What Would be Possible if Education Subtracts Itself from Developmentalism

What would be possible if education subtracts itself from developmentalism? What might happen if we put into question early childhood education’s reliance on child development as a “taken-for-granted” way to understand, enact and create early childhood spaces?

In the spirit of these questions, we are interested in highlighting some of the legacies of child development and interrogating the concept of developmentalism.  We do so as an invitation for pedagogists to continue unsettling the domination of such discourse in early childhood education and the ways developmental knowledges are implicated in maintaining the status quo. By focusing on developmentalism, we highlight the socio-political-ethical intentions that child development activates through early childhood education. Although child development has become ‘taken-for-granted’ knowledge within early childhood education, many researchers and educators have been thinking otherwise (Pacini-Ketchabaw et al., 2016; Pacini-Ketchabaw et al., 2015). In this article, we reiterate the work of reconceptualist early childhood scholars and put into question a naturalized or non-political understanding of childhood, children, and education (to read more about developmentalism, please see Burman, 2018; Cannella, 1997; Lubeck, 1994; and MacNaughton, 2005).

Our first focus of concern is with how child development assumes and prescribes ideas of who a human is – and, in these edicts, it stabilizes the normative contours of who a child can be – giving to education the coordinates of the ‘proper’ childhood and the ‘proper’ child. In child development, human growth is made proper within culturally and historically contested coordinates. Put differently, developmentalism asserts both who the child should be and sets a measure for the particular normative developmental trajectories that this child’s development must follow. A belief in the principles of developmentalism also creates a predetermined formula of universal quality pedagogical practices that are necessary to ensure optimal development. These tenets of development are enshrined with such high levels of validity and reliability that, as educators, we are often shocked and dismayed when children who are provided with best pedagogical practice experience failure (Walkerdine, 1998). Equally disheartening is how we might use developmental theory to conceptualize the “good” early childhood educator. Langford’s (2007) work demonstrates that for many in the early childhood field, professional competency is represented by an educator whose practice reflects developmental theory. Under this idea, only practice that is based in developmental theory is recognizable and acceptable – leaving very little space for reimagining what might be possible for an early childhood educator.

Entangled closely within the desire to guide children’s development along a universalized and normalizing trajectory is the concomitant work of course-correcting and remediating. Children who do not conform to Euro-Western developmental norms are therefore readily positioned as in need of intervention or support. Functioning to bound children’s lives to unfold only in accordance with a highly political and neutral norm, developmentalism also works to control and erase non Euro-Western experiences of childhood. This maintains the production of proper humanist subjects; children who have the skills and dispositions to be ‘good’ citizens by perpetuating structural projects of humanism, neoliberalism, and ongoing settler colonialism. Indeed, it is these processes of investing in the creation of particular kinds of subjects and subjectivities that, we think, pedagogists need to think with and unsettle.

There are many reasons why a pedagogist would need to unsettle the possibilities for subjectivities, relations, and life avowed by developmentalism. We consider that this is a necessary effort because, as we have been pointing out, developmentalism erases and eradicates other possibilities for life. In other words, it marks ways of living and conceiving childhood that do not ascribe to particular colonial universals as abnormal, undesirable, or expendable. This is the material violence of developmentalism. As a universal paradigm for understanding childhood, developmentalism enacts an ontological violence by restricting the intellectual, embodied, and experiential resources with which we might engage children. Thus, embedded within structural narratives of normativity and the desire to support children to align with inherited notions of success, academic achievement and productive adulthood, developmentalism becomes the only dominant framework that educators are taught to engage with children – making this the intellectual coercion of developmentalism.

What becomes of early childhood pedagogy beyond developmentalism?

As we have been pointing out, in the fixity of its developing methods and assumptions, child development gives education a ‘banister’ to hold on to (see Arendt, 1981)—one that furthermore ‘works too well’ for education to pursue her evidentiary quest for legitimacy as a social science. The dependency on this banister is so self-evident that it often can seem impossible—even itself aberrant, deviant or heretic—to think otherwise, or to imagine a child and a childhood that are not defined through pre-understandings of developmental stages and corollary behavioural norms. This impossibility is at the heart of education as a colonial project, as an eclipse of diverse possibility as and within childhood by a regnant ethos.

This is the reason why, for us, child development has little to offer to pedagogy. Unlike child development, pedagogy hides away from practices of application or logics of human management. Pedagogy is concerned with radical interpretative and contextual forms of thought and practice (to read more, please see “What is Pedagogy” by Cristina D. Vintimilla). It is a wordly encounter, never functional authority. It is always, therefore, rethinking what renders the world inert—and especially how children and childhood participate in this rendering. Pedagogy, we want to propose, asks questions that work in the name of living well together: how do we create more liveable worlds for all? How do we de-center human mastery and the idea that humans are unitary, independent subjects and instead orient ourselves toward ethical and political responses to complex, messy, more-than-human worlds?

