locally as we collaborate with and sometimes act for the other. As we continue to battle from a marginal space within the context of increasing notions of the standardized child, childhood, curriculum, teacher, and parent, what are our current visions for new actions/imaginaries? We reinforce the importance of the space of critical reflection and activism within an increasingly punitive political and economic global context that narrows possibilities, especially for poor children and their families around the world.

What are our continuing responsibilities? Where have we excluded while intending to include, whether topic, political movement, or pedagogical/curricular moment? Currently as we face continuing assaults from global capitalism, and renewed efforts to standardize bad practices in the name of quality “Education for All” (or No Child Left Behind, or Race to the Top, or assessments of young children, or continued lack of focus on childhood inequities, lack of rights, global perpetuations of bad pedagogies and practices, continuations of deficit discourses, to name a few), what might be our responses or ways of acting together over the next year, five years, or 20 years? What is the range of activities or endeavors that we might consider as we move toward an imagined “future”?

Have there been stories that have been possible to tell, that otherwise might have been omitted or excluded from collective knowledge? How have truth, knowledge, and power relations been affected—if at all? Have the individual and collective voices, ideas, and writings been heard; are we talking to ourselves, or are we talking and writing into ever-narrowing discursively confined spaces? Where are the openings, new lines of flight? Where is the serpent lurking, closing down barely envisioned spaces or possibilities (Dahlberg & Bloch, 2006)?

In this collection, we explore how different narratives have been allowed to continue and new narratives have emerged that constrain new possibilities for children/families/education and children’s care. Various contributors discuss how our collective actions and/or new alliances might be used in new ways toward new ways of thinking and action. Again, can we speak truth to power in alternative ways as a collective voice, or through individual and collective contingent social actions (see Steinberg & Cannella, 2012; Swadener, Lundy, Habashi, & Blanchet-Cohen, 2013)? The authors in this volume look backward and forward at the same time. As suggested earlier, the book is neither comprehensive nor fully inclusive, but rather a compilation of what the contributors each wanted to emphasize related to their past and present work and actions. The book presents ideas from a variety of actors that will broaden and continue these critical reflections and the dialogue provoked from the initial questions and ← 6 | 7 → critiques posted in the 1980s and early 1990s moving us toward cultural reasoning systems and policies of “the present.” While the content of the volume is nonlinear, moving backward and forward—with attention to key questions and debates within and across different groups that examine early education and child care—diverse theoretical, philosophical, and political/economic frames are used to do so. As editors, we hope to provoke new critiques, actions, conduct, and possibilities, while continuing to highlight the value of a diversity of perspectives for asking new questions, seeing things differently, and for new alliances or networks around different topics to emerge.

Through studies of “standards” to examinations of universal care that is far from universally accessible, from recognizing the continuing effect of neoliberal and cultural politics on and in the education of children to acknowledging the colonization of minds, methods, and voices, along with the possibilities constructed by new forms of critical analysis—we hope to continue political, economic, and educational challenges/practices that would move toward increased social/environmental justice and equity. By adding older voices with newer voices in contributions in and across sections, we hope for a variety of new insights even as each reader interacts with the text.

When we began to imagine this project, we posed the following questions:

  1.  Why is developmental theory and quantitative/positivist research still dominant and dominating notions of truth in early childhood research, policy, pedagogy, curriculum, and theory? If not developmental theory and research, which other ways of thinking and acting can we envision or imagine? Are there any responses to the Developmentally Inappropriate Practice/Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DIP/DAP) prescriptions?

  2.  Are there collective or individual ideas within the different contributions that involve notions of individual/collective actions or activisms at different local, regional, and global levels that represent new possibilities? Can we see or create new ways to deterritorialize, or create new openings that are outside what is taken as natural or normal?

  3.  In which ways has our work opened up new dialogues and ways to think about subjectivities, identities, a multiplicity of diversities? In which ways has the rethinking of childhood studies, child care, and early education using a variety of critical, feminist, poststructural, and decolonizing theories aimed at enhancing inclusion of different knowledge systems? Have we found new ways to be inclusive of many new ideas and practices, and pushed for more equitable and inclusionary policies and practices (e.g., see, for example, MacNaughton, 2003)? But have we also been exclusive, marginalizing, and, perhaps, in-the-margins at the same time?

  4.  Which new approaches to theory, research, and methodology have been generated, and which new challenges are raised by contributors? In which ways, if any, has the aim to decolonize methods/methodologies/Indigenous epistemologies helped, and/or been co-opted, by new discourses of colonization, new governing forces and knowledge systems?

  5.  In which ways do contributors add to ways to think about subjectivity, performance, desire, and pleasure within early education and care? How has psychoanalysis and the body helped in illuminating the child, the teacher, the curriculum, as bodies (docile, ← 7 | 8 → bodies without organs, performing or embodying diverse situated identities and subjectivities)?

  6.  Where are children in our discourses (is research on or about them, or with them)?

  7.  How do diverse theoretical and methodological frameworks add to our individual and collective intellectual work; in which ways have we also moved into a post-reconceptualist (Malewski, 2010) space, in which it is necessary to follow:

ethical commitments [to] the range of possibilities…. That there be spaces for traditionalists, empiricists, and developmentalist discourses regardless of the extent to which such ideas need to be challenged…(but is it) important that such work be displaced so as to break up sedimentary conjunctions, epistemological dominance, to open spaces where a thousand theories and stories are made and unmade, where alternative feasible readings proliferate. (Malewski, 2010, xiii)?

  8.  Within this, we have not lost our focus on young children, their care and education; critical policy and critical advocacy remain central to the challenges we still face. In which ways do our policies and practices still focus on pedagogies of inclusion/exclusion; in which ways do the politics of accessibility/disabilities/minority/majority voices/spaces/geographies frame our actions and practices?

  9.  In which ways has work represented over the years helped to resolve critical curriculum and policy studies related to (early) childhood, given globalizing capital and neoliberal narrowing of possibilities, a space where in the U.S, for example, developmentally appropriate practice(s) (DAPs, see Mallory & New, 1994) now almost seem “good” by comparison with other “standardized” and more didactic approaches to teaching?

10.  What are different and diverse imaginaries about children and childhood as pleasure and desire? How has popular media and global and local practices surrounding children “in danger” been addressed, analyzed, or constructed/deconstructed through our actions?

11.  While early childhood education and child care are gaining attention in global policy, in which ways might we imagine new ways to do research, to write, to envision curriculum, or critiques leading to new social actions and activisms?

In this volume, we represent a “post-reconceptualist” notion of a diversity of theories/methodologies—as well as diverse imaginaries for new pedagogical spaces, social justice action and activisms, peace, and hope. We want to be inclusive of the majority of children on the planet who do not live in the geographies and cultural spaces of the “rich.” In diverse ways, the authors challenge everyone to develop a sense of planetary kindness, an ethics of collective care for the “other” that avoids the construction of “others” (whether those who are younger or otherwise), and a posthumanist agenda that moves beyond privileging the self-identified human (or adult) toward an ethical practice that addresses the relational (including nonhuman and even nonliving) environment that surrounds us all, as well as environmental justice and possibilities for all aspects of our being.

This Reader

While addressing all these questions is beyond the scope of our introduction, they do represent many of the themes in the diverse contributions authors have made to the volume. Nonetheless, ← 8 | 9 → there are several ways to think about the contributions—by section, and by themes or questions asked/responses given, as well as new debates and challenges. In the following sections, we highlight important issues raised in this volume by different contributors.

Foundational Debates and Questions

Almost every chapter in the first section of the book raises some points about the initial debates and challenges that scholars brought to a rethinking or a reconceptualizing of early education/child care theory, research/methods, policies, and curricular/pedagogical practices. Across the majority of chapters, the initial debates about the reliance on psychology and child development (developmental psychology) as a way to guide research, theory, policy, and what was considered to be “best practices” or high quality in curriculum is mentioned.

In “Interrogating the Reconceputalization of Early Care and Education (RECE)—20 Years Along,” Marianne Bloch presents a history of the “movement” from her perspective, suggesting initial purposes, historical background, and new discursive contexts/texts that maintain or change beliefs, politics and policies, and pedagogical opportunities and openings.

Shirley Kessler’s chapter, “Reconceptualizing the Early Childhood Curriculum: An Unaddressed Topic,” draws on reconceptualist curriculum theory and critical historical perspectives, repeating the question: What values are embedded in the early childhood curriculum? Kessler provides a challenging argument that there are many ways in which values are foundational to curriculum choices and content, and that these issues have still not been discussed. As a critical curriculum historian in early education, her foundational arguments (Kessler, 1991; Kessler & Swadener, 1992; Swadener & Kessler, 1991) related to what counts and who decides, leave us with a reminder of persistent questions that must be responded to with a reinvigorated urgency.

Amos Hatch’s chapter, “Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Research,” highlights foundational questions that began a movement away from positivist inquiry, what some call “quantitative” research in early education and child care research. He discusses important classic ethnographic and qualitative research, and suggests that in the past decade the renewed call for good scientific educational research (National Research Council, 2002) did damage to early childhood/child care research, as well as other qualitative research. From his position as past editor of significant qualitative journals and books, he suggests renewed attention to important, rigorous, but qualitative research in our field, a request that has been repeated in different ways by a range of scholars (Steinberg & Cannella, 2012; Lather, 2010; Lincoln & Cannella, 2004).

The chapters by Jonathon Silin, Michael O’Loughlin, and Richard Johnson remind the reader of each of the author’s early work, as well as the scholarship of many others, critiquing the dependence in early childhood education and care on child development. These critiques resulted in debates between those who constructed notions of developmentally appropriate practices in the early 1990s (see, especially, Jipson, 1991, for critique) and those who were concerned with the hegemony of such constructs. Each of the three authors reminds us that there has been little change for the better, even little hope that “the revolution” might cause change. Jonathan Silin, in “Through a Queer Lens: Recuperative Longings and the Reconceptualizing Past,” and Michael O’Loughlin in “Still Waiting for the Revolution, both acknowledge the counter-discourses of “standards,” “testing,” and “push-down curriculum” that have created reactionary positions that support “developmentally appropriate curriculum.” In both cases, the authors use personal stories in their work and in their writing to help us reexamine the ← 9 | 10 → importance of narrative in conjunction with our subjective experiences of “history.” Both invite early childhood researchers and practitioners to ask new questions and to continue diverse ways of rethinking, acting, and reacting.

In “Disciplining ‘Safe’ Bodies in a Global Era of Child Panic: Implementing Techniques for Disciplining the Self,” Richard Johnson contrasts his old and new work directed at nurture, touch, and care in the curriculum. Using diverse theoretical framings related to sexuality, the body, and desire, he re/questions the construction of gender, the notions of nurturing relationships, and who decides what/who/when touch in early childhood programs can occur as exhibited in an intensified surveillance of teachers, especially those who are identified as males. The author believes that the formation of the subjective self in relation to others, to desire, and to love and care with/for young children and their teachers is at stake, at least within the legal surveillance system in the U.S.

Representing the intersection between policy and curriculum, in “Social Justice, Risk, and Imaginaries,” Susan Grieshaber and Felicity McArdle propose that the original focus on social justice and equity that many of us felt our work embodied has not been realized. Further, they suggest that at global, national, and regional levels, inequalities in caregiver/teacher wages in a field characterized as (women’s) gendered work, unequal access to reasonable child care or preschool programs for many of the world’s children, and the particular aspects of class, gender, and racial policy and pedagogical practice all need urgent attention and action. From the point of view of Sue Grieshaber’s work as editor of the Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood journal published in Australia, staying in place is not an alternative. Addressing social justice is a risk, but a necessary one that requires redirection.

Liane Mozère’s chapter titled “What About Learning?” draws on her long-term association with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to suggest that we neither “know” children nor childhoods. From French philosophy, and her diverse studies of children and families in immigrant and diverse cultural/class settings in France, she illustrates the possibilities of imagining children’s movements and thoughts otherwise—opening ourselves to new encounters and new childhoods that current discourses constrain. In her short piece, she brings us into a new realm of encounters with others and with constructions, and beliefs about, learning. Using her own experiences, she illustrates learning as an unpredictable, political, changing act. She describes learning (and education) as both amorous and fatal, placing both death and life at stake. This work provides a form of mentoring that helps the reader see rhizomatic lines of flight for pedagogical, theoretical, and research becomings.

Finally, in “New Imaginaries Related to Authors’ Scholarly Work and Praxis Ki te Whai ao, Ki te ao Marama,” Cheryl Rau and Jenny Ritchie describe the decolonizing work they have practiced in New Zealand. Their work in collaboration with Maori scholars, activists, and communities of teachers and families provides a window into what could be imagined. Further, this work constructs positions from which conceptualizations of what might be done can be generated. Also included is a discussion of the ways that counter narratives and macro/micro-politics facilitate or prevent movement, new flows, and more socially and environmentally just education and care.

Diverse Imaginaries

As we explore the possibilities for the future as grounded in diverse imaginaries and multiplicity, the authors in the second section generate new directions for their own work, for research ← 10 | 11 → in the field, and even for childhood counter politics and public policy. To varying degrees, the chapters illustrate multiple directions through which the personal and professional are entangled, possibilities for future lives and work as conceptualized through as yet unthought notions of grace, love, and spirituality (that does not emphasize patriarchal religion), and expansions of scholarship and conceptualizations/performances of childhood using the work of boundary bending/breaking/busting scholars like Butler, Haraway, and Deleuze, as well as theories like posthumanism as applied to childhood.

In her work that focuses on “children’s common world relations,” Affrica Taylor labels her approach as collectivist (rather than individualist), and positioned within a more-than-human (rather than exclusively humanist) framework. She stresses that children are always already enmeshed within the “common worlds” that they inherit and inhabit along with a whole host of human and nonhuman others. As a geographer, Taylor focuses on children’s “emplacement” within these common worlds, as well as the ways in which we think about children’s entangled relations with the nonhuman, “natural” world.

Relatedly, in their chapter “Posthumanist Imaginaries for Decolonizing Early Childhood Praxis,” Veronica Pacini-Katchabaw and Fikile Nxumalo provide an account of the potential of posthumanist perspectives for “decolonizing” early childhood education practices. Working at the intersection of postcolonial, Indigenous, and posthumanist literatures, the authors engage with the following question: How can we conceive a politics for troubling colonialisms in which human individuals are not necessarily the central players, but players among nonhuman others? The chapter explores human and nonhuman entanglements to generate decolonizing early childhood practices providing three examples of reconceptualist practice.

In “Radical Theories of Presence in Early Childhood Imaginaries,” Chelsea Bailey draws on stories from recent work in China to examine how the unfamiliar exposes the uncertain, and how this uncertainty can lead us quite suddenly to a breakdown out of which the potential for tenderness arises. Rather than being a simple cross-cultural tale of difference and its failures and misunderstandings in the present, Bailey uses the lessons offered by these stories of lateral discontinuity to map a route to tenderness, a best version of what could possibly come next. The heart of this essay considers what happens after Western narratives of certainty have ceased to function and entertains possibilities for how the next chapter of what we currently call “childhood” could be written.

Inspired by authors like bell hooks to write “Black and Chicana Feminisms: Journeys Toward Spirituality,” Michelle Salazar Pèrez and Cinthya Saavedra describe their attempts at enacting feminisms within the intersection of their own personal and professional lives. The work provides stories of the often undocumented insight into the theoretical and methodological influence of such feminisms on research. Traditionally marginalized feminisms are considered sights for the construction of unthought possibilities for childhood/s inquiry.

Alejandro Azocar begins the chapter that focuses on poststructural storytelling by positing major questions: Can an early childhood educational researcher be a storyteller? Can both roles be fused in one? What could the result be: educational research or literary excerpts? He argues that a hybridization of early childhood educational research is possible and, in fact, should be encouraged in present-day postmodernist times where the complex life of the immigrant child, the bilingual child, or the disabled child, to name a few, needs to be told to a larger audience. Azocar demonstrates that researchers need to question the push for normality that surrounds the child’s experience, especially the child who happens to be “different” from the mainstream. ← 11 | 12 → Questioning of the “normal” is exactly what present-day storytelling can achieve in the academic realm of early childhood education.

Drawing on critical perspectives in “Revisiting Risk/Re-Thinking Resilience: Fighting to Live vs. Failing to Thrive,” Travis Wright contemplates the advantages and limitations of current discussions of resilience by presenting three case examples emerging from ongoing research, one focused on the demands of respect in the preschool classroom, the other exploring the risk and resilience associated with various preschool masculinities, and the third focused on the behaviors of maltreated children in the preschool classroom. Wright notes that under conditions of poverty, trauma, and/or high stress, what might be a source of strength in one part of a child’s or family’s life may be a source of risk in another. Similarly, across individuals, what might be protective for some may be destructive for others. Further, attention is paid to how discussions of resilience may be reflecting stereotypical notions of race, class, and gender.

Denise Proud and Cynthia à Beckett present their friendship that spans three decades as an example of the way strong bonds grow through shared understandings of working with young children in early childhood settings in their chapter that focuses on “imagining love and grace.” Whether there are differences or similarities in the various life circumstances of diverse early childhood educators, sharing the early childhood education/care experience is discussed as a relational starting point, a meeting place for connections to begin. The authors argue that working with young children is a position of grace (explaining what they consider to be the definition of “grace”), and further raising the question as to whether we fall from grace when we no longer work with those who are younger. In many ways they echo both Johnson’s and Bailey’s call for relationality and ethics toward self and others in larger communities of care.

