Power Play

Explorando y empujando fronteras en una escuela en Tejas through a multilingual play-based early learning curriculum

by Tim Kinard (Author) Jesse Gainer (Author) Mary Esther Soto Huerta (Author)
©2018 Textbook XX, 242 Pages
Series: Childhood Studies, Volume 4


Power Play tells the story of activist teachers and the very young together in a play-based curriculum in a public school in Texas. The authors narrate (with playful interruptions) a curriculum that is powered by the students’ lived encounters—the languages, landscapes, beliefs, histories, geographies, politics, economies, ideas, people, things, matter, and matters of fact and fiction that students carry with them to school, that carry them to school, through school, through their lives.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Power Play
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword by Gaile S. Cannella
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part 1: Beginnings
  • Impatient Action
  • The Classroom: A Boundary
  • Welcome: A School in Texas
  • Innocence
  • Binaries and Resistance: Crossing Into Smoothed Spaces and the Underlife
  • The Constructive Play Lab
  • The Hegemony of English
  • Part 2: Explorando
  • Recognizing “We,” Becoming “Us,” and “I,” the Interruptive Narrator
  • Visiting a Past Summer School Program: Recognizing the Recognizable
  • The Problem of Recognition
  • Resisting “Readiness”
  • Becoming
  • Sociodramatic Play
  • Part 3: Empujando
  • Pushing on Curriculum, Pushing on Assessment
  • Theorybuilding: Becoming Academic
  • Mind-Matter at Play (an Intra-action)
  • Curriculum Models: Imagery of Plant Matter
  • Storytelling Curriculum
  • Part 4: El Juego Conmueve
  • Alien War: A Film
  • “Recognizing Play”: The Borders of Playfulness
  • Playing With Play
  • A One-Act Play: Playwork on a House-Boat
  • Series Index

← x | xi →



Gaile S. Cannella

After living and working within, plus attempting to challenge, narrow-minded views of childhood, education, and diversity for years, the activist teacher authors of Power Play, Tim Kinard, Jesse Gainer, and Mary Esther Soto Huerta, decided that (to paraphrase Deleuze and Parnet [2002]) they could no longer stand what they had put up with before. They decided to work together “to jump willy-nilly into a fray,” to design and implement a specific multicultural, multilingual curriculum (i.e. Spanish, English) for children 3 to 8-years-old. This book is the story of that past and continued collaboration, the ‘now’ with children, their public school teachers, their parents and their community. The content describes a multi-year summer program that joins state-mandated summer school for ‘English language learners’ and a teacher education program.

The storytelling text found in this unique book—and more importantly, the critical, relational pedagogical perspectives and emergent actions that are demonstrated on the ground with young children—are urgently needed. Critical educational methodologies that would value the diversities within and all around us, as well as lead to increased justice and equity, are an absolute necessity. I visited the ← xi | xii → program in the summer of 2017 and was inspired by the perspectives, actions, and agendas of the children, their diverse teachers (both in-service and pre-service), and the activist researcher authors of this volume, who also work as children’s teachers in the program. However, to fully appreciate this volume and the actions in classrooms that it represents, perhaps the reader should be reminded just why these activist teacher researchers could no longer put up with what had been before.

We live in a world that exponentially privileges neoliberalism, a form of capitalist domination imposed on the bodies of human beings, the more than human, and the entire planet around us. This narrow form of interpretation, action, even exploitation, and reward governs as value is placed on efficiency, entrepreneurialism, competition, and capital—whether applied as a universal belief in testing and labeling diverse young children (Urban & Swadener, 2016), the construction of factory farms where nonhuman living beings are placed in cramped cages and injected with chemicals to promote growth (Bennett, 2010), or deforestation in the name of urbanization, development, and consumerism (Chakravarty, Ghosh, Suresh, Dey, & Shukla, 2012). Further, this dominant condition supports diversity, justice, and possibility ONLY IF the result is increased capital and political power, not because children, individuals or groups of people, other living creatures, or the world around us are/is valued and supported.

Extreme racism, monoculturalism, ultra-nationalism, misogyny, and patriarchal, crony capitalism reign, at least in the halls of power. Examples of these sites of ruling power include corporate entities, government relations with corporate entities, and even the decisions made by some education administrators functioning with monocultural/monolingual, capitalist perspectives. These often intersecting locations of power determine views of ‘others’ (whomever those others might be), policy decisions, and forms of public care and practice, as well as the deployment of funds and resources. Further, some who do not have access to the halls of power have accepted this neoliberal invasive condition and put forward their support verbally and in the voting booth, even at the peril of their own lives and forms of human and environmental support.

The current circumstances in the field of early education and care illustrate this neoliberal, efficiency-oriented, universalist, corporate invasion. Although years of teaching and research have demonstrated a great potential for damage, young children are increasingly tested and judged using practices and assumptions that originate from narrow, adult-oriented, monocultural and monolingual locations. The value of diversity in any form is continuously eroded through the imposition of universalist knowledge and practice imposed on the bodies of most younger human beings and their teachers. One such example is the increasingly controlled ← xii | xiii → and restricted view of learning and curriculum imposed by the US federal government on Head Start programs, a project that originated as broad-based support for young children and their families, with local parent decision-making regarding education, and financial backing for educational, cultural, and community diversity. But, these types of supports are no longer the case.

