Discourses of the good early childhood educator in professional training: reproducing marginality or working toward social change.

Author:Langford, Rachel

Canadian sociologists and educational researchers characterize the Ontario early childhood education workforce as economically, socially, and politically marginalized and part of a secondary labour market. Although a number of reasons for this workforce's marginalization have been explored, the discursive and professional identification of the "good" early childhood educator (ECE) constructed in a college training program is, by and large, taken for granted and, thus, under investigated. Novel and different approaches to examining marginalization is particularly important in Canada as the federal, provincial, and territorial governments are currently negotiating an early learning and child care system. To position themselves differently from marginalization in relation to the state, ECE college graduates and their teacher education professors must learn to understand the discursive professional identity within which they are constituted and controlled.

Researching Early Childhood Educator Discourses

The purpose of my research was to explore connections between the ways in which an early childhood educator identity is discursively formed within professional training and the marginalization of the ECE workforce. The underlying premise was that pedagogical discourses of the early childhood educator regarded as 'good' contribute to the formation of a particular kind of worker who is prepared and expected to work in a stratified gendered, educational labour market. Several interrelated critical questions guided the research. I sought to identify both historical and contemporary discursive representations of the good ECE, to explain how working conditions as well as divisions of gender, race, ethnicity and class are represented in the discourses and to examine how the discourses function ideologically. I also wanted to identify crises in the discourses from which new constructions could potentially emerge to initiate social changes in early childhood educator identity formation, social relations and economic arrangements.

Theoretical Perspectives

The approach to critical discourse analysis taken by Lilie Chouliaraki and Norman Fairclough (1999) offered specific theoretical and methodological tools for researching the social practice of early childhood educator identification. Chouliaraki and Fairclough combine structuralist and interactionist perspectives that make possible "a way of seeing and researching social life as both constrained by social structures, and an active process of production which transforms social structures" (1999, p. 1). Critical discourse analysis, thus, offers a way to explore how early childhood educators within a training institution both constitute themselves through and are constituted by historical and collective discourses of the good ECE. In addition, I drew upon the work of Rosemary Hennessy (1993, 2000) and Dorothy Smith (1987, 1999), two key feminist standpoint theorists, who, though they differ on many points of social inquiry, share an interest in the empirical analysis of discourse linked to historical materialism, relations of power and social change in society. Hennessy is explicitly a materialist/ Marxist feminist who calls for close attention to the structures of late capitalism including a new global division of labour and for a detailed, critical reading of discourse for "crises in the narrativity of ideology" (1993, p. 92). These theorists provide the means to first go beyond a mere description of a discursive formation and closely examine what Kenway (2001) refers to as the critical intersections between a modern subject's cultural/discursive and economic resources and second to analyze underlying contradictions in the discourses that would reveal something about early childhood education work from the standpoint of women who experience it on a day-by-day basis.

Data Collection

Using qualitative methods, discourses then were located in triangulated data-sources that make up the key components of an Ontario college training program: (1) a selection of textbooks written by American and Canadian authors spanning the period from 1971 when early childhood education training programs were first established in Ontario to 2003; (2) six in depth interviews with early childhood education instructors from several Ontario colleges; and (3) approximately 270 class assignments in which students describe their views on the good ECE collected three times over the two-year period of the training program.


The pedagogical discourses of the good ECE graduate were primarily concerned with personal qualities. Five consistent early childhood educator qualities were located in data samples: passion, happiness, inner strength, caring, and alertness (to individual child needs and interests). Drawing upon Foucault's (1972) conceptualization of academic discourse, the discourses of the good ECE represent a corpus of statements whose organization is regular, systematic and rule bound. Three particular rules were required in the production of these discourses: (1) when talking about the good ECE, personal qualities must be invoked; (2) certain personal qualities best describe the good ECE; and (3) when invoking the good ECE, two undesirable qualities, authority (particularly evident in teacher-direction) and neediness, must be absent-two qualities interestingly that later re-emerged in my data analysis as crises in the discourses of the good ECE.

Historical examination of the discourses revealed that they are substantially the same over time and reflect the "preconstructed" or an aspect of discursive and ideological formation "that produces an "always already there" effect (Hennessy, 1993, p. 77). Instructors reinforced the historical continuity of the discourses, one instructor...

To continue reading