Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

A Postmodernist Approach to Culturally Grounded Training in Early Childhood Care and Development

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

A Postmodernist Approach to Culturally Grounded Training in Early Childhood Care and Development

Article excerpt

Children reproduce the culture of their primary caregivers, peers, and the media with which they interact from their earliest years. Caregivers and teachers are continuously engaged in the perpetuation and modification of their own cultures of origin through modelling, encouragement, and direct instruction of particular response styles, forms of interaction, ways of understanding events, and enactments of implicit beliefs (Cole, 1985; Greenfield, 1994; Rogoff, 1990).

Far from being culturally neutral, training curricula for early childhood educators are cultural constructions grounded in the world views, beliefs, and norms of those who conceptualise and teach the curricula. Training experiences that shape caregiving practices may influence which culture and what aspects of culture are reproduced through subsequent design and delivery of programs for children. In turn, training curricula may significantly shape the cultural identity, competence, and allegiance of the children. When a `one size fits all' approach is taken to training, all too often the result is an homogenising, monocultural, colonising approach to caring for children in ways that are inappropriate to the children's social ecologies. We need to recognise the potentially acculturative effects of mainstream training curricula, and to explore new ways of being responsive and accountable to the cultural communities whose children come to out-of-home centres for care and education.

Bringing culture into focus. The reproduction and modification of culture through education curricula and human service programming has been problematised by many aboriginal community representatives in Canada (Battiste & Barman, 1995). Most aboriginal people in Canada, many of whom refer to themselves ethnically and organisationally as First Nations, have experienced several generations of cultural holocaust. One of the main avenues for subjugating aboriginal peoples to colonial culture and government has been through the imposition of child care and education that has denied the legitimacy of thought, lifestyles, religions, and languages of First Nations people. Most First Nations communities in Canada are now actively engaged in efforts to revitalise their cultures, assert the legitimacy of their culturally-based values and practices as integral to the fabric of Canadian society as a whole, and foster among First Nations children positive identities with their aboriginal cultures:

   We must be able to feel confident that our world view is clearly understood
   by our own children, and that they will know that their culture has value
   in modern times as it did in the past. We must be able to teach our
   children appropriate skills and understanding, and control how our children
   are taught (Barnaby, 1992, p.43).

Throughout the world, specific cultural groups are similarly seeking ways to ensure the survival, revival, or re-envisioning of their cultural beliefs, values, and practices, while at the same time wanting to ensure that their community members have access to and are prepared to work in the dominant culture settings.

A `both worlds' approach to curriculum. This was the stance taken in 1989 by representatives of one First Nations organisation in central Canada, the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, when they initiated a partnership with one of the authors, Alan Pence, at the University of Victoria in western Canada. They sought collaborative development of curricula for training early childhood educators in a way that was grounded in their own Cree and Dene cultures, and that afforded a central place to input from representatives of their nine constituent communities (Pence & McCallum, 1994).

These First Nations visionaries imagined the co-creation of a unique, community-based, university-accredited program of training that prepared community members to `walk in both worlds' as early childhood educators, to develop and deliver programs that met the needs of children in their own remote, native communities as well as in `mainstream', non-native communities. …

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