“We know of course that there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”
-Arundhati Roy, Sydney Peace Prize 2004
Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of the Baltimore police was caused by gross acts of violence, while more pernicious forms of violence led to his illegal arrest. Johann Galtung (1969), a peace education scholar, describes violence as that which increases the distance between the potential and the actual. It is clear that in too many urban areas in the United States violence disrupts the lives of even the most peaceful of people, in untold ways. Giroux (2004) notes that the dominant public pedagogy of neoliberalism negates basic conditions for critical agency. “Public pedagogy in this sense refers to a powerful ensemble of ideological and institutional forces whose aim is to produce competitive, self- interested individuals vying for their own material and ideological gain.” Neoliberal policies are by nature violent, as profit is made off the hands of those less fortunate, and less likely to have their voices heard. Giroux also notes that the relationship between culture and power constitutes a new site of both politics and pedagogy, leading to resistance movements and opposition to the dehumanization of the 99%. This needs to begin in the early childhood arena. Early childhood experiences play a major role in a child’s life and early childhood educators need be intentional about lessons being taught, both explicitly and implicitly, in order to generate a more peaceful and productive world.
In “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, Martin Luther King Jr. excoriates the white moderate who is “’more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” The Baltimore Uprising stems from issues regarding disinvestment in urban areas, leaving people with very few options in regards to education, nutrition and physical and mental health. Violence is meted out to this community, and too many others, in gross acts of abuse, and in more insidious forms. Robbing inner cities of essential resources, such as recreation centers, libraries, health clinics, access to healthy and inexpensive food, is a violent act, yet those responsible can still sit back and gloat when these communities explode. These faceless destroyers will never be held accountable for their crimes, and it is unclear whether they genuinely feel a loss of humanity, thoughts of profit most likely fill those holes. Violence is carried out every day against children in schools robbed of resources, not simply in obvious acts of deprivation, such as excessive punishment, but in terms of not providing a school environment that would really see these children thrive. Their promise and potential may rest untapped, to the detriment of society as a whole.
In the place of the ‘achievement gap’, Gloria Ladson-Billings (2006) contends there is an ‘educational debt’ we owe our students, and it’s not a debt that will be paid off anytime soon. It could be argued that this debt is only growing, along with the number of children living in poverty. Ladson-Billings mentions four components that make up this educational debt: historical, economic, sociopolitical and moral. The moral debt equates to the disparity between what we know is right and what we actually do. Pauline Lipman (2011) affirms that we need to harness the collective wisdom and political will toward fashioning a sustainable, democratic, socially just alternative. Kumashiro (2012) notes that movement building requires forming coalitions with various constituents in ways that build on their strengths (emphasis added). Involving all stakeholders in discussions relating to the educational futures of a community is vital in affirming that education and policy making should be done with those affected, rather than to those affected. Rick Ayers ( 2009) reminds us that a socially just curriculum should not take on a dogmatic approach. All students must be respected as thinking beings. Each person is ‘an entire universe’. The centrality of the curriculum should be the point of view of the marginalized. Socially just classrooms always teem with possibilities; always seek out relevance, deeper meaning and connections.
Ethnic Studies has emerged as a major theme in my work along with home/school/community connections in the early childhood setting. I am particularly interested in critical literacy, and I am a strong proponent of the maintenance and promotion of home languages, in a broad sense: language and discourse not needing to be defined by an official title. Much has been written about Ethnic Studies in high school and into middle school but there is less research concerning socially just practices in elementary school and younger. This is not to say the work isn’t happening but it doesn’t take up the place it should in academic journals and elsewhere. To be clear, it’s possible not all Ethnic Studies classes promote social justice and equity, just as a ‘multicultural curriculum’ does not always equate with anti-bias teaching, but it’s a start. In Rethinking Early Childhood Education, Ann Pelo (2008) sets out the argument for socially just practices in early childhood settings. She states that ECE is a political act that necessarily involves values and visions. She goes on to point out that early childhood is the time in our lives when we develop core dispositions. We must attempt to nurture these dispositions towards empathy, ecological consciousness, engaged inquiry and collaboration. Pelo also points out that social justice teaching grows from children’s urgent concerns. Observing and listening in to conversations happening at school, and paying attention to what other avenues of self-expression are in play, helps us target curricula to suit individual and group needs.
“Children are fundamentally concerned with making sense of their social and cultural world; teachers and caregivers can join them in this pursuit, guiding them towards understandings rooted in accurate and empathetic understandings-or we can leave them to figure out their questions on their own, coming to conclusions based on misinformation and cultural bias.” (Pelo, p.xii)
It’s easy to forget how disorienting those first years can be and how dizzying it is to grow from a tiny baby to a little person who can do a lot on their own, but not everything. In this process, as has been discussed in the previous paper, it is essential families and the community are brought to the table. The more children see home and school intertwining the more successful they are likely to be at school, not just academically but socially and emotionally as well. It is also essential that teachers view education through a wide lens, and not as that confined to four walls.
