The pandemic has dismantled, paused, or eroded many of our common ways of being in the world, both within and beyond our early learning settings. It is forcing our collective attention to consider what is it that matters most to us and to this world. Its presence is also illuminating systemic concerns within the type of world and type of life we have created both in education and beyond. Responding to the pandemic with pedagogical concerns, declarations, and ethics, which orient toward questions of “matters”, I belive is of necessity.
What matters and who matters is the threading by which our worlds and lives have been made and unmade. Attending to the ways that matters shape and influence what is, and what could be, is a practice in thinking pedagogically.Ann Wilke
Thinking with “what matters” is critical and of this moment. 2020, both as a worldwide social crisis and a situated emergency in Canadian early childhood education, has exposed to us how our worlds have been created, how they can be made and unmade, how this particular world responds to matters of life and death, and how particular matters of life and death are deeply situated in unjust and unequal ways. The pandemic has illustrated the interconnection between all humanity, and the precarious interdependency between the human and more than human. It has reminded us that we are deeply situated within this world; a world where there are relations far more powerful at play than we choose to attend to in our status-quo (differentially privileged) everyday engagements. COVID-19 has demonstrated for us how matters of both human and economy crisis can disrupt, reduce, generate, and reform our current ways of shaping life and living well. It has made visible the tension in which particular matters can be in deep conflict with one another, and have particular trajectories when taken up in particular ways. Matters of life or death, matters of race, matters of ecology, matters of economy, deeply entangled and threaded through one another; all creating particular possibilities and particular erosions.
Mattering is what situates the world. It is through the way matters – known beyond their tangible, often assumed to be inert physical form, and instead attended to as complex material, discursive, and unevenly lived bundles – are enacted on that professed values, manifestos, and intentions are given life and form. Matters have influence over what can be and become, and we are implicated in what comes to matter in every situation. This is an especially urgent concern for pedagogists, as we hold to account how matters we participate with/in entangle with subject formation as they shape who an educator, child, guardian, or administrator can be amid particular matters. In mattering, there is no neutrality. In the very micro-movements we make each and every day through our thoughts, gestures, actions, languages, and silences, we are shaping the ways that particular matters come to matter more than others. In early childhood education, we have incredible influence in the ways particular matters are exposed, expressed, experienced, and enacted on. We chose – immersed in governmental and systemic decisions about what counts as mattering – the spaces of learning we design. We decide what is worthy to draw children’s attention to, what is valuable, and how it is valued. We make choices around what is important and useful to this world and life, and what is not worthy of our time. All of these daily decisions impact the type of life and type of world we are creating collectively, both within and beyond the early childhood education setting.
As Haraway (2016) reminds us “it matters what thoughts think thoughts. It matters what knowledges know knowledges. It matters what relations relate relations. It matters what worlds world worlds. It matters what stories tell stories” (p. 12).
A provocation I want to offer to both pedagogists and educators: we must always be conscious to the ways particular ideas have come to matter; and how their mattering reduces or flourishes particular possibilities. We must determine what the matters are that we chose to correspond with, and what may become (im)possible within the logics of such matters.
Responding to the pandemic with pedagogy and questions of matters is particular necessary at this time if we believe this world could be a more livable place. Pedagogy calls us to be of and with this moment. It asks us to stay within the uniqueness of the context that is unfolding before us and believe in the possibility of otherwise; an otherwise that we imagine to be possible in the type of world or type of life we yearn for. Pedagogy asks us to stay with the process of learning as we engage in the work of living alongside of one another and in relation with all things. It asks us to let go of our taken for granted assumptions and past scripts. Pedagogy, at this time, invites us into the heart of this moment of pandemic with uncertainty, curiosity, and wonder. It asks us to be with the uniqueness of this life today, and instills hope through the generative possibility of what we, and this world may become.