In “Bring Back the Asylum: Reimagining Inclusion in the Presence of Others,” Gail Boldt and Joseph Valente use the concept of asylum as discussed from the 1930s to the 1990s to consider the concept of place. They advance critical disability studies by asserting that to matter, the concept of place (and the asylum illustration) must be formed through the commitment to what it means to consider the presence of all participants living together in shared experience. The authors use the concept to assist in examining recent research at an inclusive French preschool, L’Ecole Gulliver, that unconditionally admits (subject to space) all children regardless of the nature or severity of their disability or chronic illness.

Liselott Olsson and Ebba Theorell describe a component of the Magic of Language research project (Dahlberg & Olsson, 2009) in “Affective/Effective Reading and Writing Through Real Virtualities in a Digitized Society.” The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council with the purpose of exploring preschool children’s relations to didactic tools for language, reading, and writing. Preliminary work confirms earlier findings that preschool children are immersed in, and great users of, all sorts of digital devices. Most important, the children approach digital devices through a productive representational linguistic logic. These experimentations demonstrate that even the very youngest children are very familiar (and skilled) with digital devices.

Finally, in “Learning From the Margins: Early Childhood Imaginaries, ‘Normal Science,’ and the Case for a Radical Reconceptualization of Research and Practice,” Mathias Urban discusses what appears to be a paradigm shift in recent European Union policies toward young children. At the center of Urban’s interrogation lies a critical inquiry into a mainstream research-policy-practice complex that privileges “normal science.” The following is asked: Who benefits, who speaks, and who is silenced? Making the case for a radical paradigm shift very different from that proposed by the European Union, the chapter aims at identifying and ← 12 | 13 → questioning the narratives that are employed to justify policies and practices focusing on young children, and on early childhood education and care in particular. The questioning, the author argues, opens a space for possible and necessary counter-discourses and renarrativization.

Social Action/Activisms

Chapters in this section bring together multiple theories and approaches to critical activism and raise policy and practice issues. The section begins with “Critical Qualitative Research and Rethinking Academic Activism in Childhood Studies” by Gaile Cannella. The purpose of the chapter is to provide an exploratory outline for the use of critical social science, especially critical qualitative research, as an instrument for the construction of critical academic activism in early childhood studies (and other fields). The author notes that many scholars have worked as activists locally and globally for their entire careers; as critical academic forms of activism are generated, this work provides a range of possibilities for thought/action and should at all points be acknowledged. Using the work of Foucault as illustrative (and specifically related to the neoliberal condition), the outline is presented to serve as either a framework for those who feel that they need a form of solid grounding for beginning critical activist scholarship, or as a position from which to construct critical lines of flight for those who would continue (and increase the transformative power of) their own critical work.

In her chapter, “None for You: Children’s Capabilities and Rights in Profoundly Unequal Times,” Valerie Polakow calls for intensified, focused, collective attention to children in poverty. The chapter examines what it means to be a poor child in the second decade of the 21st century in the United States and engages several critical questions, including “how do children see their own lifeworlds that are bounded by poverty, inequality, and social and educational exclusion?” She also examines ways in which children cope with their daily lives of poverty and hardship, and how they assume active, rather than passive, roles in strategically marshaling resources, demonstrating that these issues have been under-researched. In the poverty policy literature, children are typically constructed as passive recipients of support or stigma. How children and adolescents confront poverty and the violation of their rights is vital to document as part of a growing literature on children’s rights and capabilities.

In “The Costs of Putting Quality Firsts: Neoliberalism, (Ine)quality, (Un)affordability, and (In)accessibility?” Mark Nagasawa, Lacey Peters, and Beth Blue Swadener draw from a Gramscian analysis, combined with contemporary theories to look at the contradictory nature (common-sense/good-sense/bad-sense) of neoliberal policies in early childhood education. These policies include the current emphasis on quality—while neglecting accessibility, affordability, and cultural relevance to families and children. A case is made for direct engagement with community and policy shapers and makers to not just critique the “bad-sense” but to build on the moments or elements of “good sense” in current early childhood systems and programs/initiatives.

Kylie Smith and Sheralyn Campbell’s chapter, “Social Activism: The Risky Business of Early Childhood Educators in Neoliberal Australian Classrooms,” focuses attention on teacher education and critical action research in relation to policy as approaches toward action and activism. Despite their illustrations of collective work with regional and national early-education-curriculum framework makers, they suggest change is easier at local levels than at larger levels. Within the new Australian Government Early Learning Framework (Australian Government, 2012), discourses and openness to new theoretical frameworks have been included; but regional and ← 13 | 14 → local school policies constrain or restrain teachers and programs from understanding what to use and why to adopt change, and little on-the-ground training has helped this. In addition, government at different levels continuously requires new standards, as in the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada, and has taken on new methods of assessment for early childhood programs, and for teachers. Therefore, the authors propose that suggested changes on paper fail to equate with change—thus far. Despite these discouraging signs, local critical action research with (not on) teachers suggests greater promise for understanding and reconstruction of what it might mean to teach toward equity and social justice, and is illustrated in the chapter.

In “(Im)possibilities of Reinvention of Palestinian Early Childhood Education,” Janette Habashi analyzes the roles and issues with early education and care for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the West Bank. She draws from her experiences working with mothers and early childhood teachers on a collaborative project that has grown into an NGO—A Child’s Cup Full (ACCF). Her chapter articulates the progress and the steps taken to understand the role of NGOs in early childhood education in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT) and the lessons learned while conceptualizing ACCF’s plan for Palestinian early childhood education in the Jenin Refugee Camp. To facilitate the achievement of such a dream, it is essential to scrutinize the Palestinian historical, structural, and political context that might or might not make it possible to realize this path, especially relating to the challenges of NGOs’ external/internal funding and early childhood curricula. She argues that the contextualization and interrelation of these elements are cornerstones for ACCF to envision an example of the reinvention of early childhood education in the oPT, whereby the community is not contingent on external funding and therefore has a voice in the discussion of the curricula and local programming.

I-Fang Lee and Nicola Yelland draw from a larger project on global childhoods for their chapter, “The Global Childhoods Project: Complexities of Learning and Living With a Biliterate and Trilingual Literacy Policy.” The project has an overall aim to explore contemporary childhoods in Asia and is a collaboration involving academics and teachers from Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand who have come together to interrogate Asian childhoods in the 21st century. In the first instance, a focus has been on beginning to understand children’s literacy learning and practices in their own cultural contexts. Seeking to understand contemporary Asian childhoods and children’s lifeworlds (both learning and living experiences), analyses and discussions aim to move beyond the simple dichotomies of Western/non-Western binary constructions of childhoods and appropriate/inappropriate pedagogical practices in an attempt to reconceptualize aspects of childhoods in the era of globalization. The authors describe how they used an ethnographic approach in an attempt to understand Hong Kong children’s contemporary literacy learning in the context of a biliterate and trilingual education policy in a nonprofit kindergarten in Hong Kong. Lee and Yelland critically analyze the paradoxical moments of children’s lives within systems that are requiring a universal construction of best pedagogical practices in the era of globalization.

A Closing and an Invitation to Read and to Interact In/With This Book

Each chapter in the book asks important new questions, provides additional critique, and calls for new forms of critical action. In the end, we hope the volume is not seen as “history” in that ← 14 | 15 → such a history could be another story for another day (see, for example, discussions of cultural history in Popkewitz, Franklin, & Pereyra, 2001). Rather, we would like the book to be read as a collection of new and re-energized responses to an old call for what could be.


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Malewski, E. (2010). Preface and Introduction: Proliferating curriculum. In E. Malewski (Ed.), Curriculum studies handbook: The next moment (pp. xi–41). New York: Routledge.

Mallory, B., & New, R. (Eds.). (1994). Diversity and developmentally appropriate practices: Challenges for early childhood education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Marcus, G., & Fischer, M. (1986). Anthropology as cultural critique: An experimental moment in the human sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ← 15 | 16 →

National Research Council. (2002). Scientific research in education (Committee on Scientific Principles for Education Research, R. Shavelson, & L. Town [Eds.]). Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Pinar, W. F. (Ed.). (1975). Curriculum theorizing: The reconconceptualists. New York: McCutcheon.

Polakow, V. (1993). Lives on the edge: Single mothers and their children in the other America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Polakow-Suransky, V. (1982). The erosion of childhood. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Popkewitz, T. S. (1987). The formation of school subjects. London: Falmer Press.

Popkewitz, T. S. (1991). The political sociology of educational reform: Power-knowledge in teaching, teacher education, and research. New York: Teachers College Press.

Popkewitz, T. S., Franklin, B. M., & Pereyra, M. (Eds.). (2001). Cultural history and education. New York: Routledge Press.

Rhedding-Jones, J. (2005). What is research?: Methodological practices and new approaches. Oslo, Norway: Universitetsforlaget AS.

Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. New York: Oxford University Press.

Silin, J. (1987). The early childhood educator’s knowledge base: A reconsideration. In L. G. Katz (Ed.), Current topics in early childhood education (pp. 17–31). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Sleeter, C., & Grant, C. (1987). An analysis of multicultural research in the United States. Harvard Education Review, 57(4), 421–445.

Steinberg, S. R., & Cannella, G. S. (Eds.). (2012). Critical qualitative research reader. New York: Peter Lang.

introduction. Early Education and Development, 2(2), 85–94.

Swadener, B. B., & Lubeck, S. (Eds.). (1995). Children and families “at promise”: Deconstructing the discourse of “at risk.” New York: SUNY Press.

Swadener, B. B., Lundy, L., Habashi, J., & Blanchet-Cohen, N. (Eds.). (2013). Children’s rights and education: International perspectives. New York: Peter Lang.

Swadener, E. B., & Kessler, S. A. (1991). Reconceptualizing early childhood education: An

Tobin, J., Wu, D. Y. H., & Davidson, D. H. (1989). Preschool in three cultures. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Walkerdine, V. (1984/2005). Developmental psychology and child-centered pedagogy. In J. Henriques, W. Holloway, C. Urwin, C. Venn, & V. Walkerdine (Eds.), Changing the subject: Psychology, social regulation and subjectivity (pp. 153–202). London & New York: Routledge (first published by Methuen, 1984).

Whiting, B. B., & Whiting, J. (1975). Children of six cultures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ← 16 | 17 →



Foundational Debates and Continuing Questions

← 17 | 18 →

← 18 | 19 →



Interrogating the Reconceptualizing Early Care and Education (RECE)—20 Years Along

Marianne N. Bloch1

While some of the history of the first Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE) Conference was initiated in 1991 as a tentative start for new discussions, critique, and presentation of then-marginalized approaches to research, theory, policy, and pedagogy, it was hardly the beginning of these debates, nor, of course, is it the end—as this volume illustrates well. In this chapter, I present a form of history of the RECE Conference, illustrate some of the key questions we asked, and, finally, continue to ask questions and interrogate where we’ve “been” and where we might move. Thus, this is a history that draws upon my memories and reflections, as well as events that, though incompletely discussed or illustrated, I have constructed as important.

A framework for reading this chapter: histories are not linear, nor are they “truth” (Foucault, 1980). They involve memories and forgettings, intentional and without seeming intention. In addition, following Scott (1991) and Butler (1993, 2004) “experience” as well as identity(es) are contingently situated and related or performed in the discursive moment in which “experience” or storytelling (in this case) happens. As I narrate this story, therefore, please see the narrative as nonlinear, with ruptures, and that different discursive moments may account in ways I or “we” (then and now) think, act, and write.

Brief Overview of RECE’s Early Days/Years

Therefore, drawing from my memories (and forgettings), I try to represent the work of other critical theorists in education and curriculum studies at different moments. My narrative begins with disciplinary, theoretical/methodological backgrounds of the early participants. ← 19 | 20 →

My Memories: As suggested in the introduction to this book, the attendees at the first few RECE conferences had different theoretical roots, diverse disciplinary affiliations and backgrounds in research. There was also a desire to stimulate new discussions, new research approaches and to search for more equitable policies and pedagogical practices in early care and education at a material level with families, teachers, and children. We/they were also primarily academic researchers and teachers focusing on curriculum, early- and elementary-level teacher education, and most of us were doing graduate education and research. Some of us were engaged in what we thought to be the initial debates about the dominance of psychology and child development “truths” about children and childhood. Many of us were concerned about the dominance of positivist research in determining what knowledge was considered valid and reliable about children, their families, and how good “quality” teaching and curriculum for young children was culturally, socially, historically, and philosophically constructed. We represented somewhat different disciplinary backgrounds, some with emphasis in anthropology, many with developmental psychology/child development backgrounds, some sociologists, others interested in critical curriculum theory, some coming with backgrounds in feminist/gender studies; some with historical, philosophical, or psychoanalytic interests and experience. We all shared an interest in early education and child care.

The dominance of psychology, child development and positivist, largely quantitatively oriented “Science” that was based on logical-empiricist or empirical-analytical principles had emerged in the United States particularly in the beginning of the 20th century (Bloch, 1991, 1992; Burman, 1994; Cannella, 1997; Rose, 1989/1999). In various publications from the mid-1980s onward, there had been questions about the dominance of psychology and child development as well as “empirical-analytic” or positivist research in early childhood education (ECE) and the ways in which these discourses of developmental psychology and positivist research paradigms governed ECE and child care and teacher education, as well as research on and with teachers, parents, and children (Bloch, 1987; David, 1980; Polakow Suransky, 1983; Polakow, 1992; Silin, 1987; Walkerdine, 1984). In addition, as suggested in the introductory chapter, many early-education-oriented researchers were beginning to draw from critical curriculum theorists and the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory to question taken-for-granted approaches to curriculum development in education; Jonathan Silin (1987) asked whose knowledge should count in the curriculum? What knowledge is most valued for young children? Bernard Spodek (1980) also asked whether developmental psychology was the only framework that should guide the early childhood curriculum; what content matters in the curriculum, and who should decide? Others suggested that common, taken-for-granted precepts in ECE such as Piagetian theory or a child-centered curriculum may reproduce inequalities rather than provide a liberal space for learning (Walkerdine, 1984; O’Loughlin, 1992). King (1982) described how play and work reproduced class inequalities within the kindergarten curriculum, while Gracey (1975) called kindergarten academic boot camp by illustrating how the curriculum focused on regimented behavior such as learning to line up and be quiet and know who (the teacher) was in charge. David (1980) drew on critical feminist and neo-Marxist theory to examine the relation among the state, parenting, and education. Rather than focusing on “maternal involvement” in school as a neutral good, she suggested that maternal rather than paternal involvement was expected as part of women’s assignment to childrearing as their primary state productive labor. ← 20 | 21 →

Valerie Suransky Polakow’s (Suransky, 1983/Polakow, 1992) initial critique of our concepts of childhood and child development were also focused on gender and class inequalities and were published in The Erosion of Childhood. Lubeck (1985) in The Sandbox Society showed through ethnographies of children in low-income Head Start and middle-class preschools how class (and to some extent race) relates to curriculum and pedagogical practices for young children in the United States. Tobin, Wu, and Davidson (1989) in Preschool in Three Cultures illustrated how qualitative research and ethnography cross-nationally could be used to see things in ways other than the traditional positivist research had shown to date.2 Again, by 1989, Ayers’ The Good Preschool Teacher (1989) and Davies’ (1989) Frogs and Snails and Feminist Tales had been published and continued to illuminate the importance of critical, poststructural, feminist perspectives and how qualitative research could show how teachers’ and children’s experiences varied by class and gender and how the experiences of teachers and children could and should be represented in research. Attendance and joint discussions at the Bergamo Conference for Curriculum Theory and the Council on Anthropology and Education, as well as at the American Education Research Association meetings, helped us (all from the United States at that time) recognize a desire for a new conference, modeled especially after the informality and critical discussions of the Bergamo Conference as well as at the Anthropology and Education conference meetings, but with an emphasis on early education and child care.

The Reconceptualists

The foundations for the RECE Conference were varied. An early purpose of the RECE conference was simply to have a space to present academic research drawing on disciplines and theoretical and methodological frameworks that were marginalized within the broader field of academic ECE conferences and publications. From this amorphous intellectual desire, “we”3 formed other desires and made room for the pleasure of meeting in small conferences together to talk, think, and reinforce critical pedagogical and policy action. We wanted a “safe” space to engage in critiques of dominant paradigms, methodologies, policies, and pedagogical practices and to explore new theories and their meaning or implications for our research. We also wanted to support younger colleagues by forming a network in which we could learn from each other and support each other in our individual work. We used the RECE forum as a way to open up spaces to new ideas with a social justice and equity framework that drew from the diverse critical theories we were using.

