Secret children's business:
Resisting and redefining access
to learning in the early
Socially-just teaching in Australia emerged from historical ideals of reforming disadvantaged children and transforming them into model citizens (Brennan, 1998). Like the progressive education movement in the United States, early childhood education in Australia was committed to reconstructing and improving society. Over more than a century early Australian reformist teaching has blended with liberal feminist ideals, anti-discriminatory practices and multicultural government policies.
MacNaughton and Williams (1998, pp. 220–1) have illustrated that in Australia today most early childhood teaching approaches may be identified within one of five typologies. Each approach makes claims to similar ideals of social equity and cultural inclusion. However, these five approaches differ as they move from simple or tokenistic representations of diversity and difference, to political engagement with the social, cultural and political milieu of the early childhood classroom. The latter can be characterized as an anti-discriminatory approach to teaching.
An anti-discriminatory approach to early childhood teaching attempts to confront and change the politics of human relationships, and the institutionally supported inequities in early childhood knowledge and practices. It is committed to an ethos which ensures that every child has access to learning and relationships. These approaches are not new (see Derman-Sparks and The ABC Taskforce, 1989; Hopson, 1990; Stonehouse, 1991; Dau, 2001). However, after more than a decade of equity activism it would seem that a child's 'access' to learning and relationships remains a site of political struggle in many early childhood classrooms.
For example, in 1998 I recorded this conversation in an early childhood classroom as a group of boys began using construction materials: