Decentering Anglo-American Curricular Power in Early Childhood Education: Learning, Culture, and "Child Development" in Higher Education Coursework

Article excerpt

The concerns of this paper regard the content of coursework for Masters degree students in Early Childhood Education in Norway. This has developed from a local site of otherness to Anglo-American practices and theories. By considering Norwegian curriculum, and relating this to translations from a Norwegian Masters thesis (Brandtzaeg, 2001b), the paper shows and discusses some effects of the local and the global on what counts as today's knowledge, practices and research about and with young children. Reconstructions of institutions engaged in education and care can only come about through discursive and generic shift. The paper works toward these by critiquing the pervading discourse of development psychology and its relations to pedagogy and the new social studies of childhood. The reconceptualizing of early childhood's higher education requires a knowledge of not only how to resist positivist research and positivist positionings, but to how to recognize and act upon the discourses and genres of various non-positivist approaches. The Masters degree (Hovedfag i barnehagepedagogikk, 2001) courses considered regard (1) 'Child development and learning in a relational perspective' and (2) 'Childhood and society.' All translations in this paper are the author's. Further, she takes responsibility for any misinterpretations and omissions she makes because of her positioning in Norway as an 'immigrant.'

One way to read a course outline (from its listed aims, contents and reference list) is to see what is not there that could be, and to imagine how the various discourses seemingly within the described course might play themselves out. To make this reading, the course outline (seen as text) requires a contextual background in the form of other courses also having to be taken by these students. A course is also contextualized by its relation or its non-relation to practice, to similar courses in other places, to the culture in which it is embedded, and to the professional and personal lives of the postgraduate students and lecturers engaged in it. From the course called 'Childhood and Society' it can thus be read that 'society,' which in 2001 was without aims, content or references about cultural and linguistic diversity, complexity and multiplicity, might be problematic. Further, from the course called 'Child Development and Learning in a Relational Perspective,' it appears that which children and whose relational perspectives are not what is central. Relations between gender, ethnicity and social class as they relate to poverty and power are thus left off the agenda. This paper shows what Masters degree students might do to avoid confronting such political and theoretical dilemmas between their given coursework, their own experience as teachers and carers with the very young, their need to pass, and their desires to produce today's cutting edge research as their thesis.

Rather than simply critiquing the two courses, this paper also produces positive (but not positivist) readings of them, in terms of what a particular cultural practice (in Norway) is currently constructing as valuable for Early Childhood Education and care. As ways of reading texts and discourses three approaches are thus demonstrated. The first, which theoretically draws from the poststructural, is constituted within the deconstructive and postmodern. The second draws mostly from a critical or Foucault approach, though it also works with a Derridean notion of traces and absences. The third ignores these to approach research as a meaning making or semantics informed by phenomenology and hermeneutics. All of these may be described as non-positivist, non-empiricist approaches to knowledge making and to educational caring practices.

Developmental psychology, however, has a positivist hard science history. Hence its assumptions regard prediction, control, explanation and technically exploitable knowledge. Here the researcher takes the role of expert, with children and their abilities objectified and categorized. …