While for developmental psychology the aim of early childhood education is to authoritatively “know”, “predict” and “assess” children to guide them toward maturation and proper humanity, pedagogy is interested in the making of alternative and more-just worlds.  Making early childhood education a pedagogical project requires that educators orient themselves toward entanglements and relational connections, and notice the complex human and more-than-human political contours of educational encounters. Thus, we suggest that we become interested in opening up and nourishing particular processes; especially processes concerned with ethically and politically-tense struggles so that we can nourish subjectivities and relations that respond to the complexities of our times.

This proposition entails pedagogical processes that are committed to creating and sustaining conditions where childhood is a voidless subjective process marked by alterity (Vintimilla, 2012). In other words, our proposition seeks opportunities for new subjectivities, new ways of being human (or unbecoming human perhaps), and heterogeneity, (or the proliferation of diversity, of a commonality, or community, in difference). Let’s remember: it is pedagogy that creates the conditions for the legitimation of multiple ways of being, for multiple childhoods. It is pedagogy that is interested in opening up curricular processes that have no predefined ideas of who or what a child is. It is pedagogy that is open to the possibility of alternative narratives and not about the repetition of predefined normative vectors. It is pedagogy that is concerned with the creation of collective spaces, of common and uncommon worlds. Child development is resolutely never interested in these processes. What would be possible if education subtracts itself from developmentalism? Pedagogy would be a possibility. Creating spaces for dwelling that are ethical and creative would be possible. Creating a collective life that keeps the question of the commons open would be possible. In pedagogy, as Machado said, “the path is made by walking.” So, unlike developmentalism’s competent pieties, the state of affairs that pedagogy assumes is so broad as to give the lie to breadth itself…and, in this, is instead breath itself. We breathe as we walk. And we do it together.

This essay is reprinted with author permission. This essay was originally posted on the Ontario Provincial Centre for Excellence website and is now available on https://www.earlychildhoodcollaboratory.net/resources

References:

Arendt, H. (1981). The life of the mind. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Burman, E. (2018). Towards a posthuman developmental psychology of child, families and communities. In International Handbook of Early Childhood Education (pp. 1599-1620). Springer, Dordrecht.

Cannella, G. (1997). Deconstructing early childhood education: Social justice and revolution. Peter Lang.

Langford, R. (2007). Who is a good early childhood educator? A critical study of differences within a universal professional identity in early childhood education preparation programs. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education28(4), 333-352.

Lubeck, S. (1994). The politics of developmentally appropriate practice: Exploring issues of culture, class, and curriculum. In B. L. Mallory & R. S. New (eds), Diversity & developmentally appropriate practices: Challenges for early childhood education (pp. 17–43). Teachers College.

MacNaughton, G. (2005). Doing Foucault in early childhood studies: Applying poststructural ideas. Routledge.

Pacini-Ketchabaw, V., Kind, S., & Kocher, L. L. (2016). Encounters with materials in early childhood education. Routledge.

Pacini-Ketchabaw, V., Nxumalo, F., Kocher, L., Elliot, E., & Sanchez, A. (2015). Journeys: Reconceptualizing early childhood practices through pedagogical narration. University of Toronto Press.

Vintimilla, C. D. (2012). Aporetic openings in living well with others: The teacher as a thinking subject [unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of British Columbia.

Walkerdine, V. (1998). Developmental psychology and child-centred pedagogy. In J. Henriques,

W. Hollway, C. Urwin, C. Venn, & V. Walkerdine (Eds.), Changing the subject: Psychology, social regulation, and subjectivity (2nd ed.; pp. 153–202). Routledge.
When sharing this piece, please include the following citation: 
Delgado, C.V., Land, N., Kummen, K., Pacini-Ketchabaw, V., & Khattar, R. (December 2020). What would be possible if education subtracts itself from developmentalism. Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine, 1(1). Retrieved from https://pedagogistnetworkontario.com/what-would-be-possible-if-education-subtracts-itself-from-developmentalism/

What is Pedagogy?

In this essay Cristina Delgado Vintimilla shares with us what pedagogy is. Acknowledging her thoughts as never independent from who is thinking them—her history, intellectual commitments, and relation with this concept.

I am often asked this question, and often my first impulse is to want to hide from it. I think this is because I am aware of the very complex layers of meaning and the historicity that one will need to engage with and take up, particularly if one considers that this question is being asked within the Canadian context—and, even more specifically, within that of early childhood education.

