Dialogues on Complexifying Care in ECE

Danielle Wittick is a Pedagogist with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario at NYAD Community Inc.

Gabrielle Monique Warren is a Pedagogist with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario and a doctoral student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto.

Lisa Johnston is a Pedagogist with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario and a doctoral student at York University.

In her poem “My House,” Nikki Giovanni (1981) quips, “English isn’t a good language to express emotion through/Mostly I imagine/Because people try to speak English instead of trying to speak through it.” This conversation takes on the spirit of her words by taking up the concept of care in early childhood settings and challenging its underlying assumptions. In a time when we pedagogists are reckoning with a multiplicity of epistemologies and ontologies within educational spaces, how might we think about language in a way that both honours and brings us forward toward a more fulfilling future? How might futurity be derailed when there is an assumed unified definition of care? How do we materially see the variance of the care within ECE spaces? How might we interrogate the processes that create varying care definitions within those spaces? This piece emerged from conversations in our small group about the devaluation of care in early childhood education. What follows are excerpts from our discussions that wove together our varied contexts as we exchanged ideas and grappled with the concept of care.

In this conversation, we explore the concept of care within education and society as a pedagogical movement to interrogate how we take specific words and concepts for granted. We discuss the precarious nature of care under capitalism, the role of government in neglecting responsibilities, and the importance of redefining the title of early childhood educators. We also emphasize the interconnectedness of care and the need to move away from individualistic thinking. We introduce various authors and their perspectives on care, including Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Joan Tronto, Robyn Maynard, Leanne Simpson, bell hooks, and Maria Puig de la Bellacasa.

As pedagogists, we offer that it is vital to notice the interconnectedness of a child in space and place. The asymmetry in educational spaces and the exclusion of certain children based on their disabilities or immigrant status is also highlighted. We discuss how the harmful effects of universalism and the dominance of narratives rooted in white supremacist and capitalist logics must be resisted in favour of anti-capitalist and anti-colonial values of love, reciprocity, and mutual responsibility.

We end the conversation by discussing the intersection of pedagogy and care in education. We explore the need to move away from technical conceptions of care and instead engage with care that involves the heart, mind, and spirit. By questioning inherited narratives and embracing curiosity and openness in pedagogical gestures, we open a material space to reflect those we engage with.


Danielle: To start with, why is it that we need education to validate this word of care? Why do we not see care as something of value on its own?

Gabrielle: From my work in the nonprofit space, I have witnessed the precarious nature of care under capitalism. I believe this concerns the precarious nature of nonprofits under capitalism. Ruth Wilson Gilmore (2022) speaks of the “shadow state” concept. She posits that this space, defined by the voluntary and nonprofit sector, gathers the abandoned pieces of society where the market fails to utilize extra-economic values like kindness, generosity, or for the sake of this conversation: care (Gilmore, 2022). Being cast to stand in the gap for what the state will not provide in terms of care, you are placed in the middle because you are not allowed to be a political actor or speak out against the state. However, the state does not necessarily need to give you resources to provide the gaps or help you provide the gaps you are filling within society. When you develop a community program, a volunteer program, an after-school program from the nonprofit, or the shadow state perspective, care can be complicated because the execution is very conditional on the state’s political will to fund various projects. In a post-pandemic era, Canadians are in need of more programming and food banks have skyrocketed in use; however, giving and volunteering is down (CBC, 2023; CTV, 2023). When I think of care, this is my standpoint. Care is not merely a personal action. It is a way of thinking about how various parts of our society work together to provide for the most vulnerable. 

Lisa: This makes me think of Joan Tronto’s (2013) work with feminist ethics of care. In Caring Democracy, she offers the idea of privileged irresponsibility which she defines as governments taking a pass out of their responsibilities to care for their citizens. In a sense, the creation of the College of ECE is an example of this. In the absence of government policy that assures good wages and working conditions for Registered ECEs that would support them in doing their work well, the College of ECE instead steps in to regulate professionals through increased accountability measures and stricter enforcement and punishment.

