Early childhood curricular decision-making requires revisiting--the educational landscape is changing rapidly and the role of early childhood teaching is becoming more complex and demanding (Lovat, 2003). In this time of change, Cranston (1999) believes that teachers, like their students, will need to be prepared for rapidly changing and unpredictable environments. Among major changes affecting educational contexts are that places of education are often seen in economic terms (Edwards & Usher, 2000) and programs are judged for their cost-effectiveness (Lingard, Ladwig & Luke, 1998). Performance, known as 'performitivity' (Ball, 2000), is also an issue, whether talking about the children's academic performance or teacher performance (Maloney & Barblett, 2002; Sanguinetti, 2000). In this 'age of quality' (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 1999, p. 3) early childhood curriculum is subjected to many external pressures.
However, despite this bleak picture, there are now some interesting research developments taking place, altering the way we look at early childhood curriculum and pedagogy. (The term 'pedagogy' is defined as all the teaching and learning that occurs throughout the early childhood curriculum, and is used deliberately here to make connections to the wider curriculum discourse.) For example, Novinger and O'Brien (2003) question why early childhood teachers are subjected to 'largely irrelevant, fragmented, meaningless curriculum' (p. 4) and recommend that early childhood teachers 'engage in meaningful critiques of the status quo' (p. 4). This paper maintains that, as educational practice is so complex, there needs to be an equally complex variety of research methods and conceptual devices to view the subject in its many configurations (Labaree, 2003). This is where critical pedagogy can be of assistance to early childhood educators and researchers as a framework to critically examine early childhood curriculum.
Early childhood teachers, particularly in a nonmandatory curricular environment (this differs depending on the curricular regulations within each Australian state; see Walker  for more details), are faced with ongoing curriculum decisions such as: 'What teaching and learning should be included in my program?', 'How do I make my pedagogical and content decisions?' and 'What curriculum philosophies promote inclusive and equitable practices?' Even if the early childhood teachers and practitioners are in a mandatory curricular environment, critical pedagogy can lead one to look at curricular frameworks in more expansive ways that can highlight dominant practices and beliefs.
Some of the significant and useful aspects of critical pedagogy for early childhood education will be outlined in this paper, and it will then address how this conceptual tool can be applied to amplify teaching decisions. Critical pedagogy as a conceptual device centres on highlighting and unravelling relevant issues within educational contexts, often honing in on the 'hidden' aspects of the curriculum in focus. To streamline the relevant concepts from critical pedagogy, this paper considers the 'what', the 'why' and the 'how' of critical pedagogy. Although this paper cannot fully explain critical pedagogy and all that it is intended to be, it will provide an overview of why this perspective is overdue as a framework from which to view both early childhood practice and research.
Critical pedagogy: The 'what'
Critical pedagogy is not a single concept and has variations in its definition. Critical pedagogy arose from the theoretical foundations of critical theory and has been applied to aspects of the curriculum in order to critique the social, political and equity issues within the classroom. Critical pedagogy offers a critical theoretical perspective to consider teaching and learning situations with the view that educational environments can advantage and disadvantage students (or children) by the way the educational setting is established and managed. …