Young Aboriginal Children’s Civic Learning and Action

Year: 2016

Author: Phillips, Louise

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Popularised views of young children position them as existing in a world of play, with little to no understanding of how to negotiate co-existence with others (civic learning). The default position of children in social and political theory is to disregard children altogether or to see them as being merely in preparation for adulthood (e.g., see Qvortrup 2003, Bühler-Niederberger 2010) and civic learning and action in education tends to be designed for secondary school children and is largely focused on the maintenance of social and political institutions and the social integration of children and young people into the current political system. Recent sociology of childhood theorising and empirical studies, recognise young children as competent and capable social actors who can contribute to the world as citizens of today. To support civic learning and action as a life-long continuum of negotiating co-existence with others, a tri-nation comparative US Spencer Foundation study titled Civic Action and Learning with Young Children: Comparing Approaches in New Zealand, Australia and the United States investigates the civic capacities that marginalized young children demonstrate in early childhood education settings. We understand citizenship as what it means to be a political agent with rights and responsibilities in shared public spaces. This paper focuses on the Australian research with an Aboriginal child care centre. Drawing from sociology of childhood, communitarian citizenship theory (Delanty, 2002, Etzioni, 1993) and Bergson’s (1998) theory of creative evolution, the study investigates the capacity of young children to be social actors as well as the potential of preschool settings to be sites of civic learning and education. Communitarian citizenship key concepts of social responsibility, civic identity, civic agency and civic participation were used as a framework for identifying evidence of young children’s citizenship through a multi-vocal ethnographic study, with video-recordings of children’s participation at childcare, co-interpreted by children, educators, families and researchers. Researchers spent nine months focusing on what Davies (2014) refers to as emergent listening, by being with children, being a member of the community, engaging in the activities of the moment. The recognition and categorisation of children’s civic action soon became automated and repetitive (what Bergson refers to as lines of descent), we then troubled the unsettling, what could not be categorised (lines of ascent) but needed to be understood and shared of Aboriginal children’s experience of negotiating co-existence with others. Storied vignettes provide critical understanding of the entrenched obstructions for young Aboriginal children and the affordances they seize to be active citizens in institutionalised child care.