Danielle: Yes. I really like Fisher and Tronto’s (1990) definition of care as “… a species activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue and repair our world so that we may live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, ourselves, and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex life-sustaining web” (p. 40). I’ve been talking with educators recently about this idea of “care.” One of the questions I’ve asked them is, “if we were to redefine our title would it be early childhood educator or early childhood care professional? Nobody focused on the word care as being of importance. It was the word ‘education’ and the term ‘professional’ that mattered, because it gives us viability. Maybe parents would respect what we’re doing if our title had these words attached to “early childhood”. A question raised in these conversations was, what does the College (of ECEs in Ontario) do for us in supporting care? I referred to Lisa Johnson’s (2022) paper, Node-ified ethics: Contesting codified Ethics as unethical in ECEC in Ontario, which asked the same question. When our governments do not put value in care, why would educators see their role of care as a value? The simple act of wiping a nose and giving a hug is important. From my perspective, care involves meeting needs, and is always relational. While wiping that nose, we create a condition for the child to feel safe in the world (Tronto, 2015). Gabrielle, as you talked, I kept reflecting on what one of the educators said. They asked, how can we care when the ratios of educators to children are 1:13? When our afternoons are spent taking children to the bathroom? How can we care when the finances aren’t there? How can we care when our College doesn’t support us? 

Gabrielle: I believe this conversation reflects what is happening in society regarding desiring to professionalize our relations and isolate us from one another. When we returned to the “Black Spring” of 2020, there were calls for mutual aid and community accountability (Kelley, 2022). Furthermore, this idea of care is not just about the educator; it is not just about the child. It is about the parents. It is about the aunties. It is about the uncles. It is about the shopkeeper. It is about the puppies in the street. As we have seen in COVID, there has been such a disintegration of community and public space and people coming together. Sometimes I get frustrated within ECE spaces that there is such a myopic conversation on just the relation between the educator and the child, that we do not look at the fact that we are part of a constellation. This is a concept which Robyn Maynard and Leanne Simpson (2022) eloquently write of in their book Rehearsals for Living. From an Indigenous and Black Radical perspective, they relay this idea of constellations and how we are part of something so much bigger that is interconnected and interrelated. Moreover, I think moving away from myopic positioning or capitalistic individualistic urges and thinking about the connection of all things – human and non-human, seen and unseen – allows us to think about care in a more expansive way. This expanse reminds me of the black praxis of Bell Hooks. Her meditation on love is all-encompassing. Love is an action, and care is part of love (Hooks, 2001). In Teaching to Transgress, Hooks (1994) speaks on education as an act of love itself. Personally, I think about my work as an act of love.

Lisa: I was also reading Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (2012), who talks about how we do not pre-exist relationality so, care cannot just start; it’s already happening. We’re already in relations of care and understand our needs by being in relation. There’s a lot in there, so I am still working through the ideas, but I found it quite an exciting and provocative way to think about care, including the engagement with posthumanism. 

Care and Citizenship

Danielle: In thinking about the “whole” individual, Malaguzzi discusses the same points in the paper, Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins. Malaguzzi states that when we think about a child, when we pull out a child to look at, that child is already tightly connected and

linked to a certain reality of the world — she has relationships and experiences. We cannot separate this child from a particular reality. Put differently, when we think of care, it is ourselves knowing what we want. At the same time, you have to know what you want to be able to express what your need is. I like what Tronto says: we need to view not everyone as an adult or a child, but we’re all citizens. And if we’re all citizens, does that help or aid in how we view our relations because it puts us all on the same spectrum? Whereas care right now, we think of it as a hierarchy: I need to care for you, so you’re lucky. I want to look at care as reciprocal, as an ongoing continuous democratic practice.

Gabrielle: I want to complicate the concept of the citizen concerning care. In educational spaces, there is an asymmetry on multiple scales, even in these spaces where we are wiping a runny nose or picking up toys and facilitating children’s experiences. From the scale of the body to the city a child resides in, to the state or province they reside in, inheritances are latched onto how we view who gets to be a citizen and how that citizen is meant to be. Geographer Neil Smith (1992) defines a politics of scale. He argues that social processes create certain places and certain places create social processes. In the case of care, I think about how scale helps us better understand how the exclusion of a disabled child or a neurodivergent child or an immigrant child in how we conceive citizenship and care, which therefore creates specific educational spaces that are exclusionary. In other words, universalism is harmful because it subsumes the various genres of the human. These children are peripheral at best and a nuisance at worst. It is usually a one-on-one specific kind of child that is being centered. To unthinkingly believe that I am part of a democratic society obscures an understanding of master narratives steeped in white supremacist, capitalist logics that are void of love, reciprocity, and mutual responsibility. These dominant narratives say that I clock in and clock out of caring responsibilities through employment. Not all narratives and discourses floating around about what care is, how it is, or how it is coded are necessarily created nefariously. They are just naturalized. 

Care and Inheritance

Danielle: How do we do pedagogical work as always in question? One sentence that I wrote down from Langford and Richardson (2020) is in relation to how care has been instrumentalized. It’s not the kind of care that requires engagement with your heart, mind and your spirit. It’s more robotic right now.  This perspective made me think of the technical aspects of an everyday life, but instead ask how we separate ourselves from technical conceptions of care to really look and feel with our heart, our mind and our spirit? Educators are asked to work from 7:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening with a three hour split in between. They are required to do all these ongoing tasks throughout their day, and go home and care for their own family. How are we doing this “ethics of care” when we walk into a room or into any situation? 

Gabrielle: I think part of considering care requires bringing up conversations about pedagogy and inheritance. I’m interested in inheritances and I’m interested in narratives; I’m interested in asking “what are the narratives we’re telling about education?” What are status-quo narratives telling us about who the child is meant to be within the Canadian context? Who is a citizen? And then who is left out of that? And in our contexts, how are we abiding by these discourses?  In my non-profit work, we had a specific program that we were developing and although we had our own vision for how we thought it should go, we realized that this was not enough. By making mistakes and asking questions, we began to develop programming that was more culturally responsive to the community we were working with. By suspending master narratives, we were open to curiosity. I argue that this curiosity and openness is a critical component of care. Pedagogically, in my mind, it’s thinking about “how do we just attend to this moment?” There is an overarching desire for uniformity in education and a fear of impermanence. Yet, in education, things are always changing, whether it’s the places we educate, the students we are educating, or revelations about past atrocities or the curriculums that are handed down from on high. Inheritances do not have to be stumbling blocks but might be a way to move honestly and humbly through the worlds we exist within. 

Lisa: I think that’s the thing about pedagogy: that it resists universalization. Returning to Cristina Delgado Vintimilla’s (2020) definition of pedagogy, as “that which thinks education”, pedagogy entails an active, ongoing process of thinking about education as a project and not as something just to be implemented. This requires a lot of time and effort, which is not productive in a capitalist context of checking boxes and of production and consumption. I think that’s what I, as a pedagogist ask: how do we push against the surveillance of universal, inherited conceptions of care? Perhaps it’s at the heart of what we’re talking about as a collective of pedagogists.

Danielle:  I know we started this discussion to think education alongside care. But I wonder, thinking pedagogically, how do we understand and view care?  I know this isn’t the same level of inheritance that you’re speaking of Gabrielle, but as pedagogists with the Pedagogist Network of Ontario, one of the first readings we engaged together was Acting with the Clock: clocking practices in early childhood, (Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2012). Together with this reading, we questioned how we often inherit past practices as a new early childhood educator. There becomes a question of how we as pedagogists, enter into spaces with educators who have inherited particular histories of care. Dominant approaches ask mostly women, women of different ethnicities, how they view care; if their vision is different from status-quo governmental mandates, we want them to conform to “our” (governments and agents of the government) care. As pedagogists, we might instead ask how we might keep diverse educators from conforming to inherited conceptions of care, knowing that reproducing master narratives of care has long been the practice advanced in educational institutions.

Gabrielle: I believe a large component is being intentional with a diversity of standpoints. Bell Hooks speaks on an anecdote of a colleague who advocated for her hiring at a university. She recalls that the colleague witnessed the hiring committee beginning to make worrying comments about hooks – comments that would not have been said if another standpoint was in the room. She stopped the meeting and suggested they incorporate others into the conversation (hooks, 1994). The power in that anecdote was the understanding of one’s limitations. We cannot be all things to all people, but we must have the wherewithal to go beyond ourselves. This is not an argument for multiculturalism, but something beyond – something Wynterian (see: Wynter, 1994). Care, in both thought and action, becomes richer when more standpoints from community, parents, children, community organizations, educators, and the elderly are present. I think this idea relates back to relationality as a pedagogical imperative. We do not have to fully understand one another to be in relation with one another (see: Glissant, 1997). Is this relationality something that is providing a more expansive vision of what we want to do as pedagogists? I think that one commitment that matters to me as a pedagogist requires giving us the power to flip the script a little bit. 