Critical educators and researchers have challenged universalisms and capitalist impositions for over 30 years. Examples include questioning truth- oriented descriptions of growth and cognition along with problematizing the adult/child dichotomy, illustrating the problems with monolingual privilege while demonstrating the advantages of multilingualism, and contesting the exploitation of those who are younger for capital gains (Bloch, Swadener, & Cannella, 2014; Cannella & Viruru, 2004). However, neoliberalism is rhyzomatic and able to reterritoralize power even within the dispute (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Even those who meet the male, white, English-speaking, moneyed, dominant criteria for privilege are marginalized and discredited if they are not heterosexual, stand for diversity in any form, stand for justice, or challenge the appropriateness of imposing power over others—especially when those ‘others’ are very young children.

Further, most recently, from within our patriarchal capitalist condition, some scholars (who also label themselves critical) have chastised critical work, whether pedagogy or the research that is often labeled cultural ‘critique’ like critical genealogy or deconstruction. However oversimplified the argument associated with ‘critique of critique’ (Latour, 2004), and however that argument in itself might be leading to dualistic, elitist thought within the critical community, we must all admit that the broad-based transformations toward a more just world that we had hoped would occur over the past 30 years have not happened. Poverty is rampant. Younger human beings who are not white and English-speaking are devalued, deported, even placed in dangerous living circumstances. Testing is not questioned and is a corporatized practice. The voices of children and families are often silenced. We could go on and on. Some of us feel that, even with all our past work, circumstances for many are worse than ever before. As teachers, as activists, as researchers and scholars, we want to take actions with/for communities to change this situation.

Yet, we must construct/make new/become-with/learn how to take action in this particular time, under these circumstances, in this ‘now.’ Tim Kinard, Jesse Gainer, and Mary Esther Soto Huerta are attempting to do just that, to learn to take previously unthought actions!!! We can gain much from their perspectives, forms of advocacy, and collaborations as represented in this book, even as they are ← xiii | xiv → multiple, emergent, and avoid determinism. As you, the reader, “become-with” (Haraway, 2016, p. 12) this volume, I want to share with you a brief description of what I have begun to learn from their critical, activist approach.

Power, Struggles, and Curricular Agendas

First, as teachers and academics who take on the responsibility for curricular decisions and daily interactions with those who are younger, even as critical educators we continue to have a difficult time avoiding the power that is obtained within the adult/child dichotomy or in using our multiple experiences with those who are younger in ways that are beneficial without imposing ‘expert’ power orientations. How do we ‘become-with’ our own histories and experiences as educators and practicing teachers in the now without silencing the voices of those who are younger and their families? How do we engage with our own rememberings in ways that create multiple possibilities in the now? While these questions are made-with my experiences (“make-with,” Haraway, 2016, p. 5), as entangled with the text and embodied visitation, the authors address these issues throughout the book.

Through multiple stories of events and historical rememberings, ranging from historical experiences as related to supporting a child’s woodworking agenda, to whether one should react to boys threatening war on the playground, the authors share their struggles in the presence of younger human beings who are choosing to act in the now. Actions, as well as deliberate choices for inaction, are examined. The authors demonstrate multiple curricular possibilities for challenging our ageist dualisms as well as becoming-with multiple histories and intersecting agendas. These possibilities are found in varied predetermined and emergent locations around the school and ground, as, for example, the constructive play lab. Further, while curricular practices are labeled “play-based,” the complexities and multiplicities of concepts like play, power, the power of play, and power play are infused, as relational to all of us, whether labeled child or adult.

Challenging the Hegemony of English

The authors of Power Play clearly illuminate their understandings of the embeddedness of all our lives, and especially as related to those who are younger and the values that are present in early childhood curriculum, stating: ← xiv | xv →

The life of a child begins with a first breath, but each child draws that breath in the midst of languages, landscapes, beliefs, histories, geographies, politics, economies, ideas, people, things, matter, and matters of fact and fiction that predate them. A child is born into the middle of things, not the beginning.

Children are certainly born into the middle of all kinds of worlds, assemblages, and possibilities. Yet, the singularity of contemporary narrowed forms of education would imprison learners within one way of being, thinking, speaking, and living. The curricular practices represented in this volume acknowledge that English and one cultural way of being often so dominate that Spanish-speaking children, as well as culturally diverse others, are continually placed in the margin. This ostracism is linked to linguistic cues within the dominant use of English that reinforce racism, as well as other forms of disqualification. The authors of Power Play state and demonstrate their curricular commitment to taking action against this linguistic apartheid by creating political spaces (within the classroom) in which Spanish and English share equal status.

