The Nature of Values in Early Childhood Education: An Analysis of the AECA Code of Ethics

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the provision of professional development programs, a problem that continually emerges is the difficulty in changing early childhood professionals' attitudes on a range of issues including, for example, diversity and inclusiveness. It seems that, unless these attitude shifts occur, the provision of appropriate resources and professional advice is not enough to change practices that might be considered intolerant or biased. This difficulty is clearly linked to the concepts of values, attitudes and beliefs and the way these influence professional judgements and decision making. As Stipek and Byler argue:

   Beliefs, therefore, may need to be changed to effect any changes in
   practices. Other evidence indicating that beliefs tend to be resistant to
   change (e.g. Brouseau, Book & Byers, 1988) renders careful consideration of
   teachers' beliefs all the more important (1997, p. 322).

One strategy that can assist with the `careful consideration of teachers' beliefs' in professional development programs and teacher education is to identify those beliefs and the underlying values that underpin them. A key resource to use in such programs is the Australian Early Childhood Association's (AECA) Code of Ethics (1990) because it provides an overview of the principles of practice for the early childhood profession in Australia and, as the preamble states, `as such, it reflects its values'.

Since the adoption of the Code of Ethics there has been a modicum of code-related research, including those studies undertaken by Coombe and Newman (1997) and Pollnitz (1997). However, there has been limited discussion on the values which are embodied or intended in the document in order to determine the nature of those values and either their relevance to the profession or their congruence with those held by members of the profession (see, for example, M. Coady 1991, 1994). The study in progress reported in this paper attempts to address this issue through two approaches: an analysis of the values underpinning the Code of Ethics, and the contrast and comparison of these values with those embedded in the written philosophies of a cohort of early childhood student teachers. These philosophies were written prior to the students' graduation. In this paper the focus will be on the findings of the analysis of the Code of Ethics.

Defining the terms

The terms values, beliefs and attitudes are frequently used interchangeably in the teacher socialisation research (Kagan & Smith, 1988), which suggests that they are linked in some way. Pajares (1992, p. 307) gives credence to the difficulty of grappling with their meaning when he speaks of `cleaning up a messy construct'. His description, that values are the substructures of beliefs and that clusters of beliefs become attitudes, while helpful, does not reveal their exact nature. Logical positivists maintain that values are `soft', subjective constructs that cannot be measured in empirical ways. However, Aspin (1999) supports the alternate notion that values are objective features of discussion and judgements because there can be agreement over their meaning despite different opinions about their significance. Further, values are not to be confused with matters of taste, which are subjective constructs that cannot be logically defended or argued against and have no moral imperative attached to them. Values may be personally held but they are never entirely private matters, for they are action-guiding principles that enter into the public domain through the way they commit us to particular courses of action (Trigg, 1973).

The purpose of codes of ethics

While it is not the intention of this paper to discuss in detail the links between adopting a code of ethics and the claim to professional status, there are questions which ought to be asked before any profession embarks on the development and adoption of such a code. …