The term “reconceptualizing” the curriculum, however, came from key curriculum theorists who had used that specific term initially to critique traditional studies of curriculum (e.g., see Pinar, 1975a, 1975b) with chapters or references to work by Huebner, Schubert, Pinar, Apple, Grumet, Miller, and Greene among others where they drew on this phrase or title initially. According to Kessler (1991) and Kessler and Swadener (1992b), Pinar’s (1975a) edited volume called for the reconceptualization of curriculum studies in education and his critique of the Tyler Rationale (e.g., especially see Kliebard, 1975, for this argument) with its focus on objectives, lesson plans, and prescribed evaluation of outcomes and testing, and this formed a foundation for their critique of early childhood theory and curriculum. In addition, Kessler and Swadener (1992b) focused on other critical curriculum theory questions, which Shirley Kessler’s chapter in this volume repeats again—20 years later: What knowledge counts? Whose knowledge is represented in the curriculum, and whose is excluded? How do we decide what is ← 21 | 22 → valuable to teach? How does the reproduction of an exclusionary or privileged and incomplete knowledge relate to power and the reproduction or production of inequalities?

By 1990, a small group initiated the first RECE conference, and the call for “reconceptualization” of early childhood curriculum and critical childhood studies more broadly. Amos Hatch, in a separate conference, focused on Qualitative Research in Early Education in 1989 that illustrated exceptional qualitative/ethnographic research focused on early education and child care, most done in the United States. This group, represented by those in the edited volume by Hatch (1995), and new significant research by Graue (1993), and Leavitt and Powers (1994), joined in the effort to reconceptualize early education research—illustrating new theories and methodologies, and pushing for recognition of nonpositivist research in the broader field of early education research.

In 1991 the first conference was held at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, using the title “reconceptualizing early childhood education.” The word “reconceptualizing” early childhood education (RECE) designated the very specific history within critical curriculum studies in the United States at the time. The push to examine power relations and structures that reproduced or produced inequities within schooling, early education, and child care settings and within broader social institutions affiliated with education and care came from this foundational background. Those in attendance drew from feminist, critical, and poststructural theories, and did research in sociology, psychology, anthropology, political economy, history, and philosophy. The word “reconceptualist,” therefore, was particular and specific to discussions at a specific time and place, drawing first from the published work and scholarly debates in Swadener and Kessler (1991).

Trying to Rupture Theory, Methodology, Curriculum, and Policies in Early Childhood Education: 1991–1997

Primary themes in the first years of RECE were critiques of the universal claims about childhood made by the dominant discourses of developmental psychology and the pedagogical framework that informed notions of “quality education” in the widely used Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) guidelines (Bredekamp, 1987; Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Kessler, 1991). In the U.S., these dominated concepts of “best quality” in early education/care programs; by the mid-1990s, these ideas were spreading elsewhere (e.g., see Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 2007).

As suggested earlier, critiques also focused on the privileging of positivist research/theory/methodologies as “best evidence” and the use of and importance of different types of qualitative research methodologies, as well as critical, poststructural, and feminist theories and methodologies in research (Ayers, 1989; Bloch, 1992; Burman, 1994; Cannella, 1997; Davies, 1989; Graue, 1993; Hatch, 1995; Kessler & Swadener, 1992a; Leavitt & Powers, 1994; Lubeck, 1994; Mallory & New, 1994; Silin, 1995).

Other work in the early conferences focused on exclusions and reproductions of class/gender/racial/age/ability inequities based on the centuries-long assimilationist/colonizing forms of education that prevailed (Bloch, 1987; Cannella, 1997; Polakow, 1993). We focused on the need for more attention to multilingual/multicultural and a social reconstructionist/social-justice-oriented early childhood education and the politics of early childhood education. ← 22 | 23 → While far from inclusive, several well-known examples of this 1990s work include: Deconstructing Early Childhood Education: Social Justice and Revolution (Cannella, 1997); Language, Culture, and Power (Soto, 1996); The Politics of Early Education (Soto, 2000); Lives on the Edge: Single Mothers and Their Children in the Other America (Polakow, 1993); Children and Families “At Promise”: Deconstructing the Discourse of “At Risk” (Swadener & Lubeck, 1995); and Sex, Death, and the Education of Children: Our Passion for Ignorance in the Age of AIDS (Silin, 1995). Different attendees at the early RECE conferences also focused on cross-national policy (Cannella & Kincheloe, 2002; Swadener & Bloch, 1997), different ways to understand inclusions and exclusions in pedagogies around sexuality and cultural identities (Greishaber & Cannella, 2001; Silin, 1995; Tobin, 1997), and deconstructing the concept and evaluation of “quality” (Dahlberg et al., 2007).

Rupturing Dominant Discourses in Theory/Research/Pedagogies/Policy in the Early 21st Century: Again—Scientific Rigor, Standards, and the Universal Child

Since the mid-1990s, new themes and different approaches to research have emerged rhizomatically (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) within, around, and before and after different conferences related to groups and ideas from those who had been and from those who were not part of earlier discussions. Continuing critiques by sociologists of childhood from the new sociology of childhood researchers (e.g., James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998; Jenkins, 1998) as well as continuing work by Valerie Walkerdine (e.g., 1998), Joe Tobin and colleagues (2000) pushed at the borders of foundational arguments about the truth and constructed knowledge base in early education and child development. Despite this, growing neoliberal counter-discourses calling for “scientific rigor” and “evidence-based” (read this as: largely quantitative, positivist/empirical; non-qualitative) in the social sciences and in education held many critiques at bay, or reinstated them in the “margins.” Most critique, now related to a new constellation of discursive events, were now (again) against mainstream policy, pedagogy, research, and teacher education. This, however, was not only true in early education/child care fields, but also within educational research more broadly (see Cannella & Viruru, 2004; Steinberg & Cannella, 2012). Critical scholarship, critical qualitative research and policy analyses were increasingly done, and of interest to many, but still marginal in terms of funding, and still rarely published in “high-status” early education and child care journals, necessary for tenure and promotion for many junior faculty.

Nonetheless, calls for more critique with political action (for example, Soto, 2000), inclusion of more diverse groups (more teachers especially, more diverse representation of different cultural groups, and less attention to “minority world” research and researchers—see Pence & Hix-Small, 2009) were important in RECE conferences and publications. Themes that more actively use decolonizing/anti-colonial perspectives in research were made. More of the RECE and critical ECE researchers moved toward a call for more marginalized voices to be heard in curriculum, including a focus on children’s voices and experiences (e.g., Soto & Swadener, 2005; Mutua & Swadener, 2005; Polakow, 2007; Tobin, 1997, 2000) and more feminist, poststructural, and postcolonial and decolonizing theoretical framings of research (e.g., Rhedding-Jones, 2005). In conferences held at the University of Hawaii–Manoa (1997), the Queensland University of ← 23 | 24 → Technology (2000), Bank Street College, NYU, and Teacher’s College, Columbia (2001), at Arizona State University (2003), at the University of Waikato (2006), at the RECE conference held in Palestine (2008), and at the 2013 conference at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya, a focus on the global and local and recognition of indigenous knowledge and decolonizing research have been strong and important parts of debates and discussions. Perhaps because of the growing international group of presenters, even the pattern of holding RECE in the United States every two years (as it was founded in the U.S.) has been quite legitimately questioned. These questions raised new questions—whose voices are heard in most reconceptualist publications? How can diverse global and local critiques, theories, knowledge bases, policies, and pedagogical practices be included (Brougere & Vandenbroeck, 2007; Cannella, Swadener, Che, 2007).

By the late 2000s, these conferences, individual presentations, new publications, and appropriate self-critique were leading to new approaches to research, greater experimentation with poststructural and postcolonial/decolonizing, feminist/gender/queer studies, and posthumanist research than had been represented in the early years of the conferences (e.g., Blaise, 2005; Bloch, Holmlund, Moqvist, & Popkewitz, 2003; Cannella & Viruru, 2004; MacNaughton, 2003, 2005; Mutua & Swadener, 2005; Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2010; Taylor, 2013).

In 2004, in Oslo, Norway, the theme focused on language and power. In more recent years, Dahlberg, Moss, and Pence’s (2007) work, drawing on both Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari’s theoretical work with the rhizome, has been used to discuss a continued critique of the neoliberal naturalness of discourses of “quality,” the circulation of discourses of efficiencies, privatization, standards, and outcomes-based assessments. The call for new macro- and micro-political analyses of programs and pedagogies in early childhood care and education, and an ethics of listening to the other (Dahlberg & Moss, 2005) spurred new research that focused on different ways of working with teachers and children, new pedagogical openings (Ryan & Grieshaber, 2005; Lenz-Taguchi, 2009; Olsson, 2009). These ideas, represented in diverse research, publications, and experimentation with new pedagogies in teaching have led to even greater attention toward critical action research in classroom pedagogies, opening up new spaces for children’s and teacher’s thinking in conferences and in some teacher preparation programs and curriculum texts. Nonetheless, increasingly, and despite the prominence of some of these authors, researchers, and teacher educators, teacher education and curriculum seems to continue to be dominated by the (re)new(ed) emphases on developmental approaches (DAP as now represented by Copple & Bredekamp, 2009), literacy, math, and science, and universal assessments and standards.

But whose voices and knowledge count? Whose values are embedded in what we think is appropriate curriculum, and for whom? Critical questions and some responses are illustrated in Soto and Swadener (2005), Mutua and Swadener (2005), and in the critically significant work of the Maori/non-Maori researchers participating in the development and continued critique of the Te Whariki early childhood curriculum (originally published in 1997; Ritchie & Rau, 2007, 2009). These ideas have moved some toward a new approach (rupture4) in thinking. The focus on the politics involved in decolonizing/doing anti-colonial and posthumanist, environmental research (Pacini-Katchabow, 2010; Taylor, 2013) that has allowed for the imagining of the “natures” of child with/in his/their ecological and cultural context has added powerful dimensions to possibilities for curriculum theory and pedagogy.

From a different theoretical framework, continual examinations of childhood voice, subjectivity, and imagining children otherwise (e.g., O’Loughlin & Johnson, 2010) also facilitated ← 24 | 25 → the intertwining of Lacanian and other psychoanalytic theorizing to be used in resistance of what some perceived as overly constraining structural and poststructural theories that overlooked self and subject. The reduction of the subjective self to discursive or structural constraints and analyses is also an important part of Jonathan Silin’s continuing research and writing (e.g., see Silin, 1995, and his contribution in this volume).

RECE Turns Almost Twenty and Some of Us Are Getting Old(er)

Reform That Aims to Rupture Thinking and Action

In revisiting some of the early goals, values, and purposes of RECE, I ask what thinking or actions did we “cut open,” rupture, or change? Which of the initial purposes, goals, and values seem to have been “achieved” even partially, while others appear to remain locked into place by new forms of dominant discourses, and/or to be rhizomatically shifting in unpredictable ways? For example, in the 1990s, we (speaking from my memories and reconstruction) hoped to “dismantle,” or find alternatives to:

discourses of child development, developmental psychology, and educational psychology, discourses of the child as innocent, developing (primitive innocent unknowing) child to developed (mature sophisticated rational/logical thinking) child/adult. (My memories, italics used for emphasis)

Yet recently, in a talk I gave at the 18th RECE Conference in Georgia (October 2010), I stated:

In the USA, the majority of state standards for early learning remain tied to child development ages/stages and research as a dominant guide for teachers and teacher educators, as well as for state and federal policies about which information represents “best knowledge” about children. (Bloch, 2010, also see Bloch & Kim, 2012)

In addition, best practices in pedagogy are still tied to “Developmentally Appropriate Practice” guidelines, in much the same way they were (or more so) in 1991 and 1992 when the RECE conferences (held respectively in Madison, Wisconsin, and in Chicago, Illinois) first critiqued these. Yet, key and mainstream researchers are writing to keep critiques available; more linkages and network alliances may be necessary for new times, for renarrativing, and reterritorializing discourses and reasoning of the present (see, for example, Cannella, in press; Ryan & Grieshaber, 2004, 2005).

In the 1990s, we hoped to break open:

Discourses of disciplinary expertise within the psychological sciences—especially child development, developmental psychology, and educational psychology—with a call to open up spaces to interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies of childhood (e.g., the fields of sociology of childhood studies, anthropological studies of childhood and education, historical studies of early education and child care). Discourses related to rigorous “evidence”-based, experimental design, and positivist/logical-empiricist assumptions about what research is best, and produces legitimate truth. In contrast, we wanted to open up new spaces for examining early education/child care as a critical theoretical space—drawing on the emerging work in critical structural and poststructural theories, including diverse feminist theories and gender/sexuality/queer studies. (My memories, italics used for emphasis) ← 25 | 26 →

Indeed, the RECE network focused a great deal of attention on opening up to new ways of doing research, different ways of thinking about “best evidence” or what some now call the “gold standard” of educational research (randomized and/or quasi-experimental design, rigorous, cause-and-effect studies, taking off from the natural science model of research, positivist, statistical, objective, replicable, and generalizable searches for truth).

Our “discourse communities” (Kittler & Meteer, 1992) have been special to those of us who attend (Tobin, 2007), but also isolated from many—with some intentionality in so doing. This intentional decision to keep the conference small may have limited its ability to be heard by others. Having it be larger, however, may have led toward the politics of co-optation, as some argued, and made it less intellectually fruitful.

The publications and discussions that have emerged suggest some success at diversifying theory/methodologies and a move toward what Malewski (2010) calls “post-reconceptualist recognition of the diverse approaches. Moreover, despite the small number of those in RECE at any given conference, the diverse perspectives and international backgrounds of those attending RECE have pushed individuals toward new methodologies and ideas, new theories, different ways to read and use theoretical frameworks in our work, and certainly opened us up toward different ideas about policy, pedagogical practices and research methodology. The RECE network, over the years has published work—for some of us still new—on decolonizing research, polyvocality in research, studying children’s or parent’s voices, using critical ethnographic, narrative, life history, critical and poststructural action research, strands of feminist theory laced with different methodologies (collaborative/teacher, parent, children as researched and researching), various forms of critical discourse analyses (e.g., MacLure, 2003), and, as suggested, diverse qualitative theory/methodologies (e.g., Rhedding-Jones, 2005; Steinberg & Cannella, 2012). We have pushed each other, answering the initial calls for “difference” in regimes of truth, different traditions of research, allowing different knowledge formation, policy ideas and political action to take place (see diverse contributions in this volume).

In the 1990s, we also hoped to:

Develop a social network of researchers and teacher educators and graduate students as a very important early goal (drawing on Bloch, 1992); a longer-term goal was to increase the number of faculty hires with a reconceptualizing ECE or critical/poststructural and feminist theoretical background and ECE background and interest in research at universities across the nation (first described explicitly in Bloch, 1992). This was important in terms of not wanting to continue to reproduce dominant discourses in teacher training and research. We wanted to be open to new paradigms of research, multidisciplinary research beyond the psychological sciences and child development, and, especially, to allow for critical theoretical research that would enable different ways of thinking and acting related to “dominant” or “normative” pedagogy and policy in ECE and child care. (My memories and words; italics used for emphasis)

Over the past 20 years, we have certainly created new spaces for publications, conferences, and networks of support. Many young graduate students have been hired at major universities in the U.S. and elsewhere—despite the fact that their research may still be considered “different” or “abnormal.” Nevertheless, it has still been difficult for many new lecturers and assistant professors without tenure to publish in peer-reviewed journals, at least in the U.S. Along with the Australian on-line journal Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood (CIEC), new journals are appearing that open up spaces for conversation and critique. The International Journal on Critical Policy Studies of Childhood and Global Childhoods have emerged as sites for publishing and discussion; they are also open access and globally available. ← 26 | 27 →

Last, but I’m certain not least, over these past 20 years, our initial goals included the following questions: Whose voices were privileged or excluded; which values, knowledge, and truths guided curriculum choices in ECE; what and whose theories and knowledge were included in, as one example, the U.S.-published “Developmentally Appropriate Practice” guidelines (Bredekamp, 1987; Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Copple & Bredekamp, 2009); what and which theories framed constructions of childhood as well as “best” policies and pedagogical practices for children, teachers, and families? Here, in light of tightening discourses of standardization and testing of young children, increasing push-down of academics into the preschool years, and relentless assessment of “quality” of programs that, if lucky, rely on NAEYC Developmentally Appropriate Standards criteria, the RECE discussions have had, in my experience and review (e.g., Bloch & Kim, 2012; Perez & Lee, in press), limited impact.

The response to our initial aims and purposes, and the values we espoused in our search for what and whose values count in the curriculum have been important and yet small at the same time. Since at least the 1980s when global and neoliberal/conservative policies in education and research have resulted in more emphasis on testing, standardized curricula, and even universal standardized childhoods, the research, writing, and openings of new ideas in teacher education that have occurred have been both discouraging and encouraging (and/but). In New Zealand, the Te Whariki curriculum and new assessment tools provide an example for many of us that shifts and ruptures can occur. In Australia’s new Early Years Learning Framework (Australian Government, 2013), there are subtle shifts in wording that provide a lens into the important work Australian early childhood educators have been able to do in these past years—through being at the “table” for policy development, they have, with difficulty and perseverance, begun to make important changes in the framework policy documents (e.g., Sumsion, Barnes, Cheeseman, Harrison, Kennedy, & Stonehouse, 2009; Phelan & Sumsion, 2008). In the recent Australian Government Early Years Learning Framework (Australian Government, 2013), we see a statement of values about what we should care for, which ethical commitments are important, responding perhaps to Shirley Kessler’s call for examining “What knowledge counts, who decides” (Kessler & Swadener, 1992a; Kessler, this volume). In Canada (Early Learning Advisory Group, 2008), Sweden, and in the OECD documents (e.g., Starting Strong: Early Childhood Education and Care, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2001), we see a movement in the curriculum frameworks of postmodern theory as one of the guiding theories for the written documents. In many cases, critical researchers, many who participate in RECE as well as other critically oriented research, teaching, and writing, have helped to frame and insert these changes in government documents (Dahlberg & Moss, 2005; Sumsion et al., 2009).