“In an Indigenous worldview, education is based upon the requirements of everyday life. In this way, education is “an experience in context, a subjective experience that, for the knower, becomes knowledge in itself. The experience is knowledge.”[…] The idea that learning should take place only within the four walls of a school, through the prescription of a fixed written curriculum, is diametrically opposed to the idea that learning is dynamic, experiential, and grounded in a sense of place.” (Madjidi & Restoule, 2008)
Mariana Souto-Manning (2013) highlights the work of multicultural and anti-bias educators in early childhood classrooms. She emphasizes that to teach multiculturally is create spaces of possibility and to position power at the center of our teaching. “It is not possible to engage with race and gender or to question structures of privilege unless we consider power relations.” One of the teachers Souto-Manning writes about is particularly successful with linking home and school literacies. Ms. Baines is a first grade teacher in South Carolina. She works from what the children are already familiar with, what the children are already good at and who, what and where is important in their life. Environmental print from places in their neighborhood shows them they can already read certain items; making up new words to favorite pop songs builds on their musical interests and literacy skills, and learning about their communities through student generated interviews, class books, and community artifact shares (among many other amazing activities) shows them home and school can be one. Ms. Baines also makes home visits, thus strengthening the already powerful ties between home and school. Related to these visits, Souto-Manning reminds us that school may not always have been a welcoming place to parents and family members of traditionally minoritized communities. It is our place to show that we are different and to articulate how, and why. It is essential to show we value their practice and that we are committed to making the learning experience better for them and for their child. Honor and respect should be the brook babbling underneath us.
Henri Giroux (2004) states that proliferating sites of pedagogy bring into being new forms of resistance, raise new questions, and necessitate alternative visions regarding autonomy and the possibility of democracy itself. Bickmore (2008) asserts that just as people learn about conflict by witnessing and participating in it, people can learn about constructive peacemaking and peacebuilding by practicing peace in informal community activities. Peace, along with honor and respect, should tie a classroom together. It is also important to remember that Paolo Freire refused to accept fatalism, until the end. “At every turn, he emphatically rejected the idea that nothing could be done about the educational consequences of economic inequalities and social justice.”(Darder, 2009) I am reminded of Freire’s words as I despair over the fact that Giroux’s words regarding neoliberalism are no less true today than they were ten years ago, in fact the neoliberal attack on public education brought about by the Obama administration under the stewardship of Arne Duncan, is an attack like no other seen before or since. We need all the grassroots organizing and creative vision available to carve a kinder world out for the children yet to join the system, and for those who are already there.
Ayers, R. (2009). Classrooms, Pedagogy and Practicing Justice. In W. Ayers, T. Quinn, & D. Stovall (Eds.), Handbook of Social Justice in Education. New York, N.Y: Routledge.
Bickmore, K. (2008). Chapter Ten: Education for Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding in Plural Societies: Approaches from Around the World. In K. E. Mundy, K. Bickmore, R. Hayhoe, M. Madden, & K. Madjidi (Eds.), Comparative and International Education: Issues for Teachers. New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press.
Darder, A. (2009). Teaching as an Act of Love: Reflections on Paulo Freire and His Contributions to Our Lives and Our Work. In A. Darder, M. Baltodano, & R. D. Torres (Eds.), The Critical Pedagogy Reader (2nd ed.). New York, N.Y.: Routledge,Taylor & Francis ; National Council of Teachers of English.
Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research, 6(3), 167–191.
Giroux, H. (2004). Public Pedagogy and the Politics of Neo-liberalism: making the political more pedagogical. Policy Futures in Education, 2(3&4).
Kumashiro, K. K. (2012). Bad teacher!: how blaming teachers distorts the bigger picture. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12. http://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X035007003
Lipman, P. (2011). The new political economy of urban education: neoliberalism, race, and the right to the city. New York: Routledge.
Madjidi, K., & Restoule, J.-P. (2008). Chapter Four: Comparative Indigenous Ways of Knowing. In K. E. Mundy, K. Bickmore, R. Hayhoe, M. Madden, & K. Madjidi (Eds.), Comparative and International Education: Issues for Teachers. New York, N.Y: Teachers College Press.
Pelo, A. (2008). Introduction: Embracing Social Justice in Early Childhood Education. In A. Pelo (Ed.), Rethinking Early Childhood Education. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Rethinking Schools Publication.
Souto-Manning, M. (2013). Multicultural teaching in the early childhood classroom: approaches, strategies, and tools, preschool-2nd grade. New York: Teachers College Press.