In my hesitation, I also wonder if we as educators are willing to engage with such layering of meaning and historicity. After all, the question is not “How might we begin to think of pedagogy?” What is pedagogy? risks evoking a requisition for a definition, and therefore a foreclosure of pedagogical thought from the start. Herein is the bind of the question “What is pedagogy?” Perhaps sharing its contextual difficulties, its inherent foreclosures, is the best place to start. As, when learning to speak another language, we are invited first to say that we cannot speak it.

I will never forget the conflicted and puzzled responses I received many years ago when I presented to early childhood educators and colleagues the idea that early childhood is a pedagogical context. This idea was not well received. It was seen as a sort of threat to the notion of care. It sounded too directive, too “educational.” However, since then, the concept of pedagogy has proliferated in early childhood contexts. In whispers of possibility, it has started to engage imaginations. It is even present in new policy documents. I find myself noticing that the words pedagogy and pedagogies are repeatedly used now in the context of early childhood education in almost interchangeable ways, as if they are one thing, an obscure, sophisticated supplement of some sort, rather than an indeterminate field of responsive, generative, and collaborative practices of interpretation, ethical critique, and invention. We seem to want to encompass pedagogy within our existing thinking about education and care, rather than to see how we are already encompassed by this thinking, determined by it, enclosed and limited within its assumptions so as to be better able to respond and to invent knowledge, subjectivities, and communal forms of life, in and as education.

In this small contribution, I would like to outline some thoughts about what pedagogy is. Of course, these thoughts are never independent from who is thinking them—my history, intellectual commitments, and relation with this concept. In this, I want to start by attempting to rescue the concept from its unfortunate and quite common understanding, particularly in the contexts in which I work, where pedagogy is seen as that which gives us direction in how to manage and instruct children to be able to achieve predetermined educational ends. In my view, pedagogy could not be farther from this idea.

Pedagogy is that which thinks, studies, and orients education: its purposes, its protagonists, its histories, its relations and processes.

Pedagogy is that which thinks, studies, and orients education: its purposes, its protagonists, its histories, its relations and processes. Pedagogical thought lives within the tension between theory and practice, between what happens and the reflection on what happened. I find that one of the key pedagogical struggles is how not to identify pedagogical thought with only theory or practice. Pedagogy attends to and locates this tension in situated and contextual ways (in the everyday). Pedagogy is not interested in universalisms or objectivist views of knowledge creation.

Considering this, we can say that pedagogy is a body of knowledge (in Europe it is considered a social science). It is active knowledge, one that seeks new bases on which to think in diverse and unfolding conditions. This body of knowledge has a long history. Its cradle is Ancient Greece. Its birth was intimately related to philosophy, with whom it keeps a close relation, and over the centuries it has tried to find its identity by letting go of the reliance on disciplines considered more legitimate in education, such as scientific management, and then psychology. 

Pedagogy, as a body of knowledge, thinks educational practice; it is reinvigorated by this practice and transforms educational practice. This is why a pedagogist is someone who not only tries to unsettle practice but also tries to find (and sometimes even liberate) the creative force of practice.

Pedagogy is always interrogating (and responding to) the conditions of our time and its status quo. It does this at the same time it poses the question “What kind of human might we need to consider to respond to the conditions of our times?” Pedagogy asks this question because pedagogy is not only interested in teaching and learning. It is also interested in what conditions are enabled through particular educational processes and curriculum making. What idea of the human do they enable? What subject formations are legitimized and delegitimized? What relational logics do they enact? In other words, in a very basic understanding, pedagogy is interested in the creation of an experience. The question then is “What kinds of experiences are being created in educational contexts? What is their value, their unseen beauty, their vanishing, their withholding and bursting forth?” As history tells us, these experiences can be emancipating or subjugating, deterministic or eventful. They can support logics of dominion or try to keep the question of the collective open.

Therefore, pedagogy is not only interested in describing the conditions of a particular time context. As Silvana Calaprice (2016) writes, “pedagogy must also activate new provocations for the education of our times” (p. 34). This means not only analyzing the status quo and its relation to education, but also activating possible orientations that will provoke educational processes to invent a living curriculum that experiments with alternative propositions and intentions. I am thinking here about propositions and intentions that would allow for experimentation with different subjective processes and alternative futures. This is why contemporary pedagogy must ask education to find new responsibilities. (This is a topic to be taken up on another occasion.) Considering this, it is not enough to ask “What is pedagogy?” Perhaps we must ask instead “What are early childhood pedagogies for a postcolonial, settler, consumer-driven, and carbon-dependent society?”

If pedagogy has a language, its language is interdisciplinary. This is because pedagogical thought is porous and willing to be contaminated by diffractive conversations with other disciplines. These conversations help pedagogy to enrich its views and engage the familiar from diverse perspectives. Personally, I could not think education without the arts.