These are important changes—in language, in the policy discourses that have begun to rupture, shift, and open up new possibilities for thinking and action. But, as suggested earlier, in the United States and elsewhere, we still see little change, small ruptures in politics, some changes that are, in my opinion (and of many others in this book), worse than what we initially worked against in the 1980s and 1990s. We can attribute some of this to increasing globalization, new counter-balancing networks of “control” and “discipline” (Deleuze, 1995; Dahlberg & Bloch, 2006), as well as new ways of “governing our souls,” as Nikolas Rose (1989/1999) has so aptly phrased things. I would counter that our network society (Castells, 2009/2011) and alliances could act more strategically, more micro-politically (see Dahlberg & Moss, 2005), and with greater action/activism to open new spaces and recognize rhizomatic possibilities that ← 27 | 28 → are opening every day in local and global arenas. While some things have been done, so very many things appear to be worsening, for so many families and young children across the globe; important, and more challenging fights lay ahead.

Selected References

Australian Government. (2013). Early Years Learning Framework, National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care. http://deewr.gov.au/early-years-learning-framework

Ayers, W. (1989). The good preschool teacher. New York: Teachers College Press.

Blaise, M. (2005). Playing it straight: Uncovering gender discourse in the early childhood classroom. London: Routledge.

Bloch, M. N. (1987). Becoming scientific and professional: An historical perspective on the aims and effects of early childhood education. In T. S. Popkewitz (Ed.), The Formation of School Subjects (pp. 25–62). London: Falmer.

Bloch, M. N. (1991). Critical science and the history of child development’s influence on early education research. Early Education and Development, .(2), 95–97.

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  1.  This chapter is a shortened version of a keynote presentation at the Centre for Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood annual conference held at the University of Melbourne, Australia, in November 2011. This article is a shortened and adapted version of: Bloch, M. N. (2013). Reconceptualizing theory/policy/curriculum/pedagogy in early child (care and) éducation: Reconceptualizing early childhood éducation (RECE) 1991–2012. In the International Journal of Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood, vol. 11, No. 1, 2013, (pp. 65–85).

  2.  A conference sponsored by Amos Hatch (1989) focused on qualitative research in ECE in the U.S. (see Hatch, 1995).

  3.  The use of “we” is a metaphor for my own portrayal of what I remember, and what I have never known, or forgotten. Given that there is no one correct representation, my memories and my forgettings and exclusions are part of my understandings of shared memories and a collective historical narrative. Of the initial people at the 1991 RECE conference, Beth Swadener, Shirley Kessler, Sally Lubeck, Joe Tobin, Jan Jipson, Daniel Walsh, Bernard Spodek, Gary Price, Chelsea Bailey, Beth Graue, and I had been instrumental in formulating the idea of the conference. It was hosted at University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1991 because much of the early work had initiated with the faculty and alumni of the critical-theory-oriented Department of Curriculum and Instruction. A list of those who attended the first conference is available upon request.

  4.  Rupture is used in a very significant way in Foucauldian histories of the present, or genealogical work; it signals a significant break in discourse—one that isn’t evident “in the present” of this 20-year examination; so I use the word “lightly” but with significance here. ← 31 | 32 →

← 32 | 33 →



Reconceptualizing the Early Childhood Curriculum: An Unaddressed Topic

Shirley A. Kessler

Many years ago, I was intrigued by comments made by Herbert Kliebard during a graduate seminar at the University of Wisconsin (Kliebard, 1980). He said, “Curriculum making is utopia building,” and “all curriculum is made with a view of the future in mind, a utopian vision.” I take these remarks to mean that when we plan a curriculum we have a vision in mind of what we want the future to look like. Additionally, we have a vision of what we want the children we teach to become. While I wrote earlier about “utopian visions” (Kessler, 1991; Kessler & Swadener, 1992), I did not elaborate or further articulate what this idea might mean for the early childhood curriculum and, henceforth, set aside any further research and writing that addresses this important question with regard to curriculum planning. Then, I and others called for a reconceptualization of early childhood education, but not a reconceptualized curriculum. In this chapter I want to return to the question of what a reconceptualized curriculum in early childhood might entail by focusing on four questions curriculum planners must address:1

What vision of the future and the “good life” guides curriculum planning in early childhood?
What should be taught and what is the justification for decisions made?
Who is taught; that is, do all students receive the same curriculum?
What is the relationship between teaching and the curriculum?

Responses to these questions should lead to further discussions among reconceptualists and others and begin a dialogue about what is meant by a reconceptualized approach to early childhood curriculum planning and the ways in which an alternative curriculum might be enacted. ← 33 | 34 →

What Vision of the Future Guides Curriculum Planning in Early Childhood?

Those of us who suggest or plan programs for children must ask ourselves: What vision of the future guides our thinking about the curriculum we plan for young children, and whose vision prevails? Froebel expressed an idealistic view of kindergarten education when he stated that the purpose of the kindergarten was to “lead man to [an understanding of] the inner law of Divine Unity…attained through nourishing good tendencies and learned through symbols” (Weber, 1984, p. 43). William T. Harris, then superintendent of schools in St. Louis, wholeheartedly supported Froebel’s kindergarten to promote social harmony as well as educational goals: “Society would benefit by providing rational kindergarten training…. Poor children would be kept out of the streets where they developed evil associations; rich children would be kept out of the hands of unskilled servants who ruined them through self-indulgence” (Weber, 1969, p. 29). Margaret Naumburg, a socialist, was critical of what she saw as a “herd psychology” promoted in schools that required conformity to social norms. She founded the Walden School in 1915 during the Progressive Era, where the curriculum was based on creative self-expression that she thought led to strong individuals and diversity of thought. She claimed, “Without the expansion of many-sided individuals, there can be no vital and varied social group” (Naumburg, 1928, p. 122) and/or the expression of alternative perspectives necessary for social progress. Much more recently, Bill Ayers (2013) called for the president to rethink his ideas regarding education and instead promote a system that does not treat education as a commodity. Ayers’ utopian vision was a strong, vibrant democracy, but he saw the current school reform movement as anathema to a democratic form of government, as it advocates such practices as “reducing education to a single narrow metric that claims to recognize an educated person through a test score.” Recently, I learned about a private school in New York called The IDEAL School of Manhattan that states unequivocally on its website its utopian vision: The school “is an inclusion school dedicated to creating a diverse community that affirms and accepts the full identities of all people, while inspiring academic excellence, creative leadership, and a desire to build a more just and equitable world” (2013).

Another vision could resemble, for example, President Roosevelt’s four freedoms, where freedom of speech and freedom of worship were joined by two additional freedoms: freedom from want and freedom from fear (Roosevelt, 1941). What role would education play in the realization of these four freedoms? President Obama’s view of the future as stated in his 2013 State of Union address is a future where a “smart” government can foster a prosperous middle class, economic opportunity, a cleaner environment, and health care for all; in essence, a future “where government works on behalf of the many.” Also in his vision, “doors of opportunity are available to every child” by making “high-quality preschool available to every single child in America” (2013). What implications for curriculum planning follow from this view of the future? Obviously, the visions expressed previously are those of privileged individuals and not those of the working poor or individuals from differing religious, cultural, racial, or ethnic backgrounds. We must seek to understand and include views of individuals from these groups, and others, as we develop a reconceptualized early childhood curriculum.

Clearly, one’s utopian vision is solidly grounded in one’s personal values and political ideology. I believe we must ask ourselves how one’s vision relates to the early childhood curriculum that one plans and enacts. In addition, we must ask ourselves whose vision of the ← 34 | 35 → future should prevail when we plan programs for young children. Both questions raise issues of power and influence on the curriculum. A discussion of these questions should attract all early childhood educators, not just the reconceptualists.

What Should We Teach in the Early Childhood Curriculum?

This question is fundamental to curriculum planning and follows from one’s utopian vision. As I argued earlier, “curriculum decisions are based on beliefs about what school leaders think is important to know and what the child and the community need” (Kessler, 1991). Obviously, not everything one would like can be taught in the early childhood curriculum, so choices must be made. Kliebard maintained in his 1980 seminar that “certain things are drawn from the culture to influence teaching.” Ralph Tyler (1949) recommended that objectives for the curriculum (the “things”) be selected from an examination of the child’s needs, the needs of society, and subject-matter experts. These objectives were to be passed through a philosophical screen to determine their compatibility with local schools’ philosophies, as well as through a psychological screen to determine their compatibility with children’s developmental levels. Kliebard’s critique is brilliant: One’s philosophy precedes the selection of content, as well as the determination of the needs of society and the needs of the child. For example, he argued, the interests of students are not legitimate until they are compared with what is desirable. Likewise, the recommendations from subject-matter experts and from studies of contemporary life are similarly value laden (Kliebard, 1975). Nevertheless, Tyler’s approach to curriculum planning is very attractive to many educators. This so-called “rational approach” has had much influence on curriculum planning: it is logical and does not deal with the messy business of talking about values and priorities where difference would no doubt emerge and conflict ensue.

Critical perspectives on the selection of knowledge to be included in the curriculum claim that knowledge is not neutral, but is socially constructed by influential groups, varies in status, and is distributed unequally (Kessler, 1991; Kessler & Swadener, 1992). Jan Jipson and Nicholas Paley (1991) highlighted the concept of the “selective tradition” in teachers’ choices of literature to use in their classrooms. They wrote, “Books are not ideologically neutral; that is, they both reflect and convey certain sorts of sociocultural values, beliefs and attitudes to their readers…teachers ‘select’ for or against…certain…cultural values in their classrooms” (p. 148). In their study of 55 teachers’ choices of literature to use in their classroom, they found that only 15% of the rationales given for choosing particular books included race, gender, and ethnicity as factors that were considered. The extent to which such practices exist today is an open question.

Further, if critical theorists are correct, curriculum knowledge is not determined by minority groups or the poor and hence may have little relevance to them. Lack of meaning associated with “official knowledge” among poor and minority students can help explain their low scores on tests. William Pinar (1975) addressed the importance of examining the meaning the curriculum holds for individuals by introducing the concept of “currere,” turning the noun, “curriculum,” into a verb. “Currere, historically rooted in the field of curriculum in existentialism, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis, is the study of educational experience” (Pinar, 1975, p. 400). ← 35 | 36 →

Nancy King (1992) provided an example of currere in kindergarten. Many teachers believe in the importance of play to promote the development of creativity, intentional behavior, concept development, language development, social interaction, and so on. However, as Nancy King’s early research indicates, children learn attitudes toward work and play by the way teachers structure the environment. Children in this study did not regard all kinds of planned play activities as “play,” only those activities that were freely chosen and not held to any standard.

Today, many early childhood educators teach the traditional school curriculum that focuses on skills, such as reading readiness and concepts of quantity and numeration, among others, in answering the question of what to teach. One school in DuPage County, Illinois, where I live, posted its objectives for kindergartners that include: “Makes predictions based on illustrations”; “Isolates beginning and ending sounds in words”; and can perform “Addition of two groups using manipulatives” (Schafer Elementary, 2013). I don’t think the objectives for kindergarten education in this school represent an isolated case. Further, this orientation toward curriculum is evident in preschool education as well. A friend of mine said she had to look hard to find a play-based preschool program for her daughter; most parents in her cohort group wanted an academically oriented educational experience for their child.

Bredekamp’s (1987) work that addressed the inappropriate “academic” curriculum in early childhood classrooms has had little influence on current practice despite her authorship of a strong position paper (1987) published by the nation’s largest association of early childhood educators, a publication that many refer to as DAP, that called for practices (a curriculum) more in tune with children’s developmental level. (Curriculum theorists believe that when you change the methods to teach a particular concept or skill, you essentially change the curriculum, a view that will be highlighted in a later section of this chapter.) Nor have 20 years of our work as reconceptualists had any influence on the curriculum in schools in DuPage County, Illinois, and probably elsewhere, as indicated by posted objectives. It is significant that Bredekamp (1991) later claimed that the DAP document was written to counter the pressure educators felt for the skills-oriented curriculum and indicated that this response was in part a political one. Is the DAP publication, therefore, a political document? Does it advance a particular view of what is good? To what extent are all curriculums essentially political documents? As Mary Hauser and I wrote earlier (Kessler & Hauser, 2000):

Early childhood educators are not accustomed to viewing the curriculum politically…. [But] in order to educate its young members, individuals in a particular social group must collaborate to ensure that their children are educated in such a way so as to perpetuate the interests of that particular collective…. [which] leads to different perspectives as to how education should be accomplished. Furthermore, it is natural for individuals to form alliances with those who share their views in an attempt to influence others to see this project as they do and to exert pressure on others in order to accomplish their agenda which is rationalized as the best way to proceed. (pp. 60–61)

We must ask ourselves why, today, have basic skills been selected for emphasis in early childhood? What political forces are at play that foster this curriculum orientation?

In addition, some (most?) rationales for early childhood education provide evidence for a “preparation for the future” orientation. For example, another nearby early childhood program, the Jefferson Early Childhood Center for preschoolers in DuPage County, Illinois, proclaimed its purpose was to “offer a dynamic and fun learning environment to help prepare ← 36 | 37 → your child for a successful kindergarten experience” (Jefferson Preschool Registration, 2013). This “preparation for the future” orientation was best expressed almost a century ago by Franklin Bobbitt who wrote the first book on curriculum (Bobbitt, 1918). To Bobbitt, the purpose of education was to prepare students for adult life. Further, he stated, “human life…consists in the performance of specific activities. Education that prepares for life is one that prepares…for those specific activities” (p. 42). This so-called scientific approach to curriculum planning meant that educators would study “scientifically” the world of work to decide what skills needed to be mastered to meet the needs of the then-current workforce; those skills would become the objectives of the curriculum. Bobbitt’s “utopian vision” assumed a stratified society where those engaged in menial labor would be educated to have the right attitude about their work so that they would realize the importance of their endeavors for the good of the collective and thereby not only accept but appreciate their place in society. I doubt if early childhood educators today want to educate their students for a future where social class is assumed and individuals must find their place within it. Yet, aren’t we doing just that? Preparing a child for his/her future begs the question of what kind of future? Do curriculum planners today see the future as relatively static, in need of little modification? Who are these planners and what is their relationship to a curriculum based on preparation for the future as they see it?

Some educators have added to the previously-mentioned versions of the early childhood curriculum by articulating and promoting the “anti-bias curriculum” intending to promote understanding, tolerance, and appreciation of people who are “different” (Derman-Sparks & The A.B.C. Task Force, 1989). Early on, the emphasis was on the sexual, racial, and cultural differences among children that should be addressed in order to promote understanding of others and social equality in the classroom and beyond. Jonathan Silin (1995) added to these categories by raising sexual orientation as an important distinction among groups whose members need to be understood and who should be treated fairly in school and beyond. The anti-bias curriculum can likewise be viewed as a political document.

Those educators who value an anti-bias curriculum are promoting a social-reconstructionist orientation toward curriculum, articulating the belief that the school curriculum should address social problems, particularly social and economic inequality, and become an agent of social change. The social-reconstructionist orientation toward curriculum has a long history, and was most clearly articulated by George S. Counts in 1932 in a well-known piece titled Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order? (Counts, 1932/1978). In this work and other writings, Counts set forth his belief that the role of schools was to correct the ills of society. Writing during the Great Depression, Counts’ main criticism was directed at the economic system: “Unless the democratic tradition is able to organize and conduct a successful attack on the economic system, its complete destruction is inevitable” (p. 41). Counts believed schools could bring about change by formulating an ideal American society, communicating that ideal to students, and encouraging them to use the ideal as a standard for judging their own and other societies.

Building on Counts’ ideas, Harold Rugg (Kliebard, 1986) wrote a set of social studies textbooks beginning with the identification of 300 important problems facing American society that became the backbone of a new social studies curriculum.2 Rugg’s textbook series was short-lived (1929–early 1940s), arguably due to his focus on the weaknesses of capitalism, his leaning toward collectivist views, and additionally, his support of the labor movement, ideas that ← 37 | 38 → were viciously attacked by social conservatives then and now. Rugg’s curriculum was clearly making a political statement.

