Diversity and Difference in Early Childhood

In ancient times, people were clustered in groups that shared spiritual links with land; complex kinship structure, strong family relationships, sacred sites and a significant cultural and language identity. Additionally, these people shared histories and experiences of how time affected their traditional ways of living and learning. In these settings, families cherished and loved their children. Child rearing was a communal responsibility that flourished under a socio-spiritual system that provided a framework for living in harmony with the environment and each other (White & Ottmann, 2016). Moreover, traditional education took place through everyday activities where parents and other significant group members were mentors, teachers, and guides. The learning was lifelong holistic- nourishing mind, spirit and body (White & Ottmann, 2016). Most of the knowledge acquired during the comprehensive education focused on understanding seasons, identification and gathering of food, music and arts where learning occurred in groups of different ages. Apparently, this learning process was efficient because people belonged to the same ethnic group and diversity was absent in their mindset.

However, due to different reasons, people started interacting through migration, trade, and intermarriages that led to diversity. The mingling of different cultures gave rise to hybrid cultural and learning practices where people combined their traditions. Even though interaction was inevitable, people were reluctant to interact with foreigners due to different reasons that include fear or merely misguided beliefs about new cultures and different races. The fear and misconception about people who are different are cultivated during early child hood education, and as such, it becomes ingrained in the child’s mind. Early childhood teachers believe children’s predisposition as reflexive replications of adults’ beliefs towards dissimilarity rather than depictions of tales and opinions of progenies as agents of themselves (Robinson & Jones Diaz, 2005). Therefore, the interaction of children from different backgrounds is influenced by the values and attitudes of adults towards difference.

From personal experience as an early childhood educator, I find it challenging to teach children with diverse multicultural experiences. As elaborated, in ancient periods, children were raised and educated by their families, clans, and communities and even today, parents choose programs that are homogeneous and quite similar to their background. In selecting child care and childhood programs, parents choose providers and programs that align with their perception of education, discipline, religion and those who speak the same language. As a volunteer at ‘Away from Home’, I noticed that their programs were similar to community schools since they were a reflection of similar communities,’ religion, ethnicity, language and socioeconomic status. With such traditional programs, it is a hard for a child to learn experiences outside their ethnic background, providing an opportunity to learn tolerance, respect and accept differences. For poststructuralist educators, this can raise questions, uncertainty and doubt because it challenges what they assumed to be their pedagogical certainties and get to see the truth as impermanent and politically prejudiced (Mac Naughton, 2005).

During the voluntary period, I questioned the need to teach about power, oppression, bias, privilege, inequality and previous injustices. Even though such topics are intricate for early childhood education, I wonder if children understood the concepts and how they would relate with those perceived to be dominant, oppressors and the oppressed. Moreover, such concepts would actively contribute to children constitution and continuation of social disparities through their view of the world and daily exchanges with each other and adults (Robinson & Jones Diaz, 2005). Even though the facility had children from diverse backgrounds, it was clear that natives enjoyed more privileges as compared to the minorities at the institution that often tried to fit in even though they segregated themselves to small groups.

At the school, a language room is labelled on the door in English. In the chamber, there are many teaching aids, colored cards, pictures and shaped objects include toys. My supervisor informed me that when children are in the language room, they learn to name the objects in English even though the majority of the children are immigrants Africans, Asians, and Arabs. The supervisor notes that most progenies are unable to communicate in English and by using teaching aids, the teacher can know what children can do with the language. He further informs me that he encourages parents to use mother tongue at home. During my first encounter with the kids, I discovered that they did not know how to communicate in English even though they knew objects and colors in their respective languages. From this instance, I knew that even though the day care provided for children speaking foreign languages, it gave superiority to the national language and consequently deemed their language useless (Rodriguez, 2000). Secondly, it is clear that the mother tongue has no value at the institution that is where they are being assimilated into the American culture. If the progenies only speak the native language at home, they soon learn that home is not an important place because they will think that is how Americans perceive non-Americans (Rhedding-Jones, 2005). In this scenario, I had an opportunity to reflect on how we take it for granted to speak our mother tongue while people are forced to learn our language and perceive their language as valueless.

Even though the day care administrators seem to embrace diversity through the admission of children from different ethnic backgrounds, diversity is absent in class activities which are a normalized circle activity founded on dominant American culture. Even though it is anticipated that people will have different interpretations to the concept of diversity, the institution understands diversity as collecting people from varying cultures and putting them in the same room (Rhedding-Jones, 2005). Evidently, the school fails to recognize that in early childhood education, diversity is the concept of supporting identity, difference, and complexity through daily activities in the learning environment.

