The feeling in the room was tense, uncomfortable…people were challenging me, judging me, telling me I shouldn’t have done what I did. My face was red, my voice was cracking. Someone in the audience was crying, overwhelmed by the emotion of the topic. Others were confused, many were angry. My hands shook for hours afterwards.
This scenario occurred a few years ago when I shared a pedagogical narration that told the story of a group of children in my program who were exploring guns, power, hurt, and fear. The narration told how these children and I grappled with the intense feelings, the complex relationships, the questions and the tensions. I presented this narration as a way of opening dialogue with an audience of colleagues, of sharing the uncertainties of our practice. I was unprepared for the intensity of the responses from the audience, their anger surprised me.
In the years since that presentation I’ve seen that intensity of response to dialogues and narrations many times. And that is exactly why pedagogical narrations and collaborative dialogue are so powerful….and so important.
The field of early care and learning has been dominated by a school of thought that values a western, english speaking narrative of the child within the discourse of developmental psychology. This view of children suggests a ‘universal child’ who learns and progresses through predicable, stable and predetermined sequences and suggests that there are particular ways of doing child care and learning that are ‘best practice’. Peter Moss tells us:
This narrative has a distinct vocabulary, in which terms such as ‘development,’ ‘quality’ and ‘outcomes’ are prominent. …. The narrative is inscribed with the values and assumptions of modernity, for example objectivity, mastery, and universality, and with particular understandings of childhood, learning, evaluation, and so on. (Moss, 2006)
These ideas and practices have come to be understood as ‘truth’, and are deeply embedded in our minds, hearts and practice.
Challenging these ‘truths’ and suggesting that they might be only one way to view a child and our practice is unsettling. Inviting other perspectives, other theories, other ways of thinking about doing child care and education can feel threatening. Can everything we have known and believed and practiced with all of our best intentions be…wrong?
But creating space for these dialogues, difficult as they may be, can only open possibilities. Discussing, disagreeing, asking hard questions, not knowing the answers, all this generates new thinking. Yes it is unsettling…but it also interesting, enriching, and very exciting. It means we don’t settle for simplistic one-size-fits-all practices, but instead open ourselves to seeing learning as dynamic, unpredictable, with many ways of knowing, thinking and practicing. It means our practice becomes more vibrant, more democratic, more diverse, more inclusive of children’s ways of seeing the world.
Our everyday lives with children are entangled in a web of cultural, political, social and ethical threads. As educators we can be critical thinkers, researchers in dialogue with our communities, reflecting on these threads that shape us. These dialogues aren’t always going to be ‘nice’…at times they might be intense. But for me, these conversations are important. I’m willing to invite a little intensity.