This example of the realization of a social reconstructionist orientation in a well-developed curriculum has much to teach us. Those of us who want the curriculum to address social problems are very much constrained by the social values and mores currently held by the majority culture and its support of privilege and power. If we go too far in criticizing unjust governmental and economic policies and practices that contribute to social inequality, we risk ferocious attacks on our work and eventually, I believe, we could become irrelevant and forgotten, like Counts and Rugg. Likewise, Froebel’s curriculum disappeared from use when it was outlawed after the revolution of 1848 in Germany, when liberal thought “favoring the natural rights of man, individual freedom, and humanitarian and democratic ideals” (Weber, 1984, p. 34) was defeated and a return to authoritarianism prevailed. Addressing opposition to his ideas, Froebel lamented, “I only wanted to train up free, thinking, independent men” (Brubacher, 1947, p. 622; emphases in original). Wrote Brubacher, “[T]he governmental bureaucracy was not mistaken in the idea that schools imbued with Froebel’s pedagogy could not be contained within the existing social order but must necessarily revolutionize it” (Brubacher, 1947, p. 622).3 As an aside, the failure of the 1848 revolution in Germany led to the immigration of Carl Schurz, a leader of the failed revolution, and his wife, Margareth, to the United States and eventually to Watertown, Wisconsin, where Margareth, who studied with Froebel, opened the first kindergarten in this country.

Margaret Naumburg gave up trying to promote individualism and creative ways of learning school subjects. In an interview I had the privilege to hear, she later stated that “The whole system should be bombed” (Hamilton & Hamilton, 1971). In contrast, the goals of The IDEAL School of Manhattan have not been challenged, no doubt because it is a private organization.

The recommendations of curriculum planners for an anti-bias curriculum for young children can address some issues, such as fair treatment in the classroom for all, but cannot change structural factors that support the status quo. Those of us who believe that schools should address social problems would do well to understand that our prescriptions for practice could be overly ambitious. We must ask ourselves if the programs we are developing or the research we are conducting have any chance of being implemented or influencing the field. Bredekamp’s (1987) work represents a failed attempt to influence the curriculum by issuing prescriptions for practice based on the beliefs of professional early childhood educators. What forces worked against the acceptance of DAP? Are we out of touch with the realities of early childhood education as it exists today? We must ask ourselves if the articulation of a curriculum that enhances social and economic equality is the best way to bring about a reconceptualized early childhood curriculum.4

Who Is Taught?

This question addresses the issue of the ways in which children are organized and/or grouped for instruction. The most common way to group students for instruction is by age. Kindergartners are typically 5 years old; first graders are usually 6. The question arises, should 5-year-olds be excluded from kindergarten because their birthdays fall after a certain cut-off date? Is it fair that my great-nephew, age 4, cannot participate in a classroom of other ← 38 | 39 → 4-year-olds simply because he misses the cut-off date by a few days? Whose interests are served by this approach to grouping children for instruction?

Furthermore, criteria based on other demographics have come into play. Income level might determine eligibility for a particular program, such as Head Start, or when some school districts charge an additional fee for children to attend preschool. For example, one preschool program in Wheaton, Illinois, charges parents $235 per month for their child to attend a half-day program (Jefferson Preschool Registration, 2013), a cost that represents a substantial addition to the family budget of the average worker whose wage has grown little since the 1960s (Krugman, 2013). Neighborhoods, likewise, serve as a way children are organized for instruction. Children in poor neighborhoods attend local schools where they have traditionally performed poorly on achievement tests. Recent studies indicated that family income is now seen as the largest determining factor in student achievement, larger than the educational level of parents (Reardon, 2011).

Another common practice in many classrooms is to group children by ability. The NEA is against ability grouping (NEA Resolutions, 1998, 2005), but their resolutions seem to have had little effect on current practice. District 200 in the county in which I live has a program for gifted students. Critical theorists would view such grouping practices as examples of high-status knowledge (academic knowledge) made available to a rather elite group and thus distributed unequally. The rationale for ability grouping must be examined. Is such grouping fair? Is it based on reliable measures of ability? Is it linguistically and culturally sensitive? Whose interests are served by the practice of grouping children by ability?

Another criterion used to group children in early childhood classrooms is “readiness.” The early work of Elizabeth Graue (1992) illustrated the way in which this concept is socially constructed in two different schools by teachers and community members. The concepts varied widely, with socially constructed and shared definitions enabling some parents to have a greater voice in determining meanings of “readiness for kindergarten” in their child’s school, whereas parents with less cultural capital left decisions about their child’s readiness up to the school. Thus, readiness is not seen as a characteristic of children, but a construct developed by members of influential groups; a claim made by critical theorists of the curriculum that in Graue’s study had important implications for the curriculum taught to children seen as “ready” and those seen as “not ready.” Graue’s later work (2006) maintains that readiness is an ethical responsibility we all have for our children, one that “encompasses coordinated systems of early care and education and receptive schools” (p. 43).5

What Is the Relationship Between the Curriculum and Teaching?

Earlier, I stated that Kliebard claimed that the items or content selected from the culture (literacy, problem solving, and the like) were intended to influence teaching. This concept is important because it sets forth the assumption that teachers influenced what was taught. They were seen as active participants, not robots teaching uncritically the prescribed content. In fact, conceptions of curriculum, such as the “curriculum-in-use,” the “enacted curriculum,” the “emergent curriculum,” the “hidden curriculum,” and/or the “experienced curriculum” were developed to account for the variations between what teachers planned, what they actually taught, and what students learned. ← 39 | 40 →

Many factors influence teachers’ decisions about what to teach. In fact, in one study, teachers rated 28 “influences” that they considered in their decisions about what to teach, including students’ ability. Shavelson and Stern (1981) found that “students’ achievement level and ‘participation’ are significant influences in teachers’ planning and the decisions they make even while in the act of teaching”. However, teachers’ stated beliefs about teaching may not be evident in the enacted curriculum. Wen and Elicker (2011) studied the relationship between teachers’ beliefs about developmentally appropriate practices and their classroom interactions with children and found that there was little correlation between teachers’ stated beliefs and the curriculum-in-use. Other factors such as the way in which teachers structured the environment and interacted verbally and nonverbally with students taught a curriculum—in this case, cultural values and attitudes—of which teachers were not aware (Lubeck, 1985); this is an example of what Phillip Jackson (1968) called the “hidden curriculum.”

Furthermore, while teachers today may be less able to make decisions about what to teach due to the influence of state standards on the curriculum and the influence of achievement tests in reinforcing the teaching of those standards, the methods teachers choose when teaching standard content influence the curriculum-in-use, or the experienced curriculum. I found that the teaching methods employed in one kindergarten classroom, what we would call “developmentally appropriate,” enabled children to be more influential, as defined in this study; but the result was a curriculum-in-use that enabled boys to be more influential than girls and reinforced gendered roles (Kessler, 1989). Here, boys had an edge in determining the experienced curriculum, an outcome the teacher did not intend, and I believe would have been horrified to learn. Likewise, the curriculum in one Head Start classroom (Kessler & Hauser, 2000) led to similar results. The teaching methods determined by the program adopted a “hands-off” approach to the teachers’ role during free play. Left on their own, girls reinforced gendered roles; the curriculum-in-use led to outcomes or children’s experiences not planned by the teachers or programs. Further, observations of some children in this classroom indicated ways in which they resisted teachers’ attempts to redirect their play to accomplish academic goals by ignoring teachers’ suggestions, and thus creating experiences for themselves that countered teachers’ priorities for learning.


What is the takeaway from a focus on the four questions posed at the start of this chapter? I believe we must first acknowledge the extreme complexity of the school curriculum. Selection of content is influenced by the world views or utopian visions of educators and school leaders right from the start, a vision that is largely influenced by one’s political ideology. The selection of content and the ways in which children are grouped for instruction are undoubtedly influenced by the political interests of educators. Finally, complexity is enhanced by teachers’ interpretation of curriculum content, the methods chosen to teach that content, and students’ ability to influence teachers and the curriculum. As we plan curricula that represent our version of the good life, we must first realize that it may undergo many translations and/or transformations before and during its implementation and be experienced by students differently. Also important, though not dealt with in this chapter, is the necessity to understand the school as a bureaucratic organization, where today the top-down nature of decision making about what to teach leaves less room for teachers and children to influence what is taught. In addition, ← 40 | 41 → powerful groups that develop state standards and evaluation procedures must be examined for their personal and political investment in the curriculum they advocate.

However, we cannot simply study children and the process of schooling and develop new programs, although important understandings can result from such efforts.6 Research, though well intended, or position papers such as DAP, have little chance of leading to reconceptualized early childhood curriculum unless we become politically active. We might form a forceful interest group ourselves and advocate, after much deliberation, for the utopian vision we might all share and a school curriculum that would support such a vision.

Postmodern theories have made a great contribution to our thinking about education when they warn us about the hegemonic possibilities of communal deliberation that evolves into a meta-narrative that excludes the voices of others in particular situations. Our search for a shared vision of the good life must include an analysis of “the particular” as well as “the general,” a dialectical relationship, if you will: “the sense that the local can illuminate the more general, and that the global can heighten our sensitivity to the more particular” (Beyer & Liston, 1992, p. 375). In addition, political action requires some form of communal identity that does not have to lead to a rejection of outside interests. Further, the awareness that knowledge is personal and contextualized should not lead us to reject all knowledge claims, per se (Beyer & Liston, 1992).

Deliberations in the moral realm, including the representation of particular voices, as well as theoretical ideas as to what is “right” and “good,” are a necessary prelude to effective action necessary for social and educational change. Moral deliberation and political action provide the only means for changing early childhood education to reflect what I believe we agree would be an emancipatory pedagogy, promoting justice and fairness and a vision of the future that has potential for improving our democracy and the world. An endeavor such as this contains within it the possibility of developing a reconceptualized early childhood curriculum.


Ayers, W. (2013, January 10). Mr. President, education is a human right, not a product. Truth Out. Retrieved from http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/13813-bill-ayers-a-letter-to-the-president

Beyer, L., & Liston, D. (1992). Discourse or moral action? Critique of postmodernism. Educational Theory, 42(4), pp. 371–393.

Bobbitt, F. (1918). The curriculum. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Bredekamp, S. (Ed.). (1987). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Bredekamp, S. (1991). Redeveloping early childhood education: A response to Kessler. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 6, 199–209.

Brubacher, J. S. (1947). A history of the problems of education. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Counts, G. S. (1932/1978). Dare the schools build a new social order? Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Derman-Sparks, L., & The A.B.C. Task Force. (1989). Anti-bias curriculum: Tools for empowering young children. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Fichte, J. G. (1968). Address to the German nation. Trans. R. F. Jones & G. H. Turnbull. Eds., and Revised G. A. Kelly, New York: Harper Row.

Graue, E. (1992). Meanings of readiness and the kindergarten experience. In S. Kessler & B. Swadener (Eds.), Reconceptualizing the early childhood curriculum: Beginning the dialogue (pp. 62–90). New York: Teachers College Press.

Graue, E. (2006). The answer is readiness. Now what is the question? Early Education and Development, 17(1), 43–56.

Hamilton, J., & Hamilton, M., (1971). Interview with Margaret and Zinberg, February 6, 1971. New York.

Henkin, R. (1998). Who’s invited to share? Using literacy to teach for equity and social justice. New York: Heinemann.

IDEAL School of Manhattan. (2013). Statement of philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.theidealschool.org

Jackson, P. W. (1968). Life in classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. ← 41 | 42 →

Jacobs, D. T. (Four Arrows), & Mann, B. (2013). Teaching truly: A curriculum to indigenize mainstream education. New York: Peter Lang.

Jefferson Preschool Registration. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.cusd200.org/hawthorne/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=3

Jipson J., & Paley, N. (1991, October). The selective tradition in teachers’ choice of children’s literature: Does it exist in the elementary classroom? English Education, Vol. 23, 148–159.

Kessler, S. (1989). Boys’ and girls’ effect on the kindergarten curriculum. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 4(3), 479–503.

Kessler, S. (1991). Alternative perspectives on early childhood education. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 6, 183–197.

Kessler, S., & Hauser, M. (2000). Critical pedagogy and the politics of play. In L. D. Soto (Ed.), The politics of early childhood education (pp. 59–71). New York: Peter Lang.

Kessler, S., & Swadener, B. (Eds.). (1992). Reconceptualizing early childhood education: Beginning the dialogue. New York: Teachers College Press.

King, N. (1992). The impact of context on the play of young children. In S. Kessler & B. Swadener (Eds.), Reconceptualizing early childhood education: Beginning the dialogue (pp. 43–61). New York: Teachers College Press.

Kliebard, H. (1975). Reappraisal: The Tyler rationale. In W. Pinar (Ed.), Curriculum theorizing: The reconceptualists (pp. 70–83). Berkeley: McCutchan.

Kliebard, H. (1980). Graduate Seminar (Notes taken by Shirley Kessler).

Kliebard, H. (1986). The struggle for the American curriculum 1893–1958. Boston, MA: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Krugman, P. (2013, June 23). Greg Mankiw forgets ‘we are a much more unequal society now.’ Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/23/paul-krugman-greg-mankiw_n_3486784.html

Lubeck, S. (1985). Sandbox society: Early education in black and white America. Philadelphia: Falmer.

Naumburg, M. (1928). The child and the world. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.

NEA Resolutions. (ccaBss-16, 1998, 2005). Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/bare/print.html?content=/bare/16899.htm

Obama, B. (2013, February 12). The 2013 State of the Union. Retrieved from www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2013

Pinar, W. F. (1975). Currere: Toward reconceptualization. In W. F. Pinar (Ed.). Curriculum theorizing: The reconceptualists (pp. 396–414). Berkeley: McCutchan.

Reardon, S. (2011). Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools, and children’s life chances. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Roosevelt, F. D. (1941, January 6). The Four Freedoms: The 1941 State of the Union. Retrieved from www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrthefourfreedoms.htm

Schafer Elementary Curriculum, Grade K. (June 15, 2013). Retrieved from http://www.d45.dupage.k12.il.us/schafer/sc-curriculum-schafer-main/first-step

Shavelson, R. J., & Stern, P. (1981). Research on teachers’ pedagogical thoughts, judgements, decisions, and behaviors. Review of Educational Research, 51, 455–498.

Silin, J. (1995). Sex, death, and the education of children: Our passion for ignorance in the age of AIDS. New York: Teachers College Press.

Tyler, R. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Weber, E. (1969). The kindergarten. New York: Teachers College Press.

Weber, E. (1984). Ideas influencing early childhood education: A theoretical analysis. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wen, X., & Elicker, J. (2011). Early childhood teachers’ curriculum beliefs: Are they consistent with observed classroom practices? Early Education and Development, 22(6), 945–969.


  1.  Kliebard (1980) stated four questions should be addressed by curriculum planners: What is taught? Who is taught? What is the influence of the curriculum over time? How is the curriculum organized and integrated? I included two of these questions in this discussion.

  2.  For example, one volume included a description of the disparity between the rich and the poor. Another volume considered the atrocities of the slave trade. One might imagine a series of textbooks today focusing on problems of income inequality and the unscrupulous practices of major banks in contributing to the economic downturn we are currently experiencing.

  3.  In contrast to Froebel’s curriculum, Johann Fichte, German philosopher, set forth an alternative view of educational goals in several lectures he gave in Berlin beginning in 1806 (Fichte: Addresses to the German Nation, 1968, New York: Harper & Row). Fichte was a major figure espousing a German form of idealism at the University of Jenna when Froebel was a student there. Fichte proclaimed the need to recover and strengthen a true German identity through education, an identity that was ← 42 | 43 → shattered by the French occupation under Napoleon. Students were to be molded into a “corporate body” (p. 12) where the selfish interests of the individual were to be subordinated to the idea of the community (p. 150).

  4.  One way is to integrate social justice themes into current educational programs, as do the anti-bias curriculum, the teaching of literacy that Roxanne Henkin (1998) describes, and the guidelines set forth for integrating themes and methods found in Indigenous cultures into K–12 education (Jacobs & Mann, 2013).

  5.  Ability/disability also determines eligibility for some programs within schools. Gender likewise is a means for selection.

  6.  Classroom research has great potential for achieving a more complete understanding of schooling; though time consuming, laborious, and replete with the need to address traditional issues like establishing validity and reliability, interrogating our own interests, gaining access, etc., we must do this hard work. ← 43 | 44 →

← 44 | 45 →



Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Research

J. Amos Hatch

From its genesis, the reconceptualizing early childhood education (RECE) ethos has had strong connections to parallel movements within the broader scholarly community, including movements that challenge the dominant discourse of positivist science. In this chapter, I trace some of the evolvement of that parallel development, highlighting some of the prominent debates concerning early childhood research that have occurred from the 1980s to the present. As I discuss each movement, I include references to publications by RECE authors that exemplify scholarship linked to the debates of that period. I conclude with a call for a renewed commitment to generating high-quality scholarly inquiry that continues to reconceptualize the field.

Paradigm Conflicts

It is not a coincidence that the beginnings of the RECE movement coincide with ferment for rethinking the ways that research is done within the educational research community and the scholarly community at large. During the 1980s and 1990s, “paradigm wars” raged in the pages of Educational Researcher and other top education journals and in the hallways and meeting rooms at the most important educational research conferences. Qualitative researchers argued that their approaches to conceptualizing, implementing, and writing up educational research provided valuable insights into understanding educational phenomena that were unavailable via traditional statistically based studies. Quantitative researchers countered that qualitative work did not have standing as legitimate science because it did not meet requirements for reliability, validity, and generalizability that define traditional approaches to inquiry. After years of battling back and forth, the upshot ← 45 | 46 → was a kind of uneasy peace. One author described the trajectory of the conflict as a move from “distain to détente” (Rist, 1977), with both sides apparently finding value in the other side’s potential contributions.

Doctoral programs of the day were beginning to offer qualitative methods courses often based in anthropology and sociology departments. Advanced graduate students in education, including early childhood types, began to explore applications of qualitative work to their fields, and doctoral dissertations utilizing qualitative research approaches started to appear. I was one of those who fought for the qualitative side during the paradigm wars and completed an early qualitative dissertation in early childhood education. In 1989, I was invited to guest edit with Richard Wisniewski a special issue of the newly founded International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (QSE) on the topic of early childhood qualitative research. To attract papers for the special issue, I organized a conference that was held at the University of Tennessee in September of that year, and many of the pioneers of qualitative research in the early childhood education field were in attendance and became acquainted at that event. The conference led to the special issue of QSE (Hatch & Wisniewski, 1990) and later to the publication of an edited book (Hatch, 1995). Many of the participants in the Tennessee conference were important players in the formation of the reconceptualizing early childhood education group that held its first meetings in 1991.

During this early period, RECE participants produced book-length reports of research that made significant contributions to the emergence of qualitative inquiry as legitimate research in early childhood. Some of these were Sally Lubeck’s (1985) Sandbox Society: Early Education in Black and White America; Bill Ayers’ (1989) The Good Preschool Teacher: Six Teachers Reflect on their Lives; Joe Tobin, David Wu, and Dana Davidson’s (1989) Preschool in Three Cultures: Japan, China and the United States; and Beth Graue’s (1993) Ready for What? Constructing Meanings of Readiness for Kindergarten.

Crisis of Representation

At the same time that qualitative researchers were making headway in having their work accepted as legitimate by the larger scholarly community, serious questions about qualitative researchers’ ability to capture the lived experience of others arose within their own ranks. Critics argued that it was difficult or impossible for qualitative researchers to accurately and fairly represent the lives of the participants in their studies (Geertz, 1988). They pointed out that the complexities involved in making distinctions between lives as lived, lives as experienced, and lives as told are highly problematic for qualitative researchers (Bruner, 1984). They noted that the complexity is compounded when researchers bring their own cultural and theoretical lenses to interpreting the actions and words of others (Clifford & Marcus, 1986). Further, based on deconstructivist perspectives (e.g., Derrida, 1973), critics argued that “language, in both its written and spoken forms, is always inherently unstable, in flux, and made up of the traces of other signs and symbolic statements. Hence, there can never be a clear, unambiguous statement of anything” (Denzin, 1989, p. 14). Given these issues and the additional problems of writing up qualitative findings within the confines of discourse structures that circumscribe how scholars communicate in text (Emihovich, 1995), this crisis of representation generated genuine angst within the qualitative research community. ← 46 | 47 →

Early childhood reconceptualists were vitally interested in the theoretical underpinnings of what many have termed a crisis of representation (Marcus & Fischer, 1999). From their earliest meetings, the reconceptualists presented papers and held formal and informal discussions about the ideas of postmodern, poststructuralist, critical, and feminist scholars whose work powerfully shaped how the crisis of representation played out. One of the attractions of RECE meetings was the opportunity to write, think, and talk about implications for research, theory, and practice of scholarship that was never mentioned at mainstream early childhood conferences. I have vivid memories of sitting over lunch or in sessions exploring the ideas of thinkers such as Derrida, Foucault, Racour, Freire, Butler, and many others. The crisis of representation was part of a larger critique of all of the assumptions that drive modernist ways of generating and using knowledge.

Many RECE conference attendees have made important contributions to critiquing and reconceptualizing the theoretical underpinnings of early childhood research of all stripes. Examples of published work of this type include Elizabeth Graue and Daniel Walsh’s (1998) Studying Children in Context: Theories, Methods, and Ethics; Jan Jipson’s (2000) “The Stealing of Wonderful Ideas: The Politics of Early Childhood Research”; Gaile Cannella and Joe Kincheloe’s (2002) Kidworld: Childhood Studies, Global Perspectives and Education; and Lourdes Diaz Soto and Beth Swadener’s (2005) Power and Voice in Research With Children.

Genre Bending

Denzin and Lincoln (2005) characterize one of the major shifts in qualitative research as a kind of “genre diaspora” (p. 18), arguing that the lines that separated traditional forms of qualitative inquiry were blurred during this period. In addition, lines of separation between individual social sciences were erased. Even lines that have historically separated science from the arts and humanities were challenged. As a result, qualitative researchers were freed to adapt theoretical perspectives from a wide variety of disciplines, to create hybridized data collection and analysis strategies, and to write up their findings in forms that were previously the purview of novelists, journalists, or historians.

At conferences and in their publications, researchers from the RECE group have been in the forefront of genre-blurring efforts in early childhood research. From the earliest meetings, RECE conference participants have experimented with alternative forms of communicating the outcomes of their inquiry, including the use of multimedia, poetry, theater, music, and dance. Their written scholarship has included the application of theories and methods developed in fields as diverse as social psychology, cognitive anthropology, identity politics, literary criticism, cultural studies, queer studies, critical theory, women’s studies, black studies, and performance studies, most of which represent blurred genres in their own right.

Robin Leavitt’s (1994) Power and Emotion in Infant-Toddler Day Care is a salient example of utilizing theoretical perspectives as diverse as symbolic interactionism, critical theory, and feminism to examine early childhood social phenomena. Other examples of published work that utilizes elements of genre bending include Mary Hauser and Jan Jipson’s (1998) edited collection Intersections: Feminisms/Early Childhoods; Shirley Kessler and Mary Hauser’s (2000) “Critical Pedagogy and the Politics of Play”; David Fernie, Bronwyn Davies, Rebecca Kantor, and Paula McMurray’s (1993) “Becoming a Person in the Preschool: Creating Integrated Gender, School Culture, and Peer Culture Positionings”; and the application of queer theory ← 47 | 48 → in several chapters of Joe Tobin’s (1997) edited book Making a Place for Pleasure in Early Childhood Education.

Post-Everything Inquiry

At the 1998 RECE Conference held at the University of Hawaii, I presented a paper entitled “Introducing Postmodern Thought in a Thoroughly Modern University.” The paper was later published in a book edited by Lourdes Diaz Soto (2000), which included papers by many early childhood reconceptualists. In the concluding sections of my chapter for the edited book (Hatch, 2000), I asked several questions, including, “Where are we going when we make the postmodern turn?”; “What comes after a post-everything world?”; and “What would a postmodern text look like, anyway?” (pp. 189–190). These questions crystallize the complexity and paradoxical nature of doing and interpreting research that pays serious attention to postmodern thought.

RECE scholars have boldly engaged the complexity and paradoxes associated with doing early childhood research in and about our postmodern world. Adopting theoretical and methodological stances from postpositivism to poststructuralism and postcolonialism, RECE researchers have troubled taken-for-granted conceptions that have dominated how the early childhood field has traditionally thought about what young children are like, what they can do, and what kinds of experiences they need. In addition, these postmodern frameworks have given researchers alternative lenses for considering social, psychological, and political phenomena that impact all aspects of early childhood.

Among RECE scholars, Joe Tobin (1995) was among the first to apply poststructuralist perspectives to research in early childhood education. His books and book chapters (e.g., Tobin, 1997, 2000; Grace & Tobin, 1997) stand as powerful exemplars of the place of postmodern thought in early childhood research. Other important examples of “post-everything” research analyses in early childhood include Glenda Mac Naughton’s (2005) Doing Foucault in Early Childhood Studies: Applying Post-Structural Ideas; and edited books by Sharon Ryan and Sue Grieshaber (2005), Practical Transformations and Transformational Practices: Globalization, Postmodernism, and Early Childhood Education; Kagenga Mutua and Beth Swadener (2004), Decolonizing Research in Cross-Cultural Contexts: Critical Personal Narratives; and Marianne Bloch and colleagues’ (2006) The Child in the World/The World in the Child: Education and the Configuration of a Universal, Modern, and Globalized Childhood.

Legislated Positivism

My view is that alternative forms of research in the field of education, including early childhood studies, have suffered significantly from the (re)elevation of “scientifically based” research approaches to the status of “normal science” since the turn of the 21st century. Kuhn (1970) famously argued that the history of science is characterized by the rise and fall of competing paradigms. When one paradigm’s assumptions about how the world is or is not ordered (ontology), what can be known (epistemology), and how it can be known (methodology) disrupt and replace another paradigm’s metaphysical assumptions, the practices of the new paradigm become normal science. For Kuhn, these paradigm shifts occur based on the relevant community ← 48 | 49 → of scholars’ reaction to the give-and-take arguments of the competing paradigmatic camps. I have made the case that as part of a broader movement “back to modernity,” the positivist research paradigm, under the banner of “scientifically based research,” has been reestablished as normal science in education, moving early childhood research approaches that are not grounded in positivist assumptions to less-than-normal status (Hatch, 2007).

The positivist research paradigm assumes an objective universe that has order independent of human perceptions. The overarching goal of positivist science is to uncover facts and laws that explain how the world works. Early in the 21st century, in an effort to ensure that positivist assumptions were applied to educational research, conservative forces established panels and wrote legislation that defined “scientifically based” research based on models developed in the fields of medicine and experimental psychology. The Report From the National Reading Panel (2000) and Scientific Research in Education (National Research Council, 2002) set the stage for the infusion of their definitions of scientifically based scholarship into the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. NCLB codified statistically based, double-blind studies with large numbers of subjects as the only “science” that would be recognized when federal research dollars were allocated or funding for educational programs was approved. Qualitative studies in early childhood and across the education spectrum were effectively stigmatized as not worthy of consideration as educational policies, programs, and practices were developed and implemented.

Chonika Coleman-King and I recently completed a handbook chapter on “Conducting Early Childhood Qualitative Research in the 21st Century” (Hatch & Coleman-King, in press). In order to gauge the trajectory of early childhood qualitative studies over the recent past, we charted the publication of qualitative articles for the preceding decade in Early Childhood Research Quarterly (ECRQ), the journal that is ranked highest among early childhood journals by Journal Citation Reports (ISI Web of Knowledge, n.d.). Of 315 research articles published in ECRQ over this ten-year period, we found that only 13 qualitative research reports (4.1%) and nine mixed-methods reports (2.9%) were included. Looking at the most recent three years, of 112 research articles published in ECRQ, only two were identified as qualitative studies and two as mixed methods (1.8% each). This crude analysis matches my perception and the testimony of many of my colleagues that it is increasingly difficult to publish early childhood qualitative research in top-tier journals. I take this phenomenon to be directly linked to the elevation of research based on positivist assumptions to the status of “scientifically based” and the concomitant relegation of research approaches of any other type to the sidelines of early childhood inquiry.


In some ways, it feels like early childhood research has come full circle. Conservative and neoliberal forces in society and in educational research have done their best to marginalize alternative forms of scholarly inquiry that had become more “acceptable” over the past 40 years. While this marginalization is disappointing and frustrating, it reinforces the need to continue fighting the good fight. I have argued that scholars who have been pushed to the side of the educational research road should take the offensive:

Let’s re-engage in the paradigm wars. Let’s defend ourselves against those who would impose their modern notions of science on us by exposing the flaws in what they call scientifically ← 49 | 50 → based research. Let’s mount a strong offense by generating qualitative studies that are so powerful they cannot be dismissed. (Hatch, 2006, p. 405)

Critique is at the core of what early childhood reconceptualists do and how they think. Focusing that critique on the methods, findings, and applications of scientifically based research should be an ongoing priority for reconceptualist scholars.

Even more important, reconceptualizing early childhood researchers should redouble their efforts to design, implement, and publish high-quality studies that demonstrate the efficacy of alternative forms of inquiry in our field. Much of the work cited in this chapter has had an impact beyond reconceptualist circles, and such work needs to be continued and expanded. Even though it is difficult to publish work that does not meet the criteria of scientifically based research in the current sociopolitical climate, the need for reconceptualized scholarship that is so powerful it cannot be ignored has never been more acute.


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← 52 | 53 →



Through a Queer Lens: Recuperative Longings and the Reconceptualizing Past

Jonathan Silin

The invitation to contribute to this volume appeared in my in-box as something of a surprise. For the last decade, I’ve been writing about topics—aging, grief, and the displacements of time—that would, at first blush, have little to do with early childhood imaginaries. But it also arrived at a moment when I’ve been making a practice of saying “yes” to who and what shows up, letting go of my usual circumspection about taking on new assignments. Soon enough I realized that two events were also conspiring to rekindle my interest in both the past and future of the field. They would ultimately come to weave their way through this chapter. For one, a recent trip to San Francisco prompted me to reflect on the ways that social amnesia shapes our understanding of activist movements and our ability to draw on their histories to imagine the future otherwise. For another, the 20th anniversary of Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE), in which I was an early and energetic participant, had prompted me to consider how, if at all, this particular movement might have succeeded in reframing the theory and practice of early education.

The birth of the reconceptualizing movement was attended by growing numbers of early childhood educators who, in the late 1980s, felt estranged by the growing conservatism of the field. Identifying early childhood as theoretically barren and socially irrelevant, we sought to resuscitate what we perceived as a moribund field by storming the epistemological barricades established by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), engaging in a new theoretical promiscuity, and making our work responsive to the social and political realities of late industrialized society.

Today, early childhood education is again an endangered field. Then, intellectual stagnation and an entrenched leadership inside the field allowed little room for change and innovation. Now the threats are coming from outside: the demand for an increasingly academic curriculum by politicians and policymakers, the insistence on easily quantified and measurable results, and the ← 53 | 54 → incorporation of early childhood classrooms into elementary schools. These trends, which belie the special qualities of young children and all that can be learned from them, make the future of the field as a discrete arena of theory and practice uncertain.

The 20th anniversary of RECE (2012) was an opportunity to identify the themes that characterized its first years and to suggest how this history might shine a light forward in these dark times for early childhood educators. It is also an opportunity to reflect more broadly on how social change movements are remembered and how this remembering functions to serve some interests and thwart others.

My curiosity about the uses to which we put the past was sparked this past winter when my partner, David, and I visited San Francisco, a city that we both know and love. Upon our arrival, we were surprised by how much the Castro, the iconic gay village, had changed. Most striking on our frequent neighborhood walks: the absence of gay men. The streets, once thick with handsome, bearded men in 501s, plaid shirts, and leather jackets, who smiled so easily and eagerly, seemed deserted. For us then, it was as if everyone knew you, and you unquestionably knew them. Now there are few such acknowledgments of public camaraderie and shared experience.

We meet Stephen, a close friend and long-time Castro resident, in the once popular Cafe Flore. No need to stand in the middle of the terrace anxiously looking from table to table for a place to squeeze in among groups of chatting friends catching a few rays of precious afternoon sun. There are plenty of seats, most of the tables occupied by solitary men and women, gaze fixed on laptop or smart phone screens. Life happens online, virtual communities and cyber connections taking their place alongside brick-and-mortar neighborhoods and face-to-face interactions. Stephen explains that young men from elsewhere can no longer afford the rents in the newly gentrified Castro. They alight in different parts of the city and make only occasional visits to this and other neighborhoods once replete with queer life.

David and I adjust to these new realities brought about by economic and social trends combined with the long-term impact of AIDS. We acknowledge that not all gay people felt as welcome in the Castro as we once did and that for some, cyber connections are more liberating than alienating, opening previously unthought possibilities for creating and sustaining queer lives. We also tell each other that vibrant urban centers are constantly changing and take heart in the fact that lesbians and gay men feel comfortable living everywhere rather than congregating in concentrated communities.

Our conversations are filled too with talk about individuals gone missing—Michael the Zen practitioner, Eric the teacher, Maurice the political strategist—all activists of my stripe or another. Their memories elicit within me the exhilaration that came with resisting social norms as we sought new ways of living together, and ultimately, the crazy courage necessary to fight the medical and political establishments in the face of AIDS. They are about individuals and they are about the ideas of social transformation embodied in their unique lives. On this particular trip, at this moment in history, I reexperience the loss of an entire way of life.

Now when I pass the Hartford Street Zen Centre, where I lived while crafting what was to be a seminal article on AIDS and education for the Teachers College Record (Silin, 1987), I take heart in the story of how a small, struggling spiritual community temporarily transformed itself into the Mitre Hospice during the worst of the epidemic. With much goodwill and very little professional assistance, with some practitioners turned patients and others caregivers, the community responded when many larger institutions did not. For me, the building—returned to its ← 54 | 55 → former use, spruced up with fresh paint, new signs, and schedules for regular practice periods—has become emblematic of successful grassroots initiatives and organizing.

While the current political climate has supported stunning successes for gay people—marriage, military service, family rights—reflecting a conservative and normalizing social agenda, the commitment to more inventive, imaginative, and relational possibilities that shaped the early gay movement has largely been erased (Halberstam, 2011; Schulman, 2012). So too have the critical successes of our AIDS organizing: the rethinking of double-blind drug trials, the creation of innovative home care options, the growth of harm reduction programs (Weber & Weissman’s We Were Here, 2011; Cogan & David’s How to Survive a Plague, 2012).