To make early childhood education sustainable, curriculum developers have to incorporate diversity in their visionary planning by making it mandatory for institutions to support identity and differences but not to normalize otherness (Reid & Kagan, 2015). Since early childhood education is no longer regarded as an intermittent passion of government officials, it is being conceptualized as a necessity in the growth of a child and a social obligation. Away from Home, forces American culture on foreign children by suppressing their identity, language and ethnicity by making it look like it does not matter in the school setting but an alternative that can be used at home. In this sense, children are more likely to assume a feeling of inferiority and become intolerant of different cultures.

Diversity relates to age, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and family structure. In addition, diversity also refers to our differences in other respects that include educational level, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds (Rhedding-Jones, 2005). At the institution, diversity is embraced through the admission of children from the different ethnic origin but fails to develop a framework that supports these differences. Instead the system attempts to strengthen one culture that it deems appropriate to the children. It is clear that even though the issue of equity is highly publicized in other institutions, it has less been considered in early childhood education. Failure to support ethnic differences in early childhood education has adverse implications for battling poverty and reducing inequity among children and the society as a whole (Becker & Schober, 2017). It is apparent that the school tangentially tackles the racial and socioeconomic issue with the result that most of the programs isolate children by race, religion, language and often in practice. This calls for Kylie’s personal reminder to choose truth that is not politically motivating but desire to honor social justice and equity failure which can result in the formation of ‘regimes of truth’ which produce domination relations (Mac Naughton, 2005).

Furthermore, on my early days of teaching I wondered whether the institution administrators were aware that children do not go at the beginning of infantile programs as clean slates but rather bring with them a myriad of differences they learned from the media, families and other social sources (Robinson & Jones Diaz, 2005). If they were aware, then it is sad that they overlooked a factor that threatens diversity because children form perceptions from adults and other socially significant people who in this case are teachers. During lesson breaks, I noticed native boys’ yielded power and felt superior over others by grabbing toys and bullying foreign students. In such instances, I understood that these kids generated power based on the repositioning of the international students within the discourse of foreigners as weak. They utilized abusive language to undermine equity of fellow children based on the support the school program provided for the native culture and suppressing foreign languages (Robinson & Jones Diaz, 2005). What was happening to these children had a connection with the school program that normalized one culture by suppressing others as an excuse to create equity.

Two days after the power-yielding incidence, I walked to a group of four Arab-looking students who were playing with toys in the language room. I asked them why they played together and they told me they stay in the same neighborhood and they were Pakistan. I asked them whether they could teach me Pakistani language which they declined by giving me a simple answer, “it is not allowed in school.” After I had assured them that they would not be in trouble, Nasir, one of the boys taught me a few Pakistani words that include saying hello, the naming of animals and his favorite food. At the end of the break, I thought about the reasons why Nasir and his friends feared speaking their language in school and the persistent reminder that English was the right language at school and their mother tongue did not matter came to mind. From this incident, it was clear that Nasir and company wished to communicate in Pakistani but fear of getting in trouble interfered with their relationship and playing. I also contemplated on how empowering it could be for Nasir, his friends and other children if they could hear their language at the day care (Giugni, Brown, Martin & Pappas, 2010).

The events at the institution gave me an insight on how normalization and education result in new oppressions and new detriments for the minorities as much as it attempts to neutralize them. As an early childhood educator, I learned that I have to be alert to the outcomes of my actions especially during early childhood education that claims to be solving social problems but an in depth analysis reveals that it is still part of the problem (Mac Naughton, 2005). It is essential to develop a post structural reflection that enables an educator to contest inequitable and formulate new approaches to work with children because accepting things as they are is strengthening the problem instead of addressing it. Education creates difficulties in embracing diversity at an early stage especially when it fails to support other cultures, languages, and beliefs as different but deems them inferior as compared to dominant cultures (McConaghy, 2000). Furthermore, teaching children English as the primary language seems to assume that it is better to embrace one language than valuing all cultures a factor that threatens acceptance of non-natives to negotiate their identity (McConaghy, 2000). Therefore, it is clear that such learning settings are aimed at regulating what works, controls and counts in educating children from different backgrounds.

To enhance diversity in early childhood, progenies must develop a sense of belonging. To achieve self-belonging, children need to feel their families, communities and religious beliefs are represented throughout the learning experience in books, schools, environmental and print in their languages (Wardle, 2008). As such, the school should create an environment that is conducive for children to learn, respect and be tolerant of differences. In this sense, I still feel obliged to emphasize the necessity of supporting a child’s first language and given an opportunity to volunteer again, and I would learn a foreign language to talk to different children in their home languages. Even though encouraging Nasir to speak Pakistani to his friends was a good thing to do, it failed to undo the constant messages that his mother tongue only mattered at home. A lot can be learned from my experience at the day care particularly the high negative or positive outcomes societal or organization belief structures can have on present people and indeed future generations.

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