In this conversation, we foregrounded that in our current time, it is vital to resist a universalized pedagogical practice where there are unchecked inherited conceptions of care. In the movement of our conversation and contemplation, we are grateful for the time and space to engage collectively with this question of care, each of us bringing a distinct perspective. As the conversation moved, an invitation from Cristina Delgado Vintimilla remained in our minds’ foreground. In this invitation, during one of our large group gatherings, she asked us to think about feelings of stuckness that can take hold in our pedagogical work and to consider what practices we, as pedagogists, might create to bring momentum. This makes us wonder how care can become stuck in institutionalized, routinized, and instrumentalized practices. How might we disrupt this stuckness and engage with the momentum of care already happening in ethical relations? Through our conversation, we practiced creating a momentum space by accentuating the significance of the distinction of standpoints and generative relationality in reflecting on care and pedagogy.


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CTV News. (2023). Food banks and other food charities anticipate a 60 per cent increase in demand in 2023. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/food-banks-and-other-food-charities-anticipate-a-60-per-cent-increase-in-demand-in-2023-1.6225412#:~:text=A%20new%20report%20says%20reliance,food%20program%20dependency%20in%202022

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Thinking with Study in Early Childhood

Dr. Walter Kohan is a Professor at Rio de Janeiro State University.

In this conversation, Dr. Walter Kohan speaks with Dr. Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw and Dr. Fikile Nxumalo on the potentialities as well as the challenges of closely attuning to study as a practice and a concept within and beyond its institutional formations. 

In Conversation with Dr. Adam Davies

In the early autumn, Cristina and Nicole engaged with Dr. Adam Davies to think together about the work of crafting life and joy-sustaining pedagogies in the context of the province of Ontario – a context ripe with child development, heteronormativity, and everyday invocations of human difference as deficit. Dr. Adam Davies (they, them, theirs) is an Assistant Professor of Family Relations and Human Development at the University of Guelph. They are the Co-Chair of the Anti-Oppression Rainbow Research Lab and are active on Twitter where they boldly advocate for the rights of students and professors amid the neoliberal institution. As Cristina and Nicole prepared to offer Adam an opening provocation for our dialogue, we turned to Adam’s recent publications which invoke a palpable sense of living and embodying pedagogy as it functions as a world-making process, and never resting with pedagogy as a technocratic practice. From here, our conversation moved toward thinking who we see as our co-conspirators in this work of thinking pedagogically and in proposing possible educational worlds that are infused in ethical desire, where Adam emphasized the labour of critique in dismantling child development and the normativity it produces and reproduces, and brought to our attention a certain ethos of critique as life-giving, joining a history of thinking critique as more than neoliberalism’s ‘critical thinking’. Bringing our conversation to a (we hope temporary) close, we ask Adam about their work of critique and this insistence on refusal, where insistence is a doubled move that also insists on life. Together, many threads of the work of a pedagogist weave through our conversation, from thinking embodiment, commons, critique, collectivity, and futurity, to mounting tangible gestures against technocracy, essentialism, child development, and the colonial heteropatriarchy. We are so grateful to Adam for their time, and we offer this conversation as the inauguration of a new ally relationship and thinking companion for our work in the Pedagogist Network of Ontario. Thank you, Adam.

Continue reading “In Conversation with Dr. Adam Davies”

Editors’ Note

We – a group of researchers with very different histories, concerns, and practices who are situated and positioned differently within this educational project – share this issue of the PNO Magazine and its pieces during a time when the ongoing violences of settler colonialism and white supremacy have motivated immense, well-publicized traumas that unfold alongside the often silenced or disregarded everyday violences Eurocentric colonially inflicts in this stolen land currently known as the nation state of Canada.

We are intensely concerned with figuring out what it means to educate pedagogists, to be relentlessly committed to doing pedagogical work that is intimately intertwined with our inheritances and with crafting futurities that celebrate Indigenous, Black, Brown, Asian, and other racialized lives and worlds. We take seriously that we, collectively, must find ways – pathways that we do not yet know and practices will not be created in isolation – of doing pedagogical work that actually grapples with justice, difference, knowledge, commons and uncommons, and life in tangible ways.

