The Rise of the House of Rousseau: Historical Consciousness in the Contemporary ECE Teacher Education Classroom

By Bjartveit, Carolyn; Panayotidis, Euthalia Lisa | JCT (Online), January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Rise of the House of Rousseau: Historical Consciousness in the Contemporary ECE Teacher Education Classroom


Bjartveit, Carolyn, Panayotidis, Euthalia Lisa, JCT (Online)


Here is it...arriving and returning to us, speaking to us after death of its signatory, and something in it henceforth resonates like the voice of a ghost... and it resurges at a moment in ... history. (Derrida, 2002, p. 191)

IN A RECENT ON-LINE GRADUATE CLASS that addressed contemporary issues in early childhood education, we raised the specter of Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) as a way to re-image critical historical and socio-cultural notions of children, childhood, and childcare in western curricular traditions and inheritances. Inviting a haunting and summoning Rousseau to speak with students interrupted and expanded interdisciplinary ideas about childcare and early years learning with relative historical beliefs and pedagogical practices. Rousseau's discussion of his controversial book Emile or On Education (Bloom, 1979), and his Enlightenment ideas complicated the origins of modern child developmental discourses and confirmed how such concepts were not fixed and eternal but rather located, interpreted, contingent, and always in the flux of difficulty and vulnerability (Caputo, 1987).

Our ideas and interests in restless spirits and messages from beyond the grave stem from our childhood fascination with ghosts and haunting tales. Like many young children, fairytales, myths and lore about ghosts, monsters and the Olympian gods sparked our curiosity and imagination while spine-tingling nineteenth century Gothic stories such as Edgar Allen Poe's (2002), The Fall of the House of Usher also animated our sense of the historical past and its role in our contemporary personal and professional lives:

Sleep came not near my couch- while the hours waned and waned away.....Shaking this off with a gasp and a struggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows, and, peering earnestly within the intense darkness of the chamber, hearkened - I know not why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted me - to certain low and indefinite sounds which came, through the pauses of the storm, at long intervals, I knew not whence. (Poe, 2002, p. 179)

Today we are haunted by the seeming absence of historical voices in contemporary western pedagogical and child rearing practices as they are represented in the field of early childhood education. During the six-week length of this graduate course we came to see that students were duly concerned with the de-limiting of their field of study. Some scholars and researchers focusing on history of childhood, childcare and early learning (Ariès, 1962; Pacini- Ketchabaw, 2005; Prochner, 2009; Frost, 2010; Hinitz & Lascarides, 2011; Prochner & Robertson, 2013; Hinitz, 2013) have raised similar concerns about the importance of historical thinking in early childhood education. MacDonald et al. (2013) noted "if we can critically analyze the [historical] archetypes that have become our 21st century discourse, we may be in a better position to forge new relationships with children and families in our learning communities" (p. 28). This research enables us to imagine and re-envision multiple pasts, providing diverse understandings of historical contexts and contingencies relative to present day beliefs and pedagogical practices.

But what does it mean to haunt? A 13th century definition of haunt is, "to practice habitually; busy oneself with, and take part in" (OED). To be haunted is to be disturbed, agitated and sometimes afraid. When we think critically about our own pedagogical beliefs and practices we "trouble our understanding...deconstructive processes become part of our professionalism, as we think deeply and critically about how we state, arrange, do and analyze our pedagogical performance" (Lenz Taguchi, 2008, p. 63). In troubling our understandings about children, childhood and pedagogy we become troubled. We know that our restlessness will not end if we listen exclusively to the 'living' and fail to heed historic perspectives.

However, rather than simply teaching a foundational history of early childhood course, we sought to follow scholars who wrote about "living" ghosts, phantoms and spirits (Derrida & Dufourmantelle, 2000; Doll, 2002; Kenway, 2008; Ruitenberg, 2009; Taylor, 2010; Bakker, 2013; Morton, 2013; Munro-Hendry & Winfield, 2013) as a way to offer different insights through metaphysics, the paranormal and the spirit world in the context of education. …

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