Teachers of Young Children: Moving Students from Agents of Surveillance to Agents of Change

Teachers of Young Children: Moving Students from Agents of Surveillance to Agents of Change

Susan Matoba Adler (University of Hawaii-West Oahu, USA) and Jeanne Marie Iorio (University of Hawaii-West Oahu, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-495-6.ch018
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This chapter illustrates how an online early childhood teacher education program using Socratic inquiry methods inspires students to challenge habituated assumptions in the field. Academic pushdown, teacher identity, standardization, and developmentally appropriate practice are central assumptions in ECE that students challenge in their blogs and discussion board postings. The program goal is to empower students to become transformative intellectuals (Giroux, 1988) and ultimately agents of change. Student writing illustrates how students have begun the process of challenging assumptions, identifying multiple perspectives on critical issues, and articulating arguments based on self-reflection and critical analysis.
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The presence of questioning, interrogating power, and advocacy are central to our teaching practices. In many current teacher education programs, coursework is infected with standards and methodologies in response to federal mandates like NCLB and the conception of Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT). HQT can punctuate the higher education classroom. For example, during a recent observation, we witnessed a professor spending over an hour telling an undergraduate class the specific content standards for a subject. Forty minutes were focused on telling how this knowledge, which she often referred to as “true” and “good,” was paramount to teaching. A short time was spent with the undergraduates in small groups using a teacher-created chart to apply the teacher-generated knowledge of standards. Not once did we hear the professor ask the undergraduates to bring in their own experiences and lives in the world. At the beginning of the lesson, the professor stated her objective concretely, “The objective of this lesson is….” Then she completed the circle of rhetoric by stating, “The objective of this lesson was and we met this objective by….” Her choice in words and actions brought to life the structures as directed by accountability standards determined by our government through No Child Left Behind (http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/landing.jhtml). Following the lesson, we heard someone comment; “Now she can prepare highly qualified teachers.” To us, all we could think is that this teacher candidate was an agent of surveillance.

Inspired by Foucault (1972; 1995), the concept of agent of surveillance emerged in opposition to inspiring agents of change, which is the desire we have in working with developing early childhood teachers. We see the current practice of NCLB, particularly the notion of creating HQT, as a policy that parallels Foucault’s ideas of surveillance and technologies of power, particularly hierarchical observation, a “very efficient and effective form of super-vision” (Gallagher, 1999, p. 78). Standards and accountability act as these controlling instruments in order to inflict homogeneity and compliance, ensuring the habituated assumption of being a teacher and student is enacted. We observed that professor and shuddered as she was praised and given accolades for observance to constructed expectations, the essential elements of surveillance. These agents of surveillance walk the halls of many universities and are teaching future teachers to follow federal ideals and certainly not think about the communities and children who they serve.

Our path of disruption to early childhood practices based in standards, content, and rhetoric is to inspire agents of change within the early childhood undergraduate program. An agent of change is an advocate who is aware of policy, issues of social justice, and is supported to voice resistance and question existing policies and practices. Agents of change can be seen as advocates, “speaking on behalf of others, often from within existing political, social, and economic frames of reference” (Sumison, 2006, p. 3). In some cases, agents of change can also be activists “resisting and challenging those frames of references and the power bases that support them” (Kenny, 2004 in Sumison, 2006, p. 3).

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