This bilingual choice is explained within a discussion of the history of languages in the state of Texas. The reader is reminded that Spanish was actually the first European colonizing language to invade Texas, violently overcoming existing indigenous languages through conquest and subjugation. However, English-speaking colonizers replaced Spanish. With such a history and the awareness that three-fourths of the world is bilingual, the teacher authors have constructed curricular practices that would move toward bilingualism as the norm. Recognizing the realities and demographics of state power, the program proclaims Spanish as a valued and equal language by using Spanish as often as English (when at all possible) and encouraging self-labeled monolingual teachers to rethink, and act, themselves, as emergent bilinguals. While continuing to be aware of the privileges obtained by English speakers, throughout the text the authors provide classroom examples of boundary crossing and shared communication. The complexity of the dominant linguistic circumstance is always/already illuminated by the authors as they demonstrate emergent early education curricular practices that would generate bilingual learning spaces.

Activism and the Political

From the very first pages of Power Play, the authors make clear that they are impatient souls who have attempted for many years to improve the education and lives of children in ways that would move toward increased opportunities for justice ← xv | xvi → and equity. They understand as researchers that political advocacy is played out in their teaching, research, service, and publications. However, they admit to a realization that in our present moment an accentuated direct action is needed to increase possibilities for transformation. Further, their direct actions have been/are being played out in collaboration with all stakeholders in the community including children, their parents, and pre-service teachers, as well as public school teachers and administrators.

The advocacy and actions taken by the authors can be considered an informed, concerned, and specific power play. This maneuver is not made to gain curricular or educational dominance for the authors themselves, whether as individual teachers, curriculum developers, or otherwise (and I should note that the curriculum is emergent, in case the reader has not intuited this circumstance), or to generate power for any particular group. Rather, the strategy acknowledges the complexities of power, the multiplicities that are often infused, transitory, and almost always intersectional. Further, this power play concedes that everything is political and therefore requires historically and contemporarily informed actors engaging with everything that could be implicated in power relations from, as examples, the linguistic and racial history of the state of Texas, to the construction of divisions like natural or man-made geographical and legal boundaries, to educational regulations like the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills as related to educational discourses outside the state. For those who hope to advance in the quest for justice and equity for all children, the political awareness and decision-making illustrated by the authors is invaluable.

Philosophically Making-With Others Academically and Otherwise

As mentioned earlier, along with the current neoliberal condition, scholars in academia have also recently bombarded each other with accusations of being elitist, privileging language philosophically, and ultimately being irrelevant. However simplistic and environmentally unaware the accusations may be (especially as related to neoliberalism), the lack of broad-based transformation toward a more just world through past critical scholarship must be taken seriously. Tim Kinard, Jesse Gainer, and Mary Esther Soto Huerta determine to take action within these circumstances by recognizing the entanglements of, and relations to, all our philosophical perspectives and by acknowledging that forming new relations can lead to new possibilities. Rather than accepting philosophical concerns that would ← xvi | xvii → only focus on the more-than-human, and/or feminist new materialism, and/or Deleuzian assemblage perspectives, as the newest current ‘cutting edge’ philosophical vantage points from which all other critical views must be rejected, the authors choose to become-with relations across and within contemporary and historical views. In their actions as well as throughout the text, they illustrate ways that critical scholars can use (even become-with) past critique, the unthought, the multiple, and the immanent.

A well-developed example is the use of ‘becoming(s)’ to replace the problematic of identity politics. Without lingering on the debates concerning ‘becoming’ between Deleuze & Guattari (1987), who focus on constructing or finding zones of indiscernibility, and Haraway (2008, 2016) who emphasizes ‘becoming with,’ the authors use the work of early childhood scholars to embrace the notion that we are all becoming. No one, or thing is considered lacking or incomplete but rather always immanent and never fixed. In addition to notions of becoming student, becoming teacher, becoming as resistance to being, and becoming difference, curriculum as construct is recast as a multiple becoming that is no longer a singular journey taken by many.

The authors of Power Play first chose to act in the local for the children in their community and these actions were/are extremely beneficial for those younger human beings and their families, as well as for the in-service and pre-service teachers who participate. Further, getting to know them through their text, I believe that Tim, Jesse, and Mary Esther would humbly state that they learned more than they would have ever dreamed from their community of collaborators, and especially from the children. I invite you to form relationships with the text that they have chosen to share with—to become one with their values, philosophical understandings, educational decisions, actions, and the possibilities that they have generated—to form or make-with your own new possibilities for advocating for justice and equity for those who are younger and all of us.

September 6, 2017 ← xvii | xviii →


Bennett, E. (July–December, 2010). Obstacles in legally protecting farm animals in the United States as animal rights abuses and environmental degradation continue. Revista Brasileira de Direito Animal (Brazilian Animal Rights Review), 7, 105–138.

Bloch, M., Swadener, B. B., & Cannella, G. S. (Eds.). (2014). Reconceptualizing early childhood care and education: Critical questions, diverse imaginaries, and social activism. New York, NY: Peter Lang.


XX, 242
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 242 pp.

Biographical notes

Tim Kinard (Author) Jesse Gainer (Author) Mary Esther Soto Huerta (Author)

Tim Kinard is Associate Professor of Early Learning at Texas State University. Jesse Gainer is Associate Professor of Literacy Education at Texas State University. Mary Esther Soto Huerta is Associate Professor of Culture, Literacy, and Language at Texas State University.


Title: Power Play
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