Within the PNO, we do not want to pretend we have the answers for knowing what education will become as we face its complicity in hatred, control, and devaluing particular lives, knowledges, and worlds. Nor do we want to be so arrogant as to assume that our one project will “solve” the intentional issues of an education system that regulates who and how children should be. We also do not name our partiality or uncertainty as an excuse; not knowing exactly what comes next does not mean minimizing our complicity in the form of a performative apology or as a self-soothing proclamation of our sadness.

We offer these as commitments that we will enact: we will show up, be and hold each other accountable, listen and co-labour, work in the background to reconfigure pebble by pebble the foundations of racist structures, and recognize our work as one small and humble thread in the ongoing dismantling and recreating of the project of education on these lands.  

On Early Childhood Education Encountering Pedagogy: An Interview with Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw

In this segment Cristina Delgado Vintimilla interviews Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. The interview takes place as Pacini-Ketchabaw is embroiled in the midst of two projects she is leading in early childhood education in Canada.

Cristina Delgado Vintimilla (CDV): This interview takes place in the midst of two projects that you are leading in early childhood education in Canada. Both projects inaugurate the professional figure of the pedagogist. This figure responds, among other things, to the growing interest to think about early childhood education as a pedagogical project. Indeed, the term pedagogist connotes an intimate connection with pedagogy. As these projects unfold, we have experienced that, thinking about pedagogy and engaging early childhood education as a pedagogical project is a complex endeavor. What intrigues you about this project and why is it important to you? I imagine we can think of this encounter between pedagogy and early childhood in many ways. What comes to mind for you and what are their challenges and opportunities based on your view of the work, so far?

Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw (VPK): Thank you for these questions Cristina.  Let me begin by clarifying that the two projects that you are referring to are the ECPN (Early Childhood Pedagogies Network) and the PNO (Pedagogists Network of Ontario).  What is important for me is that these two projects, as you said, insist that early childhood education needs to engage in pedagogical conversations, and in doing so challenge the pervasive developmental discourse that early childhood education continues to perpetuate.  I don’t think that I need to say too much about why these projects aim to bring alternative narratives into early childhood.  As Peter Moss and Gunilla Dahlberg reminded us more than a decade ago, developmental psychology as a dominant discourse allows for early childhood education to be constructed as a service for families and as a producer of predetermined outcomes.  Like these authors do, the projects that you mentioned are proposing that we think about early childhood education as a “public forum situated in civil society in which children and adults participate together in projects of social, cultural, political and economic significance” (p. 73).   What intrigues me is how the role of the pedagogist might allow us to open up these kinds of conversations in early childhood education.   What might be possible in early childhood education when we attend to pedagogy rather than child development?  Of course there are multiple challenges.  The main challenge is that Canada might not yet be ready to have this conversation.  Engagements with pedagogical thought require that Canadian early childhood education invents another vocabulary… Yet, I continue to encounter (especially now during the pandemic when early childhood education has been a conversation in the media and political circles) troubling references such as ‘early childhood education as an essential service’, educators as ‘workers’ and members of the ‘workforce,’  and the field as a ‘sector’.  This factory-like lexicon creates certain expectations and moves us away from engaging in early childhood education as a cultural and political project.

(CDV): As I am listening to you, and I think about early childhood as a cultural project, I think about the tension between, on one hand, education as a system that perpetuates particular structures of interpretation and socializes children into a stabilized state of affairs, and on the other hand, education as what creates the conditions for thinking otherwise futures and for inserting something different into the present. This,  seems to me, to be the tension that you are describing. I would propose that this is a tension that is becoming acutely present as a provocation that pedagogy brings to early childhood education.  In your view, what might early childhood education in Canada need to consider to generatively respond to such provocation? Particularly when considering that– in the broad social imaginary– early childhood is thought in such constraining and instrumental ways as  those described in your example?

VPK: Yes, that is the tension that pedagogy offers to early childhood education.  There are many things we need to consider.  The main (amongst many) that comes to mind right now is how to work with pedagogists in creating the conditions for thinking otherwise futures.  I often worry that this side of the tension is completely dismissed.  Somehow we have had opportunities to engage in the critique of hegemonic structures within early childhood education.  In my experience, we have become quite skillful at unpacking and unsettling discourses with pedagogists.  The challenge now is to work with pedagogists to create conditions for other futures.  I am thinking about the pedagogical work that we have been doing in the Common Worlds Research Collective.  I have learned so much through my work with you and other fabulous colleagues to challenge myself to dive into the question ‘what could be otherwise?’    I think it is important that pedagogists do not become too comfortable with critiquing educators’ practices.  I am not saying that critique doesn’t have a place in the life of a pedagogist.  It does.  But critique needs to be deeply entangled with the ‘otherwise’, the ‘what if’, the ‘yet to come’.  I want to stress the idea that these two movements are indeed entangled. One does not come after the other.  Like you said Cristina, it is a tension that as pedagogists we need to constantly live in.

CDV: Indeed, generative tensions need to be cultivated in early childhood education and this is not because early childhood education lacks tensions, but because the tendency might be to ‘master’ and even try to avoid those tensions in the name of protecting what we already know or the familiar ‘how to’ that mark early childhood in Canada.  What do you think might be some of the conditions and dispositions that a pedogist needs to nurture as a way to move past mere critique? And could you share some thoughts about how it would look like if early childhood practices and curricular propositions were driven by the generative force of the “what if”?  I am particularly interested in this  last question because I think that thinking “what if” or the “yet to come” requires much of our attention. As a pedagogista, I consider thinking “what if” as a complicated and demanding mode of engagement with the world.  “What if”  is  at the heart of what I refer to as ideation which, as you know, it is one of the abilities that defines the work of a pedagogista, in the Italian tradition.

VPK:  As you know, we started to think about some of the conditions that a pedagogist needs to nurture in an article that was just published in Contemporaries Issues in Early Childhood.   Let me address just one here.  In my work with pedagogists in the PNO and ECPN, I have come to realize that interdisciplinarity is one of those conditions that a pedagogist cannot live without.  By that I mean that a pedagogist has to be able to attend to the conditions of early childhood education not only by drawing from a multitude of disciplines (anthropology, sociology, geography and so on) but also be able to encounter these conditions through different theoretical frameworks.  A pedagogist thinks with poststructuralism, feminist Black studies, and/or feminist Indigenous theorizings to challenge the narrow discourse of child development that organizes early childhood education.  Phenomenology is a language that a pedagogist thinks pedagogical documentation with. Feminist environmental writings help a pedagogist to think early childhood education in viral times. Yet, it is not about moving in and out of disciplines and theoretical frameworks.  It is about working transversally with multiple languages.  These languages intermix so that the pedagogist can offer educational proposals that move beyond the monopoly of developmentally appropriate activities.

To address the second part of your question: I agree that the ‘what if’ requires careful attention in the education of pedagogists (and early childhood education as a whole).  Early childhood education suffers from literalism.  We lack imagination of what might be possible.  This is dangerous because pedagogy needs to be able to think ‘the otherwise’ in order to avoid being squeezed into neoliberal capitalism.  A pedagogist needs to embrace what Loris Malaguzzi called creativity (not psychologically defined).  I think I want to think about this disposition as speculative practice – that is, a practice that is committed to an idea of worlding that keeps the world going in more-just-ways.  I might even say that what makes a pedagogist is to be able to embrace the ‘what if’.   Yes to the idea of ideation, of invention, of creative projection!

When sharing this piece, please include the following citation: 
Pacini-Ketchabaw, V., & Delgado, C.V. (December 2020). On early childhood education encountering pedagogy: An interview with Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine, 1(1). Retrieved from https://pedagogistnetworkontario.com/on-early-childhood-education-encountering-pedagogy-an-interview-with-veronica-pacini-ketchabaw/

A Matter of Pedagogy

As a pedagogist, Ann Wilke proposes that the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic is a call to deepen our commitment to pedagogy as a way of being in and with the world.

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/

Editors’ Note

We are excited to launch the first issue of the Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine. This quarterly magazine is a space for encounters with ideas and experiences that are related to the educational practice of the pedagogist.