Deepening our commitment to pedagogy at this time matters to me, because it is not an easy response. As Maxine Greene (1978) points out,
“Dewey believed, as does Sartre, that what we become, what we make of ourselves, depends upon what we do in our lives. And what we do cannot be simply routine and mechanical. It must be conscious, interested and committed. If it is not, if we content ourselves with being behaving organisms rather than reflective persons engaged in ongoing action, the quality of our selfhood becomes thin and pallid” (p. 26)
Engaging in the ongoing action of life, of living as conscious, interested, and committed individuals requires more of us than maintaining the status quo in education, and especially as a pedagogist committed to responding well with messy pandemic relations, tensions, and inheritances. To think pedagogically requires us to meet up with the experience of change and uncertainty with both vulnerability and curiosity. It asks us to make committed decisions on matters that feel necessary and important. As such, activating and committing to pedagogical processes is a disruptive process – it moves us away from behaving within the scripts of life / living that we have been shaped by. We have seen that through the process of igniting pedagogy within early childhood education in Ontario. Pedagogy pushes against deep scripts we have held about what education is, what makes a good early childhood educator, and what children need. It creates uncertainty, tension, and chaos to the foundation of how we often think about early learning and its purpose. To think pedagogically requires of a pedagogist a committed decision to stay with this discomfort and continue to respond in pedagogical ways. Otherwise we revert to minimizing this discomfort by reaching for practices that feel familiar; patterns and habits that feel comfortable, even if they may not serve this work or this world well (such as such as measuring of a life by normative scripts, goals of school readiness, rubrics, and prescribed curriculums created from the desire for future capitalistic conquest of the global market). These types of inherited practices keep us shaped (and shaping) within specific ways of life, specific ways of thinking, specific ways of being right or wrong, and contained within a specific kind of world; a world that is already defined and foreclosed. And much like what we are experiencing within this pandemic, at times it is easier to hold tight to what feels “normal” or push for a return to “normal”, than to work with uncertainty as a invitation to create a different way of living and a different type of life in early childhood education.
As a pedagogist, I wonder what might be possible in this space of deep disruption if we claim both our uncertainty and commitment to pedagogy? I wonder what might happen if we respond with questions of matter and refute foreclosing toward all that we already know, to what feels most comfortable? What if we resist a return to a new normal and stay within the spaces of generative possibility that pedagogy ignites? What might become then?
I want to offer you these pedagogical questions, offered to me by the Pedagogist Network of Ontario, that I want to work to keep alive at this time:
- What is it that matters? And why?
- What are the matters that need us now; that need us most? Why?
- And, How might we stay with the questions of “matters” and work at the rigorous demands living in response to the possibilities these questions may offer?
As a pedagogist, I want to extend the following propositions as a launch point for thinking pedagogically about, and responding in pedagogical ways to, what matters in our particular heres and nows in early childhood education. Let’s hold these questions close as we ignite a response to this situation, this unique moment. Let’s move pedagogical work beyond the traditional walls of learning institutions. Let’s carry these questions with us; bringing them to the dinner table, to the boardrooms, to the ZOOM chats, the protest lines. Let’s ask the children, the Elders, the trees, the earth, the recycling bin, the viruses, the night sky. Let’s ask the world. Let’s listen with open, curious hearts to what might be unearthed by these incredibly sober but auspicious questions. Let’s trace what happens as we activate these questions, and then let’s consciously and intentionally begin taking up particular matters that just might move us toward futures we dream of. Because once we truly understand what matters, what we want to stand for, matters move us with them as we become entangled within the making of worlds. We become formed in relation to matters; and matters are formed with/in us. Importantly, in responding to the provocation of “what matters”, we become answerable to what it creates in the making of worlds, and what it erodes in its wake.
In the eloquent words of Sara Ahmed (2017) “citation is how we acknowledge our debt to those who came before; those who helped us find our way when the way was obscured because we deviated from the paths we were told to follow” (p. 16). As such I must acknowledge with deep gratitude the following: Peter Moss, David Jardine, Maxine Green, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Nicole Land, Randa Khattar, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, Karen Barad, Gunilla Dahlberg, Alan Pence, Sylvia Kind, and the Ontario Pedagogist Network (an evolution of the Ontario Provincial Centre of Excellence collective).
Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a feminist life. Duke University Press: USA.
Greene, M. (1978). Teaching: The Question of Personal Reality.Teachers College: Columbia University. Available online at https://maxinegreene.org/uploads/library/question_personal_reality.pdf
Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press: USA.
When sharing this piece, please include the following citation:
Wilke, A. (December 2020). A matter of pedagogy. Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine, 1(1).Retrieved from https://pedagogistnetworkontario.com/pedagogist-conversation/