In the Canadian early childhood context, pedagogy is what—among many other invitations—would invite us to consider that it is not enough to continue “window shopping” for the newest educational approach. Much more is at stake, and much more is possible. The invitation instead would be to become ever more attuned to the situated complexities in which one lives, and to therefore become more educationally inventive. This is why pedagogical thought lives at the heart of the relevant invitations that the reconceptualist movement in curriculum theory has invited us to consider over the rocky years of its ensuing neoliberal reaction.

I will leave you with a last consideration. For me, pedagogical thought is always creative and generative, with as many questions as answers. Pedagogy is particularly interested in creating a collective space. It is called to create something that goes beyond centering the work in the development of an individual I. Pedagogy, for me, is interested in the creation of a life—not as a model or an ideal, but as an everyday practice that puts thought into action, that is interested not in prescribing a life but in working at a life, becoming studious of it, being interested in its different forms and formations in what it does and what it invites and in how we become of it. A life that is life-making.

Pedagogy, then, is a decision—to ask its own questions, which are mostly as yet unknown.

This essay is reprinted with author permission.  It was originally posted on the Ontario Provincial Centre of Excellence website. It is now available on https://www.earlychildhoodcollaboratory.net/resources

When sharing this piece, please include the following citation: 
Delgado, C.V.(December 2020). What is pedagogy. Pedagogist Network of Ontario Magazine, 1(1). Retrieved from https://pedagogistnetworkontario.com/what-is-pedagogy/

Becoming a Pedagogist and Co-creating Pedagogical Processes

This online conversation was an introduction to what a pedagogist does, and invited pedagogists and educators from British Columbia who engage in this pedagogical practice to speak on their experiences. Over two hours they engaged with many questions and ideas, including:

  • The process of becoming a pedagogist, and its tensions, difficulties, beauty;
  • How the process of becoming a pedagogist is an act of co-creating a pedagogical experience (with the situated place you work within – relating to educators, more-than-human others, politics, place, ethics, children, families, precarities);
  • The need to reconfigure and co-invent pedagogical processes so vibrant curriculum making becomes possible;
  • The need to subtract taken-for-granted practices, ideas, and habits from thinking to open up toward re-invigorated practices;
  • Pedagogical commitments and what they do, and the hard work of activating these commitments and standing for something

This panel conversation, moderated by Dr. Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw (Faculty of University of Western Ontario), featured:

  • Dr. Bo Sun Kim (Faculty at Capilano University and Pedagogist with Simon Fraser University Childcare Society)
  • Narda Nelson (Pedagogist with University of Victoria Childcare Services)
  • Dongryun Kim (Educator with Simon Fraser University Childcare Society)
  • Sherri-Lynn Yazbeck (Educator with University of Victoria Childcare Services).

In this following clip, Dr. Bo Sun Kim and Narda Nelson speak about the radical dialogue needed to live in question and enact collective pedagogical commitments to keep possibilities open.

A Dialogue with a Pedagogista

In this exposure Dr. Cristina Delgado-Vintimilla and Dr. Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw enaged in Thinking (and Rethinking) Pedagogy through dialogues with a Pedagogista on October 28, 2017 at the Ontario Reggio Association.

They discussed the history and personal story behind becoming a pedagogista. Followed by a discussion of the ethics, histories, and legacies of early childhood education and the possibilities for co-creating ethically responsive pedagogies. They highlighted the significance of collaboratively engaging with ethically responsive pedagogy in early childhood education.

They deliberated on pedagogical disruptions that foster collaboration between educators, children, and families. Furthermore, they considered inviting vulnerabilities as a possible starting point for sharing stories of legacies with children and others.

Cristina and Veronica then called attention to remaining mindful and conscious that pedagogy is non-innocent. In other words, pedagogy embodies a specific kind of intention that is both personal and political in early childhood education.

They closed with a discussion on expanding horizons of possibility in early childhood education, and offering the metaphor of bundling in the work of a pedagogista.

“I wonder if you can start by walking us through how you became a pedagogista…”

“I constantly ask myself: What kind of experiences are we generating?”

“What does collaboration look like?” 

“Where do we start our stories of legacies with children? With others?” 

“If this is a space that is not innocent, and if this is a pedagogical gathering, then it’s a space for something more than me or the child.”

“We are creating a life together.”

“We can enter a space of debate when we understand that it is not about me or you but it is about this thing that we are trying to create.”

“If that is what is going to frame our horizon, it’s a very, very narrow horizon.”

“I am bundled with all of these stories and history that I carry with me – beyond the pedagogista – that just walks with me.”