We hope that this magazine intersects with pedagogists’ ongoing conversations and situated experiences by highlighting their pedagogical trajectories and inventiveness. 

This magazine serves as a living archive of the emergent and generative work that takes place in the encounter between pedagogy and early childhood education as we know it. In this issue, we wonder: What possibilities will be realized? What shifts might emerge? And how might we follow pedagogical inventiveness and its demand to think beyond what we already know?

We made the decision to share our work through a magazine in order to be accountable to a digital form that is public, speculative, rooted in a particular context and commitment, and that is continually on the move. Refusing our website content to relax into staunch stability, we want to create something unfamiliar (a magazine? A knot? A landing site? A confrontation? Something yet to be knowable?) that demands work and return as modes of engagement. While the Pedagogist Network of Ontario (PNO) Magazine will be organized into issues, we want to cultivate novelty and strangeness beyond only the moment of launching a new issue. As the work of a pedagogist demands, we hope readers will linger with and retrace their encounters with each piece. We encourage readers to share articles through different social media pathways. 

We hope that the magazine will keep traces of complicated pedagogical work, and that these traces will become part of a broader memory that is presently emerging and is nourished through the multiple situations, projects, events and artifacts. We hope the magazine becomes a manifestation of pedagogists’ situated and collective work. In this way, the magazine is both historical and prospective.

The works we share in this magazine enact an ethical commitment to the inventive, risky, courageous labour of theorizing and enacting the work of a pedagogist. We invite readers to attend to the rich temporal complexities of doing pedagogical work as a pedagogist in Canada. 

In this first issue of the PNO Magazine, we open with a conversation between Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw and Cristina Delgado Vintimilla. They discuss the pedagogists’ practice as the work of creating conditions to think otherwise futures in early childhood education. In our inaugural Pedagogist Conversations section, PNO pedagogist Ann Wilke shares a provocation with the intricate question ‘what matters for thinking pedagogically amid an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?’. Finally, we offer two previously published essays: What is Pedagogy? (by Cristina Delgado Vintimilla) and What Would be Possible if Education Subtracts Itself from Developmentalism (by Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, Nicole Land, Kathleen Kummen, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, and Randa Khattar). 

The PNO Magazine articles are demanding and anticipatory. They asks of us something beyond cutting and pasting, skimming and forwarding. Invention, response, participation, and answerability matter as each piece offers forward possibilities for us to grapple with in early childhood education. that needs re-envisioning. As readers sink into the articles’ complexities and provocations, we hope we might begin to weave an embodied and inventive vocabulary for thinking pedagogically in Canada – that is, a vocabulary that nourishes and is nourished by ongoing pedagogical conversations.

We look forward to thinking together. 

Cristina Delgado Vintimilla, Nicole Land, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Randa Khattar, Kathleen Kummen, and Fikile Nxumalo

When sharing this piece, please include the following citation: 
Delgado, C.V., & Land, N. (December 2020). Editor’s note. Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine, 1(1). Retrieved from https://pedagogistnetworkontario.com/editorial/

Pedagogy and the Role of the Pedagogista: A Perspective

This exposure event, titled Pedagogy and the Role of a Pedagogista: A Perspective, offered opportunities for pedagogists to consider what is required to take on the role of a pedagogist, what might be possible when we take up pedagogy as a social science, and what it is to hold pedagogical commitments as a pedagogist.

In this exposure hosted by the Early Childhood Pedagogy Network, Professor Silvana Calaprice from the University of Bari, Italy. In what follows, we share clips from the discussion, moderated by Dr. Randa Khattar, between Professor Calaprice and Dr. Cristina D. Vintimilla, assistant professor at York University and pedagogista with the Provincial Centre. We anchor each set of clips with some context and questions we hope you will grapple with and carry with you.

1. On the work of a pedagogist

For Silvana Calaprice and the tradition of pedagogical study she thinks with, to be a pedagogist is to grapple with deeply ethical questions: 

  • What concept of the human and of the child do I hold?
  • With what histories, knowledges, worldviews, philosophies, and relations do I build my understanding of the child?
  • How does my concept of the child shape my actions and possibilities for my actions as a pedagogist?

Silvana offers that the understandings we hold of children and humans are never crafted in isolation. Rather, these are a common project, one built within a collective of pedagogists and lively worldly conditions.

Sharing two examples – image of the child as competent, and “care” – Silvana invites us to consider how pedagogists must invent and tend to trajectories and processes that disrupt status-quo ideas of education as an applied field. Silvana insists on the provocation that pedagogists must be interested in opening up spaces and relations that create conditions for a collective to respond well to complex contexts. As pedagogists, she suggests, we must trace how our concept of the child shapes the situated relations we create, and we must answer to the local relations we create. How we participate in relations is woven with our non-innocent concepts of the human and the child. Questions that pedagogists must continually revisit include these:

  • How do I come to understand children and humans?
  • What is my concept of the human?
  • How do I understand children?
  • How do my actions, and the educational processes I open up, activate my conceptions of children and humans?
  • How am I accountable to these processes and concepts within a collective? 

2. What is pedagogy?

Silvana asserts that pedagogy is a particular mode of study – a way of knowing and navigating worlds – that is concerned with thinking the purpose of education. In thinking the purpose of education, Silvana offers that we must think with subject formation and with living well within the relations and contexts we inherit and inhabit:

  • What subjectivities do we want to cultivate to bring something generative into the life of a collective?
  • How do we care for transformational relationships within our particular contexts?
  • How do we create educational processes that open up possibilities for living well together in these times? 

We hear Silvana arguing that pedagogy is resolutely against application. It refutes the interpretivist, individualist focus of psychology, which aims to understand and remedy unitary children’s behaviours. Pedagogy orients toward invention, not intervention. Pedagogy is concerned with encountering uncertainties and opening up processes toward different, tentative, more just futures. In this way, pedagogy inhabits the edges of theory and practice, weaving them together in the name of educational processes. Pedagogy is also, Silvana contends, carefully multidisciplinary: It is in constant dialogue with other disciplines, but it knows that these disciplines do not hold dear the same questions as pedagogy. This creates multiple questions for pedagogists to carry:

  • What relations do I stand for when I center questions of living well together in precarious times?
  • How do my practices, relations, and concepts of children, humans, and subjectivities shape particular responses toward inhabiting unfamiliar futures in a more-than-human world?
  • What modes of interdisciplinarity do I bring to my work as a pedagogist – with whom, and with what histories, do I think, read, write, cite, and speak? Why? How?

3. Having pedagogical commitments 

Silvana contends that pedagogy stands for particular political commitments: it is against applying a model; it refuses regulatory neoliberal images of competence; it subtracts itself from extractive self-centered assessments of what children already know; it complexifies status-quo conceptions of following the child in emergent curriculum; it wants to erase instrumental conceptions of education where teaching is framed as assisting children to fulfil a universalized, predetermined developmental trajectory. Pedagogists must not, Silvana insists, simply be someone who does a job. They must be deeply invested in their work, because they have situated pedagogical commitments and endeavour toward uncompromisingly pedagogical dispositions of openness and attentiveness. Pedagogists believe in what they do. Silvana offers the concept of “pedagogical energy,” which is the impulse and motion that propels pedagogists to continue researching, to constantly wonder, and live as a question, how to respond to fraught contexts. This impulse fuels pedagogical questions of how we might innovate educational processes in response to a particular context: What is it to do pedagogical work that refuses to be universalizable or scalable; work that subtracts itself from inherited logics of ‘best practices’?  

For us, Silvana is invoking a pedagogist deeply concerned with responsibility, where to be response-able is to be able to respond well to questions children, pedagogists, and others get knotted up in, in particular local conditions. This is not an individualized performative notion of responsibility, but rather one that is concerned with living well together in the precarious contexts we inhabit. Responsibility here threads through our relations as we grapple with questions of how to be response-able with children. Silvana offers that stories, and the stories children live within, are a starting point for getting to know what it is we must respond within, but she suggests that we need to go beyond knowing stories to inventing processes that enact our orientations and commitments, that create possibilities that are not currently present. Pedagogists, Silvana generously insists, have responsibilities to do the difficult, uncertain work of creating processes that are grounded in our pedagogical commitments and orientations. For pedagogists, this raises incredibly complex questions:

  • Do I believe in what I do?
  • What do I bring to this work?
  • Why do I hold these orientations within this place, when I hold to questions of living well together?
  • How do I enact these commitments in response-able relations?