28 SES 16, Friendship, Career Counseling, Inclusion of Young People in Instruction
Recent global political developments (e.g. Brexit, the Syrian crisis and President Trump’s election) have (re)ignited debates worldwide about racial intolerance, homophobia and sexism, home, place, and migration. In this context, children’s sense making about difference and diversity is an important object of contemporary research in early years education. While there are long traditions within early childhood education globally (e.g. the Anti-bias movement) and localised practices within early childhood settings that seek to advance children’s understandings of diversity and difference (for example curriculum policy advice and programmes on issues such as bullying and social exclusion), we know little about how children’s news media texts might be shaping children’s sense-making about diversity issues in their lives and through early education. This study set out to explore the ways in which real world issues that directly impact upon children’s lives are being addressed in children’s news media texts in Aotearoa New Zealand. It quickly became apparent however, that a preoccupation with sports and sport heroism dominated.
Despite being geographically distant from war, conflict, and the political events in Continental Europe or North America, a flood of images and texts about such happenings and how people feel and think about them form part of many New Zealanders’ daily life. The sense of New Zealand as a place and provider of refuge to families displaced by war and conflict is strong in public discourse. Binarisms of Us/Them, Insider/Outsider, Same/Different and such like are constituted through the words and images of the texts we are confronted with. Relatedly, many questions about issues of re-settlement, refuge, displacement, difference and so on, may be raised. Our own historical and cultural context of unsettled bi- and multi-cultural relations means issues of inclusion and exclusion are regularly raised through public and social media outlets. However, in a very real sense, New Zealand’s geographical and social distance from many world countries means a heightened sense of difference and distance exists between us, and the rest of the world. We ask, is a preoccupation with sports and sport heroism within children’s news media texts coming at the expense of opportunities to engage with children about a fuller range of real world issues including ‘difficult knowledge’.
Critical literacy scholarship (Sandretto, 2011, 2015) and discourse analysis research (see for example, Gunn, 2009, 2011; Surtees, 2006, 2008) are powerful tools for showing how our own and children’s responses to the ‘Other’ are informed by the every-day, including through media texts. Producers of news media for children, especially texts designed for use in formal teaching and learning settings engage with dominant discourses and social constructs, potentially (re)producing or contesting them.
Our study has arisen from an ongoing research discussion between scholars of critical childhood studies in New Zealand, Australia, Norway and England who are interested in how notions of difference and diversity are informing early years education and children’s learning therein. We are buoyed by Bauman’s (2012) assertion of our inescapable need to “…develop, to learn and to practice the art of living with strangers and their difference permanently and daily… (p.3). Thus, our study addresses the theme of ECER 2018 by contributing to understandings of the particular contributions that education and educational research can make to processes and structures of inclusion and exclusion. The study recognises how formative the early years are in shaping children’s understandings of the world and also how children absorb attitudes and the values of their family, culture and society (Gunn, 2017, Rogoff, 2003), including prejudice (Gunn & MacNaughton, 2007; Raabe & Beelmann, 2011, Robinson & Jones Dìaz, 2016) and a sense of social justice (Siraj-Blatchford, 1995).
The study employed a qualitative research design. Two different sets of children’s media texts developed with the express purpose of supporting teaching in formal education settings were gathered. Data production methods were two-fold. Initially, a critical literacy analysis explored the content of the two sets of news media texts. This was complemented by discourse analysis, wherein children’s responses to these texts were examined for how they related with the dominant discourses our analysis identified. The emphasis in critical literacy on reading texts for bias and underlying messages about power and injustice in human relationships (Agarwal-Rangnath, Dover & Henning, 2016), in conjunction with the emphasis in discourse analysis on how particular versions of events are constructed in social contexts (Gray, 2018), proved well suited to our exploration of dominant constructions of the world.
Supporting early years educators in their capacity to address how young children develop positive understandings of diversity and difference, including how they may interact well with others who are different from them, is crucial to building ethical and respectful relationships early in life. In Bauman's (1997) terms, how we produce strangers and then go on to get to know how to live with them has an impact on the health and wellbeing of family and community. Good quality education that supports and promotes family, community, and individual inclusion and social wellbeing is the aim. Children's media texts, particularly those produced with teachers and teaching in mind, can contribute positively or negatively to this aim. As powerful conveyers of particular messages about people, situations and institutions and how one should react when confronted by diversity and difference, the developers of such texts have a clear responsibility to consider the unintended messages these might convey. As Sandretto (2011) reminds us, these messages are never neutral. Attending to current affairs and news within schools’ curriculum is a potential pedagogical strategy that holds promise for addressing children’s knowledge, perspectives, and agency in the world. At first glance such a strategy may appear straightforward however our research suggests teachers’ good intentions may be compromised by tension between the actual details of news media content and curriculum as enacted and planned.
Agarwal-Rangnath, R., Dover, A. G., & Henning, N. (2016). Preparing to teach social studies for social justice. New York: Teachers College Press. Bauman, Z. (1997). Postmodernity and its discontents. Cambridge, UK: Polity Bauman, Z. (2012). On Education: Conversations with Riccardo Mazzeo. Cambridge, UK: Polity Gray, D. E. (2018). Doing research in the real world (4th ed.). London: Sage Ltd. Gunn, A. C. (2009) "But who are the parents?" Examining heteronormative discourse in New Zealand Government early childhood reports and policy. Early Childhood Folio: A collection of recent research, 13, 27-30. Gunn, A. C. (2011) Even if you say it three ways, it still doesn't mean it's true: The pervasiveness of heteronormativity in early childhood education. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(3), 280-290. Gunn, A. C. (2017). Shaping gender relations in early childhood education: children's interactions and learning about gender. In. A. C. Gunn & C. Hruska, (Eds.). Interactions in early childhood education - recent research and emergent concepts. (pp.69-80), The Netherlands: Springer. Gunn, A. & MacNaughton, G. (2007). Boys and boyhoods: The problems and possibilities of equity and gender diversity in early childhood settings. In, H. Hedges & L. Keesing-Styles (Eds.), Theorising early childhood practice: Emerging dialogues. (pp. 121-136), Castle Hill, NSW: Pademelon Press. Raabe T. & Beelmann, A. (2011). Development of ethnic, racial, and national prejudice in childhood and adolescence: A multinational meta-analysis of age differences. Child Development, 82(6), 1715-1737 Robinson, K. H. & Jones Díaz, C. (2016). Difference and diversity in childhood: Issues for theory and practice. London: McGraw Hill & Open University Press Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. Oxford: Oxford University Press Sandretto, S. (2011). Planting Seeds. Embedding Critical Literacy into Your Classroom Programme. Wellington: NZCER Press. Sandretto, S. (2015). 'I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals f-laming'. Using critical literacy to draw attention to heteronormative hegemony in texts of popular culture. In A. C. Gunn & L. A. Smith (eds.). Sexual Cultures in Aotearoa New Zealand Education, (pp.45-49-66). Dunedin: Otago University Press Siraj-Blatchford, I. (1995). The Early Years: Laying the Foundations for Racial Equality. Staffordshire, England: Trentham Books Surtees, N. (2006). Difference and diversity: 'Talking the talk,' 'walking the talk', and the spaces between. International Journal of Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood, 4(2), 49-65. Surtees, N. (2008). Teachers following children?: Heteronormative responses within a discourse of child-centredness and the emergent curriculum. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 33(3), 10-17.
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