In discussing this concern about the hidden history of AIDS activism, indeed of gay life before AIDS, I am reminded that many of my female graduate students take for granted the opportunities available to them now only because of determined struggles of earlier generations of women with which they are largely unfamiliar. They do not identify as feminists. They do not understand the need for sustained vigilance to retain and expand the rights that have been achieved.

I think here of another unremembered past as well: that of the pedagogical progressives in the first half of the 20th century. Again, my students assume that any environment that is humane, that takes for its rationale developmental psychology and the rhetoric of “the whole child,” is consistent with the progressive cause, but progressive educators wanted something more: a curriculum that focuses on the workings of the social world, the effort to right social wrongs, to allow time and space for participatory democracy in the classroom (Counts, 1932/1978; Krakowsky, 2010; Vascellaro, 2011). The radical political ideas of our educational foremothers and fathers are now hidden from view, papered over by an ethic of individualized instruction and care. The sharp social critique that propelled the reformers to explore the world with their students has been lost to scientific studies of the child that were more palatable to government funders in the 1960s (Silin, 1992), buried in the 21st century under stacks of tests and core curricula that are touted as producing more competitive workers for the new global economy.

How are we to understand these various forms of social amnesia? Whose interests are served, and whose interests are constrained? And, are there lessons for early childhood educators in these stories about the pitfalls and promise of collective memory?

As a gay liberationist, AIDS advocate, and progressive teacher, I know that social change is both a top-down and bottom-up process. Most frequently, it is the former that is highlighted in texts we are given to teach and the latter that is shortchanged. The charismatic leader is always more glamorous than the work of picket lines and protest movements. Without images of grassroots activism, it is easy to believe individuals and marginalized groups have no agency, no ability to tell their story and to effect change.

Here I want to argue that if memory arranges itself around imaginative reconstructions of the past, reconstructions that suit our present needs and validate the world view we wish to perpetuate, then an intentional investigation into what is forgotten and what is remembered can become a source of reparative interpretations as well, a recuperative project for imagining the future otherwise. This is to resist the nostalgia that mistakes the present for an imperfect, failed copy of the past and to appreciate the fluid, political nature of collective memory.

In my work with new teachers, I have argued that childhood memories can become a rich resource for pedagogical understanding (Silin, 2000). More recently, I have drawn on the ← 55 | 56 → experience of becoming a photographic archivist to describe the work of building curriculum and community in the classroom (Silin, in press), and I’ve written about the ways that painful individual losses often have within them the potential for generative acts, for moments of creative self-renewal (Silin, 2013). Trolling the streets of San Francisco last winter, I recognized that collective losses may hold similar opportunities. Reviewing the history of AIDS, Castiglia and Reed (2012) argue:

Loss is not synonymous with silence or absence or defeat; loss can be a starting point, an invocation, an inspiration, a rallying cry. Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention, and needs are never greater than in times of loss. (p. 26)

They go on to suggest that memories—“suspended between responsibility for the spectacular realness of the past and collective inventiveness of the present”—can fund contemporary activism. This is to say that hidden histories can be mined for aspirational images to guide the present. What was it that AIDS activists dreamed and achieved? How did early gay liberationists imagine their work, and how did they live their lives? How did politics and pedagogy come together for progressive educators in the classrooms they inhabited and the schools they built?

Especially in this era of evidence-based learning, when everything pedagogical must be recorded and remembered, I do not want my curiosity about the past to be mistaken for yet another project to fix history and to ensure an unensurable certainty about what was and what might be. In the classroom I continue to argue the pleasures and generative possibilities of forgetting (Silin, 2005). Lost in the present, unshackled by the past, children can play and create with the intensity and abandon that allows them to imagine the new and unrehearsed (Doty, 2010; Halberstam, 2011). When students of any age surrender, by choice or circumstance, the coherence of the familiar, they may be at a loss, the world kaleidoscopically fragmented. At the same time, it is the willingness to explore this very fragmentation that holds the promise of a viable future (Silin, 2013).

Here, however, I am curious about how our partially achieved forgetting allows the past to haunt us and limit our hopes for the future. I do not refer to the kind of psychodynamic haunting that Judith Butler (1997) takes up in describing the heterosexual culture of melancholy in which we are constrained to lose our loving attachment to the same-sex parent and disavow it even as possibility. Then, the loss is unacknowledged and it haunts us exactly because it is unnamed and therefore, ungrievable. Rather, I refer to losses that are recoverable, within the zone of “proximal development” if you will, not ones that are buried so deeply within us and within the culture that they cannot be recuperated. I am after what can be reasonably recognized as opposed to that which would require a new insight of an entirely different order.

Such projects of recognition are supported by recent modifications in the theoretical apparatus of queer time. Initially impelled by a sense of imminent mortality, queer theorists valorized the present as the moment in which past and future can be most fully understood and realized. Impelled as well to examine the meaning of time in lives often unscripted by traditional models of family life, the nurture of children and generational succession, queer theorists rejected a middle-class logic of “reproductive temporality.” This logic, they pointed out, was future oriented, assuming a progression from immaturity to maturity and from dangerous, ungovernable desires to safe, stable, and properly disciplined lives (Halberstam, 2005). In contrast, queer time was understood to be nonlinear, discontinuous, and disruptive of the orderly progress assured by traditional temporal rationalities. It was and is rich in possibilities ← 56 | 57 → for reconsidering the complexity of lived lives and the scholarship that might comment on them (Dinshaw, 1999).

Recent attempts to recuperate the GLBTQ past, in theory and political practice, might be read as a response, a corrective if you will, to the ideas about queer time that first appeared in the wake of AIDS. Now there is a renewed interest in how the past not only lives in the present, but also how it might best be mined to fund the future. Archives of fact and figures, emotions and affects, and words and images, are valued resources for identifying the way forward as well as for illuminating the road already taken (Cvetkovich, 2003). This is the past imagined more expansively, not as determinative of or constraining the present, but as a place for generating ideas about an unrealized future.

In retrospect, the inaugural desire to imagine a temporality that more accurately reflected the phenomenological realities of GLBTQ people who inhabited the social margins, who would never achieve “heterosexual maturity,” and whose lives might only be accounted for in unruly narratives (Stockton, 2009), was not so very different from the goal of early childhood reconceptualists who critiqued stage theories of development in the 1980s (Silin, 1995). We too sought to resist the normalizing effects of linear modes of reasoning that identified some people—notably children, queers, and women—as undeveloped, lacking in “adult” attributes. We too sought to recognize expanded opportunities for pleasure and modalities for respectfully representing lived experience.

Taking my lead from those who look to the past for its aspirational potential, I propose for consideration three ideas that characterized RECE in its first decade and a way to understand these in the context of cultural work more generally.

Making a Place for Pleasure in Early Childhood Education

I baldly appropriate the title of Joe Tobin’s edited volume (1997) to identify the first big theme in early reconceptualizing discourse: transforming the field into a site of pleasure for adults as well as children. Despite its radical roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, by the 1980s, early childhood had become a conservative field concerned with protecting vulnerable children from imagined threats—interior and exterior—to the child, the former lurking in and amongst unsettling emotions and desires and the latter contained in difficult knowledge or predatory individuals. Echoing this protectiveness toward children, many early childhood educators shielded themselves as well from new social and literary theories that threatened the developmental canon upon which they relied.

My own and other contributions to the Tobin volume sought to bring new theoretical apparatuses to bear on what was and wasn’t happening in early childhood classrooms (Silin, 1997). As a group we advocated a curriculum that trusts children, eschews intensified forms of surveillance, and embraces the child as a desiring, often transgressive agent. Consistent with the belief in childhood competency was the commitment to the socially relevant classroom, a place where the child’s existing “funds of knowledge” were to be welcomed, deployed, and expanded. Rather than sanitize the curriculum, reconceptualists sought a more complex, dare I say “real,” representation of the world that would reflect the children’s lived experiences. Explorations of difficult topics and the emotional discomfort they may bring in their wake encourage children to value multiple perspectives, to tolerate uncertainty, and to recognize that some questions defy final answers. ← 57 | 58 →

Equally important, and perhaps even more radical, was the RECE commitment to a field where adults too might find pleasure and explore desire. The classic early childhood watchwords—“only in the best interests of the child”—did not leave space for the adult as an agentive presence in the classroom, let alone in research and in writing. Reconceptualists deconstructed images of the facilitative female who lived and worked to support the growth of others, most often assumed to be boys, and the potentially predatory image of the male teacher whose intentions were always in question.

Desire makes us, child and adult, vulnerable. It is a potential source of danger as well as pleasure, risk as well as reward. Educators who encouraged children to strike out in new directions in order to learn and grow wanted no less for themselves. This is to say that we were willing to acknowledge our unknowingness in order to enjoy new fields of play. This exploration of postmodern, postcolonial, feminist, and queer theory changed not only what we said, but how we said it, the questions we asked and the strategies we took up to answer them.

We were a theoretically promiscuous group, tired of safe scholarship, and willing to engage many partners in what amounted to little more than one-night stands while seeking our place in a larger world of cultural endeavors. Willy-nilly, this curiosity about other disciplines and modes of theorizing implied a complete role reversal for early childhood educators. Immersing ourselves in new ways of thinking and willing to be surprised by theory, we were willing to own our uncertainty and the provisional nature of our knowing (Gallop, 2002). At the same time, we increasingly understood that young children entered the schoolhouse door already knowledgeable, competent, and capable in ways that belied earlier concerns about needing to protect their innocence and purity from the intrusions of unwonted information and ideas.

Advocating for Lives on the Edge

People came to the reconceptualizing movement with very different histories and needs. Those who primarily sought intellectual stimulation came from work situations in which they were long isolated, frequently the only early childhood instructor on a college faculty, or newly minted PhDs experiencing the stressful transition from being part of a lively, challenging cohort of early childhood doctoral candidates to being alone in a department focused on elementary or secondary education. Among those seeking intellectual community were also scholars who had already moved into previously unexplored realms and desired forums for pushing their thinking further afield.

On early RECE program committees there was often disagreement between those who would accept proposals that reflected best practices but were under-theorized or did not expand the boundaries of our thinking and those who championed proposals that brought forward new ideas or theories previously unexplored in relationship to early childhood education.

RECE also attracted scholar-activists whose primary interest was in building a movement immediately responsive to lives lived on the edge, as Valerie Polakow (1993) described the struggles of single mothers and children surviving in deep poverty. They were eager to engage in projects of direct action that would influence legislative decision making and public policy. The goal was to assure that all families had access to essential practical and social supports to enable their children to survive and thrive. These reconceptualists advocated for protection of the young but in the interests of social equity rather than in the interests of cognitive or emotional immaturity as traditionalists argued. ← 58 | 59 →

Wanting to seize opportunities as they presented themselves at each conference to engage with the struggles of local early childhood educators, scholar-activists also brought a keen desire to include people working in other countries. They understood that the RECE Conference could offer critical support and legitimation, theoretical and practical, for social justice efforts around the world, and they grappled with the constraints of time and money that made such participation more challenging.

These distinct, not necessarily antithetical projects—storming the epistemological barricades erected by early childhood traditionalists and focusing on direct action and public policy—sometimes pulled conference planners and participants in different directions. Needless to say, the desire to be practically relevant and immediately responsive to the issues facing teachers and families, as well as the desire to engage in new conversations about our theoretical grounding lived within individuals as well. And, rather miraculously, RECE has managed to accommodate the productive tension resulting from these diverse commitments.

Speaking Truth to Power

I attended my first RECE conference in 1992 after having completed a decade as an AIDS educator and advocate and with a certain weariness with respect to questions of strategy and tactics. In my experience, speaking truth to power through public protest, political advocacy, and critical journalism sometimes brought important successes. In other situations, a more effective strategy was to turn our collective backs to power in order to create small, innovative services and educational initiatives that government and private foundations did not immediately understand.

At the RECE Conference in Chicago, I was immediately aware of a similar kind of strategic challenge faced by reconceptualists. At the time, NAEYC, with its full-time staff in Washington, more than 43,000 individual members and 300 affiliate groups, an annual conference that attracted upwards of 20,000 people, and a full roster of publications including Young Children, the most widely read journal in the field, seemed an immovable force blocking change. There were some among us who directed our attention to getting NAEYC to see things otherwise, and there were some, including myself, who took the position that our limited resources would best be utilized in creating interesting events, pursuing a different kind of scholarship, that would ultimately attract new adherents. In time, we reasoned, NAEYC would of its own accord come calling.

Although Sue Bredekamp, editor of the first NAEYC position paper on developmentally appropriate practice published in 1986, accepted an invitation to participate in a conference “conversation,” she clearly had not come calling of her own accord nor was she interested in real dialogue. An exact description of the format of this meeting fails me, however my memory of the angry, frustrated emotions generated at the time are all too clear. Our effort to speak truth to power was something of a catastrophe although, as often happens in such situations, a visible opponent in view did strengthen our resolve.

To be clear, there are no villains or saints in this story but people with very different political and social perspectives. In reality, many were active in both RECE and NAEYC, produced fine publications for the latter, and argued that only through participation can you wield influence and promote change. At the same time, NAEYC itself was far from a monolith. There were many who participated in a range of organizational projects—Millie Almy, Barbara Biber, ← 59 | 60 → Bernard Spodak—and who also held strong social commitments and more generous intellectual visions that belied NAEYC’s public positions. With its singular focus on clearing new ground, RECE did not acknowledge the contributions or build alliances with those who held minority positions within NAEYC.

From my own perspective, the NAEYC agenda in the 1980s and 1990s—professionalization of the field through career ladders, certifications, and institutionalization of a scientific knowledge base—felt wrong-headed, and the possibility of a productive, public dialogue was foreclosed by the organization’s intractability. Implicit in the absolutist manner in which NAEYC held on to the developmental canon was an unspoken fear that without this body of knowledge, a field that was viewed by many as little more than organized child minding would be increasingly marginalized. As in other fields with an overwhelmingly female workforce, such as nursing and social work, salaries would remain extraordinarily low, benefits few and far between, and its professional status problematic. The identification of early childhood education and developmental theory was so complete in these years that NAEYC president Bettye Caldwell (1984) could confidently proclaim: “Our field represents the applied side of the basic science of child development” (p. 53).

In contrast, with a more open disposition toward shifts in other disciplines, reconceptualists were ready to ask: What, if anything, makes early childhood a discrete field of theory and practice? How permeable can we become to other disciplines without losing our identity, and would such a loss be a bad thing? Ironically, these questions of disciplinary coherence are now being forced upon us from the outside by the increasing downward pressures for academically oriented programs that are in turn leading to new certification regulations that minimize, even erase, the utility of distinct early childhood qualifications.

Undoubtedly, there are many ideas other than the three I have identified here—making a place for pleasure, advocating for lives lived on the edge, and speaking truth to power—that catalyzed RECE during its formative years. In trying to tell our story, to find an overarching narrative, a through-line that holds it together, I am struck by the heuristic power of adapting Melanie Klein’s distinction between a paranoid/schizoid position and a depressive position to describe critical reading practices. Eve Sedgwick (2003) explains that, originally posited by Klein as a “characteristic posture that the ego takes up with respect to its object” (p. 128), these positions may also be interpolated as different ways of knowing and contrasting interests in what is known. The paranoid/schizoid position leads to strong, universalizing theories that eschew surprises, the potential humiliation that may come with exposure, and more free-ranging exploration of the world, whereas the depressive position leads to a loosely connected web of local theories that enjoy contingency and offer reparative readings to restore relationships. The former, built on the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” is grounded in a search for certainty, propositional knowledge, and the avoidance of error, while the latter seeks to maximize pleasure and care of the self while opening an ethics of possibility based in fuller recognition of the other.

In Klein’s formulation, positions are not linear developments, the one closing down the other, but rather tendencies that co-exist within every adult’s stance toward the world. The schizoid/paranoid position is one in which we seek to avoid pain through remaining hyper-vigilant to potential sources of danger. In the depressive mode, no longer prompted solely by fear and anxiety, we are better able to receive comfort and nourishment from more coherent identifications with objects once understood as threatening and vengeful. Open to a broader ← 60 | 61 → range of emotions, including the reparative pleasures that come with such positive identifications, we are also less fearful of surprises and mistakes. Reflecting this depressive position in theory making, for example, Joseph Litvak invites us to “take the terror out of error” and to make mistakes, “sexy, creative, even cognitively powerful” (Sedgwick, 2003, p. 147).

In brief, I read our desire to open the field of early childhood to a much broader range of theories and styles of theory making as an attempt to move from a schizoid/paranoid position to a depressive one. Rather than defend the developmental canon, rather than rely on scientific “truths” that promise certainty, legitimacy, and as NAEYC leaders claimed, higher salaries for underpaid workers through professionalization, we sought to embrace a more playful, dare I say pleasurable, stance toward theorizing the world of children and classrooms. Over and against the rigidity of the NAEYC position grounded in claims to the “truth” value of developmentalism, we sought a more flexible, inclusive approach to what counts as salient knowledge to educating young children. We used a Foucauldian language to query our own work: How does this knowledge function in the world? What does this knowledge do and not do? Who benefits and who loses by its instantiation into early childhood practices?

