Social policy, education, and childhood in dangerous times: revolutionary actions or global complicity.

Author:Cannella, Gaile S.
 
FREE EXCERPT

The first issue by the new editors of the International Journal of Educational Policy, Research, & Practice: Reconceptualizing Childhood Studies is designed to (1) introduce the reader to a focus that emphasizes the international movement that would rethink the various constructions of childhood studies in ways that bring to the forefront issues of power, oppression, privilege, and equity; and (2) call attention to the immediate (and some would say, desperate) circumstances of our times in which social justice is evaporating in the name of free markets, education is being (re)defined as accountability to those in power, and responsibility to each other is (re)constructed as simplistic, fundamentalist truth orientations that (re)impose patriarchy. Educational policies, and the social and power agendas that influence them, are certainly avenues through which these circumstances are either made more oppressive and inequitable or through which increased social justice is facilitated. Further, we are all (children and adults) being created as both subjects and objects of these narrowed, fundamentalist, global discourses. We believe that all forms of action and activism are necessary to counter such circumstances and hope that this publication/forum can emerge as a form of academic activism that counters the construction of boundaries and limitations by particular groups over those that are constructed as the 'other' (whether labeled as child, student, parent, woman, person of color, immigrant, or teacher--just to name a few).

Reconceptualizing Childhood Studies and Academic Activisms

Scholars in education have been influenced by, and involved in, the construction of theories that challenge regimes of truth for quite some time now. A complete discussion of reconceptualist work historically and conceptually in education and related fields would require volumes of text and would include a large number and range of researchers and teachers from around the globe. This work has crossed disciplinary and geographic boundaries, fostered hybrid ways of attempting to understand the world (e.g. cultural studies, women's studies, subaltern studies), and has even challenged the assumptions that we can understand (and construct) the 'other.'

Around the globe, the Civil Rights and legal activist movements of the 1960s created an era in which greater numbers demanded equity and civil respect, as well as human recognition. Multiple voices, ways of being, and diverse knowledges were being heard--whether farm workers, activist student groups, indigenous people, the poor, women, or persons of color (Berry, 1997; Morris, 1984). Feminist perspectives (e.g., Chicana and African-American feminisms, and feminist of color world views) emerged, as well as cultural studies, ethnic studies, and constructions of research purposes and practices that allowed for methodologies that are more receptive to diversity (See Denzin & Lincoln, Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2005). Armed with the recognition that truth orientations are unjustly used to judge, label, control, and colonize, the emergent perspectives have also acknowledged the importance of diversity and recognized power as historically and politically embedded.

Taking this concern even further, scholars using feminist perspectives (especially those whose purposes would reveal the tentacles of patriarchy) and postcolonial critique (whether physical colonization or less obvious forms) have worked to unmask the colonialist assumptions and power impositions of capitalism. These scholars represent a range of fields, but generally tend to explore methods of contesting domination, specifically domination implicit in circumstances that lead to poverty and the economic divide that creates "rich" and "poor"; physical, intellectual, economic imperialism; and the ways that gender and color have been used to create imperialist power. The perspectives are represented by such scholars as Edward Said in Orientalism (1978); bell hooks in Feminism is for Everybody (2000); and Arturo Escobar in Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (1995).

In education generally, reconceptualist work has been lead by curriculum theorists, feminists, and cultural studies scholars like William Pinar, Janet Miller, Madeline Grumet, Henry Giroux, and Peter McLaren. Example work related to childhood studies more specifically includes: Lourdes Diaz Soto's The Politics of Early Childhood Education; Lilly Wong Fillmore's "When Learning a Second Language Means Losing the First" in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly (1991); Shirley Kessler's and Beth Blue Swadener's Reconceptualizing the Early Childhood Curriculum: Beginning the Dialogue (1992) that includes the work of M. Bloch, E. Graue, J. Miller, V. Polakow, J. Hale, W. Ayers, and others; Jonathan Silin's Sex, Death, and the Education of Children: Our Passion for Ignorance in the Age of AIDS; Mary Hauser's and Jan Jipson's Intersections: Feminism/Early Childhoods; Glenda MacNaughton's Rethinking Gender in Early Childhood Education; and Sue Grieshaber and Gaile Cannella's Embracing Identities in Early Childhood Education: Diversity and Possibilities that includes the work of J.A. Hatch, R. Kantor, D. Fernie, R. Johnson, S. Ryan, M. Ochsner, C. Genishi and many others.

Further, this work covers a wide range of power issues that include (but are not limited to): the systematic misuse of marginalized people in schools, (Julie Kaomea in "Reading Erasures and Making the Familiar Strange" in the Educational Researcher, 2003); the ways that notions of developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) demonstrate colonization of the world of early childhood education, (Gunilla Dahlberg, Peter Moss, and Alan Pence in Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Postmodern Perspectives in 1999); and reconceptualized perspectives that recognize the Early Childhood Institution as political and as a forum that either perpetuates oppression, ethnocentrism, and normativity or as a forum "situated in civil society in which children and adults participate together in projects of social, cultural, political and economic significance" (Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 1999, p. 73).

This work acknowledges the role of society, state social provision, and politics in the very conversations (as well as direct actions) that create children as societal objects and subjects of educational and care practices. While work that is critical does call attention to the obvious political nature of social policies and practices (whether educational or otherwise), most of the work, however, continues to function with utopian, even progressive truth oriented, assumptions. The unquestioned beliefs are themselves grounded in modernist expectations that privilege notions of progress: if we have the appropriate philosophical view, conduct the correct research (for example, research that would shed light on oppression or inclusionary/exclusionary discursive languages and practices), and construct and fund policies that use that research, then our social and educational problems will be solved. Even critical, progressive policymakers and academics seem to function as if funding for the 'correct' causes will result in justice--without physically (in mind and body) challenging the reinforcement of economic inequities that are reinscribed by the privileging of those with the economic power to impose 'whatever' policies they choose (whether labeled liberal, conservative, progressive, regressive).

We believe that academia, scholarly publication, and related actions should become sites of action and activism, locations through which the political, as emphasized by feminists, is recognized as personal--a location that actively opens doors and creates possibilities for the real world--a position from which new ways of being are always possible and no one is excluded--a location that would play a major role in critical public policy that always questions itself, while recognizing and addressing issues of power and inequity. While the restrictiveness of language makes the task extremely difficult (especially when interpreted by readers who may upon first reading critical...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP