Act with me, don't talk for me: Discourses of activism and advocacy in early childhood settings

Year: 2017

Author: Grieshaber, Susan, Srinivasan, Prasanna

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Practices of advocacy and activism can lead to transforming current conditions that are seen as less equitable and socially just for all individuals and groups. Early childhood education policy documents such as Belonging being and becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (Commonwealth of Australia, 2009) require that educators "actively support the inclusion of all children in play, help children to recognise when play is unfair and offer constructive ways to build a caring, fair and inclusive learning community" (p. 5; emphasis added). The Victorian Early Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) requires that early childhood professionals "notice and actively avoid the negative effects of low expectations, prejudice and low levels of attention to any child's learning and development" (VEYLDF, 2016, p. 10; emphasis added). Early Childhood Australia (ECA), the peak body for early childhood education in Australia and to which many early childhood educators belong, proclaims that it advocates for children's voices and causes. Thus the environment in which many early childhood educators work includes expectations related to advocacy and activism.

This small scale interview project explored how 15 early childhood educators understand, enact, and make meaning of advocacy and activism in their daily practices. Participants were encouraged to reflect on their everyday work and how it might involve advocacy and activism and what this might mean for the children, families, colleagues and communities with whom they work. The interviews lasted between 30 and 50 minutes and educator perspectives were sought about how they knew they were being advocates or activists in their daily work, and what changes they thought that the advocacy or activism produced, and for whom. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed, and data were analysed thematically to identify discourses of everyday advocacy and activism used by early childhood educators. Spivak (2010) challenges the colonizing origins of advocating discourses of both 'white' and 'brown' men, who tried to save 'brown' women, the subaltern, by speaking and deciding for them. Spivak contends that such forms of seemingly altruistic advocacy only silence the subaltern by rendering them voiceless and incapable of making their own decisions. Furthermore, Spivak (2006) amply describes the unfathomable choice by the subaltern that claims the third space for her. Hence, we are interested in whether participants are able to identify such tacit silencing of the 'other' in their discourses of advocacy and activism. The findings should enable educators to recognise their own practices of advocacy and activism that benefit young children and families, and thereby feel confident and encouraged to engage in such practices in a sustainable manner.