I do not suggest that we were always successful at asking, let alone answering, these questions. I do suspect, however, that we were more successful in shifting our theorizing than in changing our own practices or those more widely employed in early childhood classrooms. In my more Zen moments, I think that perhaps our singular accomplishment was just that: to make theorizing a form of practice in a field that had become theoretically barren and epistemologically bankrupt. No small accomplishment and one that I can only hope still thrives across the chapters of this volume.


Butler, J. (1997). The psychic life of power. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Caldwell, B. (1984). Growth and development. Young Children, 39(6), 53–56.

Castiglia, C., & Reed, C. (2012). If memory serves: Gay men, AIDS, and the promise of the queer past. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Cogan, D. (Producer), & David, F. (Director). (2012). How to survive a plague [Motion picture]. United States: Sundance Selects.

Counts, G. (1932/1978). Dare the schools build a new social order? Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Cvetkovich, A. (2003). An archive of feelings: Trauma, sexuality, and lesbian public cultures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Dinshaw, C. (1999). Getting medieval. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Doty, M. (2010). The art of description: World into words. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf.

Gallop, J. (2002). Anecdotal theory. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Halberstam, J. (2005). In a queer time & place: Transgender bodies, subcultural lives. New York: New York University Press.

Halberstam, J. (2011). The queer art of failure. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Krakowsky, L. (2010). Leonard Covello: A study of progressive leadership and community empowerment. (Occasional Paper No. 24). New York: Bank Street College of Education.

Polakow, V. (1993). Lives on the edge: Single mothers and their children in the other America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schulman, S. (2012). The gentrification of the mind: Witness to a lost imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sedgwick, E. (2003). Touching feeling: Affect, pedagogy, performativity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Silin, J. (1987). The language of aids: Public fears, pedagogical responsibilities. Teachers College Record, 89(1), 3–19. ← 61 | 62 →

Silin, J. (1992). New subjects, familiar roles: Progressive legacies in the postmodern world. In F. Pignatelli & W. Pflaum (Eds.), Celebrating diverse voices: Progressive education and equity (pp. 221–241). Newbury Park, CA: Corwin.

Silin, J. (1995). Sex, death, and the education of children: Our passion for ignorance in the age of AIDS. New York: Teachers College Press.

Silin, J. (1997). The pervert in the classroom. In J. Tobin (Ed.), Making a place for pleasure in early childhood education (pp. 214–235). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Silin, J. (2000). Real children and imagined homelands: Preparing to teach in today's world. In N. Nager & E. K. Shapiro (Eds.), Revisiting a progressive pedagogy (pp. 257–275). Albany: SUNY Press.

Silin, J. (2005). Who can speak?: Silence, voice and pedagogy. In N. Yelland (Ed.), Critical issues in early childhood education (pp. 81–95). Maidenhead, Berkshire, U.K.: Open University Press.

Silin, J. (2013). At a loss: Scared and excited. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 14(1), 16–23.

Silin, J. (In press). The teacher as archivist. Studies in Gender and Sexuality.

Stockton, K. (2009). The queer child, or growing sideways in the twentieth century. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Tobin, J. (Ed.). (1997). Making a place for pleasure in early childhood education. New Haven,

CT: Yale University Press.

Vascellaro, S. (2011). Out of the classroom and into the world. New York: The New Press.

Weber, B., & Weissman, D. (Directors). (2011). We were here [Motion Picture]. United States: Red Flag Releasing. ← 62 | 63 →



Still Waiting for the Revolution

Michael O’Loughlin

Much remains to be done to undo societal prejudices against children. While organizations such as Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE) have agitated for change in specific areas, the health of the overall ecological infrastructure of contemporary childhood in the U.S. is very troubling. The passing of Maurice Sendak (1928–2012) reminds me how ephemeral our passions and accomplishments are and causes me to worry that the accomplishments of RECE and the many talented individuals who comprise it, too, may be fleeting. Reflecting back on the inaugural RECE meeting at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1991 evokes in me memories of nurturance, hope, possibility, and a perpetual wish for more. Is it possible to thread a movement from such moments? Have we stormed the epistemological barricades? What can a life’s work of child therapy and child pedagogy, teacher education, and writing preserve? In a world of predatory capitalism, ruthless mechanical notions of accountability, and disinterest in the existential and liberatory potential of care and education, for what might we be remembered? Our humanitarian and critical impulses give me optimism, and the reactionary politics of all power structures give me pause. I find the tenaciousness of normative developmental models of childhood discouraging. Has our RECE movement had any lasting influence on policy and practices? Do we have the capacity to stand up to the retrogressive influences that seek to roll back the gains in our field? I fear I’m still waiting for the revolution.

In this chapter I will chart the course of a journey that began with my early critiques of early childhood education, ripostes that were sometimes tinged with the sharpness and impatience of my relative youth. I will contrast that with my position today—one edged by my concern about legacy and the passing on of an ethic of care and a language of critique to future scholars and practitioners. In seeking to rupture the tenacious hold of developmental normativity, bolstered nowadays by foreclosing tropes such as “evidence-based practice,” I will present my current conceptualization ← 63 | 64 → of the possibilities of childhood through what I have begun to call “a psychoanalysis of the social”—an approach that combines psychoanalytic notions of valuing emotions, imagination, and the possibility of the unconscious with lessons from intergenerational trauma theory that offer profound insights into the role of ancestry, spirituality, history, culture, and difference in our coming to be as subjects. I will argue that we must find a way to add greater political muscle to the urgent case for a more liberatory imaginary for future generations of children.

Compulsory Retrospection

Compulsory retrospection is tricky stuff. As a younger person I thought and wrote like…well…like a younger person. I had faith at that point that we could charge the epistemological barricades, and in some respects we did. The infusion of queer theory, postcolonial theory, and critical qualitative research into the discourses of early childhood education, and indeed the establishment and remarkable continuance of the RECE Conference for more than 20 years, offers extraordinary testimony to our capacity for change and to our ability to work in relative solidarity to keep an idea going. As I have grown older, I think perhaps what has changed most for me is that I have considerably less interest in just winning an argument or scoring rhetorical points, and more interest in seeding a movement. I am interested in living a philosophy of life and seeking to spread that word to those who may have a receptivity to the human values that I believe in, and, by putting my ideas out there, contributing at a minimum to keeping alive the possibilities of being, becoming, imagining, and acting, for future children.

Vivian Paley devoted her life to understanding the importance of storytelling and fantasy in the lives of the children in her kindergarten classes. Her 2005 book, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play, offers a troubling view of where the schooling of young children is headed when the nurturance of imagination and the provision of a space for the working through of feelings is no longer of consequence. Instead, predictability and reliability offer a safer and more sanitary path for teachers:

What an astonishing invention is this activity we call fantasy play. Are we really willing to let it disappear from our schools and kindergartens? “I’m not inclined to encourage fantasy play any more if my teachers can’t handle it,” a preschool director admitted recently. “If the teachers are worried about what’s coming out, especially with the fours and fives, everyone is better off if we stick to lesson plans and projects.”

“Has the play changed that much?” I ask.

“The teachers think so. Maybe it’s the increased tension since 9/11. Children do seem less prepared, more at risk. We’re on safer ground with a somewhat academic curriculum. It’s more dependable.” (p. 7)

As Paley notes, expectations for young children have become so instrumental and fixed that “The potential for surprise is largely gone.” “We no longer wonder,” she continues, “‘Who are you?’ but instead decide quickly ‘What can we do to fix you?’” (2005, p. 47)

As I leaf back through my own contributions to the early RECE debates,1 I notice a salient binary ethos in the argument: us versus them. RECE versus the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). RECE versus Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP). RECE versus oppressive and retrogressive pedagogy. RECE versus sell-outs ← 64 | 65 → and hold-outs. I now realize that binaries are unhelpful because they bind us in a dialectic that provokes resistance and may inhibit change; and also by virtue of our opposition, we may unwittingly reify and confer legitimacy on the status quo that we seek to supplant. A third path is needed.

Leaving that aside, however, I am struck by how relatively constant my concerns have been. The arguments of my more youthful self still resonate deeply with me, but I think I have made progress in two ways. First, by becoming a child therapist and psychoanalyst, and having now seen children in therapy for close to 10,000 hours, I have become more attuned to the experience of being with children, and this has grounded my ideas immeasurably. Second, I learned to think psychoanalytically. I have identified a liberatory lineage in psychoanalysis going all the way back to Freud’s Free Clinics,2 and I have found a way, through what I call a “psychoanalysis of the social,” to argue that not only does psychoanalysis have useful insights to offer into the emotional foundation of children’s lived experiences, but that it has potential, through speaking to a sociohistorically defined unconscious, to address the ancestral, cultural, and historical formation of the child and thereby to contribute to liberatory pedagogical practices. I should note too—and here the writings of Deborah Britzman, Gail Boldt, Jonathan Silin, and Peter Taubman are illustrative3—that one does not need to be formally trained either as a psychologist, therapist, or psychoanalyst to claim a space in the psychoanalytic world or to use critical psychoanalytic concepts. When I put out a call recently for chapters for a book that would speak to childhood and schooling from psychoanalytic perspectives, I received enough material to produce two books with 33 chapters, written by passionate child advocates from a variety of professions.4 This gives me cause for optimism.

Nowhere to Grow?

Five-year-old Errol’s5 parents were puzzled. He absolutely refused to have a party to celebrate his birthday. He was adamant that he was not growing up and that he would never turn 6. More seriously, 10-year-old Dave wore the belt of his pants cinched a few notches too tight in order to maintain an image of slightness, and each year when his mother took him shopping for back-to-school clothes he insisted on clothes that were at least two sizes too small. One day, in my consulting office, he drew a womb-like image with a tiny stick figure, perhaps two centimeters long, inside. He drew a speech bubble and an arrow pointing to the figure within the womb. Then he wrote the legend “I’m hear” [sic] in the bubble. He labeled the picture, poignantly, “The boy who wouldn’t grow up.”

In The Queer Child (2009), Kathryn Stockton speaks of the child who, faced with normative, linear, heterosexist notions of advancement, simply has “nowhere to grow” (p. 3). As Stockton notes, if growing up inevitably means encountering continual trouble or permanent misrecognition, some children will recognize that if they wish to follow a path that includes any vestige of their own desires, they have little choice but to seek an alternative sideways path forward. Do we have any room in our thinking for such sideways paths? Is “developmental delay,” with all of its connotations of pathology, retardation, and deficit, the only alternative to growing up?

Stockton points to the queerness of notions of childhood that preclude consideration of “sex, aggression, secrets, closets, or any sense of what police call ‘a past,’” thus revealing the core notion of the normative child as innocent and walled off, a child who “on its path to ← 65 | 66 → normativity, seems safe to us and whom we therefore safeguard at all costs” (2009, p. 30). As Bruhm and Hurley note in Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children (2004), childhood innocence is imbued with notions of asexuality and incipient heterosexuality. “The figure of the queer child,” Bruhm and Hurley state, “is that which doesn’t quite conform to the wished-for way that children are supposed to be in terms of gender and sexual roles” (p. x). The conundrum of the child, inserted discursively into a retrospective normative role of innocence that is deeply invested with adult fears, anxieties, and projections of innocence, not to mention socially normative scripts about class, race, and gender (cf. Bernstein, 2011), is to either sacrifice desire on the altar of parental and societal notions of normative expectation, or else run into the brick wall of developmental arrest and thus be viewed as delayed, deviant, or oppositional. These kinds of interpellative processes are onerous and alienating for all children, as they seek to keep children cordoned within the realm of thinkable ways of being and within the realm of bourgeois aspiration and social hierarchy through the suppression of any aberrant or nonmaterial desire. They are all the more catastrophic for the queer child—the child who by definition may embody homosexual identifications, transgender identifications, racial identifications, or any other interests that bourgeois society might regard as uppity, perverse, aberrant, deviant, or dangerous to the bourgeois status quo. What then of the dilemma facing a transgender child such as Ludo in the movie Ma Vie en Rose (Berliner, 1999), who faces a willfully misunderstanding family and community? Or what of Willie, the gay protagonist in the movie The Hanging Garden (Fitzgerald, 1996) whose mother seeks to straighten him through a visit to a hooker, and whose attempts to eat his way out of heterosexual progression and spurned homosexual love leads to an impasse that brings him precipitously close to catastrophe? Or what of Billy, the main character in Billy Elliot (Daldry, 2001), who seeks to pursue his desire to be a ballet dancer despite the vehement condemnation of his working-class patriarchal homophobic father and brother, the envy of his gay friend Michael, and his own attempt to bob and weave around the societal expectation that his interest in ballet inevitably means that he is a poof? Is it possible for a child to push through this pain to a place of desire and possibility?

The Troubled State of Early Education in the United States Today

In my early work, I was interested in challenging specific facets of the epistemology underpinning developmental psychology and early childhood pedagogy. Gradually I came to understand that the problem was larger. Since then I have attempted to articulate one dimension of an alternative epistemological understanding of the notion of childhood and the paths by which children might negotiate themselves to positions of desire and a capacity to question both the paths of their individual life trajectories and the collective paths that are offered by post-industrial societies that seem willing to market technological progress and material consumption as the solution to the meaning of life. In doing so I have no illusion that the theory of embodied and embedded subjectivity that I offer here is, on its own, the answer to what ails our society. My hope is that those of us who share a rejection of the core epistemological principles of normative childhood, linear development, and prescriptive pedagogies, often artfully disguised as student-centered and humane education, might take seriously the need to articulate a comprehensive critical alternative vision to the status quo.

My central critique of RECE is that we have failed to coalesce around a comprehensive, critically progressive, located, and multidimensional understanding of childhood experience, ← 66 | 67 → and hence of the multiple ways in which particular children—each of whom is queer in their own way—may seek opportunities to think, imagine, and experience their own critical possibilities for becoming. I am very concerned with the decidedly anti-child drift of current educational practices and policies.

With a few notable exceptions, for the most part the discourses of child development, classroom management, early childhood education, special education, school psychology, and school counseling have constructed notions of children and schooling that are often behaviorist, instrumental, and symptom focused. In the educational arena, curriculum too often focuses on rote acquisition of knowledge; discipline is conceptualized as compliance (Kohn, 1996/2006) and symptoms such as anger, school resistance, oppositionality, etc. are pathologized and reacted to out of context. Children’s special needs are often conceptualized instrumentally, and children with complex psychological symptoms or complex social backgrounds are delimited, depersonalized, or simply removed (Books, 1998/2006; Polakow, 1998; Polakow-Suransky, 2000). While this has been true of North America for some time, the biologization and pathologization of psychic distress in children as behavior to be medicated and eliminated, is spreading across the world.

For a quarter century, I’ve been teaching a course called “The Emotional Lives of Children and the Possibility of Classroom as Community” to teachers and psychologists. I also teach courses on child development, child therapy, and classroom management, all focusing on the emotional quality of children’s lives, and on the complexities of transference relationships between children and the adults who care for them. I have found students to be receptive to the person-centered and psychodynamic perspectives we study through fiction, memoir, film, and academic texts, and my students are invariably puzzled that these perspectives rarely form part of the core principles of their preparation. Why are so few psychologists, social workers, and teachers introduced, for example, to the writings of Donald Winnicott, Margaret Mahler, Maud Mannoni, Louise Kaplan, or Selma Fraiberg? “What if, instead of manualized therapy and scripted pedagogy, we assisted professionals in using their talents and gifts to work obliquely with children (cf. O’Loughlin & Merchant, 2012) so that our services to children speak to desire and imagination instead of demanding rigid conformity and stifling uniformity?” (O’Loughlin, 2013c, p. 2).

The reductiveness of outcomes-based and supposedly evidence-based methodologies has crept up into university preparation in the United States, primarily through the influence of accreditation processes that have increasingly constricted the space in which either philosophical ideals, imagination, or emotion can be discussed (cf. Biesta, 2007). Our critical voices are diminutive indeed in the face of an alliance between postcapitalist and neoconservative ideologies, coupled with a strain of anti-intellectualism, all thinly disguised in an ethos of school reform and a desire to mold children into becoming willing participants in a culture of material consumption, teaching them to fit in with corporate business practices, and perhaps even teaching children to accept the necessity for their own eventual unemployability in a ruthless global market economy.

With this in mind, looking at my early papers I enumerate the following concerns that were at the forefront of my mind 20 years ago. I invite you to consider how well they have been addressed within the reconceptualizing movement, specifically within RECE itself, as well as within mainstream early childhood policies and practices in the United States. If these concerns continue to be relevant today, that raises troubling questions about our capacity to effect substantive change in the field. With respect to early childhood education, back then I argued that: ← 67 | 68 →

In critiquing Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP; Bredekamp, 1987), the practice philosophy promulgated by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and keystone of the NAEYC accreditation process for early education, I offered the following additional critiques:

A Third Way: The Emergence of Childhood Subjectivity Discursively


X, 333
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2013 (August)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 333 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Marianne N. Bloch (Volume editor) Beth Blue Swadener (Volume editor) Gaile S. Cannella (Volume editor)

Marianne N. Bloch is Professor Emerita in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beth Blue Swadener is Professor and Associate Director of the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. Gaile S. Cannella is Research Professor at Arizona State University and the series editor for Rethinking Childhood and Critical Qualitative Research at Peter Lang. All are founding members of the International Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education group.


Title: Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Care and Education