Friday, May 22, 2009

The social and political contexts of teaching

The socio-political factors which influence teaching have changed through history. “Every time period has social and political events that influenced the reaction of people…, which influenced how children where raised and educated” (Page 6). However, I found very interesting the fact that many of our programs today have the same structure and subjects taught by Greeks and Romans centuries ago.

Teaching was influenced by socio-political factors in the ancient times by the fact that children where considered adults by age seven had a great impact on the schooling practices at the time. (Page 9)

It is interesting how practices like homeschooling were the norm and where seen as the best method to teach in 400 A.D but today only “850,000 students are homeschooled” (Page 71) out of millions around the world who attend school settings.

Gender and social economic status segregated education for many years. It is important to notice that the term “education” has a high academic component to it. Middle class and women in the early years in fact received education in the form of apprenticeships for different trades, which interestedly enough is now incorporated in the progressive education movements and theories developed by Dewey, Smith Hill, Eliot, Vygotsky; which support the idea of learning by doing (free play in the early years).

During World War II, women played a key role in the work force while the husbands where abroad fighting the war. At this point it was OK for them to enter the work force because of the political environment and because of the lack of skilled workers available in the country, especially for manufacturing in war related industries (Page 27). This political factor forced the companies to take responsibility for children in order to increase productivity and reduce absences in the work force. The Kaiser Child Care Centers (1943-1945) created a great program that supported the whole child in its physical, emotional and cognitive needs as well as the parents. (Pages 28, 85-87). However in this setting, the leading force of the educational setting was the company. It is interesting that at the end of World War II, the Reggio Emilia approach was created based on the idea that the involvement of the parents was important and they needed to have a greater say in the school decision making (Page 313).

In regards to the social forces, I believe the fact that many families do not stay in the same geographical area have a great impact in the way parents raise their kids. Technological factors have helped bridging the physical gap making easier for families to stay together. However, for many families the first resource for information for new parents (mother or other family members) is not available. The knowledge that was passed through generations in the past is not happening in many cases and the mothers are now turning to the community in order to look for new sources of information. I think this has had a great impact in the fact that cultural differences and diversity are now taken into account and integrated in the educational setting. The involvement of father’s is another thing to consider, especially at the early years, a period in which they were not involved before.

Nowadays we can see how socio-political issues such as immigration and cultural diversity have an impact on today’s educational reform.

How is curriculum developed? By whom? How does elementary curriculum impact preschool curriculum?

The way the curriculum is developed varies per school and method or philosophy. In a traditional setting the curriculum is created by the teacher based on topics that the teacher consider important or relevant for the children in order to function in our society or to be ready to enter kindergarten and perform based on the standards of elementary education.
In schools that support the emergent curriculum and the Reggio Emilia approach (Page 313), the curriculum is created based on observations of the child trying to create a child centered curriculum based on the interest of the children as a group. Considering that each community has social, political, economic conditions; this approach makes more sense to me even though it presents greater challenges when you try to regulate or standardize programs to evaluate quality (Chapter 2). The question that comes to mind then is: Which curriculum and standards do we have to evaluate, elementary or Early Childhood Eduaction?

In regards to the process of how curriculum is developed in the US, the No Child Left Behind Public Act of 2001 is a United States federal law that was originally proposed by President George W. Bush in 2001. This law is based on a stardard-based education reform.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the main federal law affecting education from kindergarten through high school. NCLB is built on four principles: accountability for results, more choices for parents, greater local control and flexibility, and an emphasis on doing what works based on scientific research.

I think scientific research is not always right if you don’t measure the key variables. One famous case is the New Coke Research study that after investing 4 million dollars in research supported the change of the Coca-Cola formula based on taste preference but fail to take into account the emotional attachment to taste. I hope that this is not the case with the NCLB Act.

Coming from and Engineering and Marketing background, I can see how these programs show improvement in what is measured and it is probably accurate and shows positive results. On the other hand, data is can be easily manipulated to prove your hypothesis, that is why it is highly criticized by many educators.

The act seeks to narrow class and racial gaps in school performance by creating common expectations for all. But can you have common expectations? Does the scientific research in which best practices and standards cover all classes and racial groups in order to develop this types of standards? The intentions of the act from my point of view are excellent but when put into practice we are talking about a system with too many uncontrollable variables to implement a one fits all practices.

In the words of Bill Ayers:

"Standardized tests can't measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, content knowledge, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning."

A primary criticism asserts that the act could reduce effective instruction and student learning because it may cause states to lower achievement goals and motivate teachers to "teach to the test", since each state set up its achievement goals. The emphasizes in reading, writing, mathematics and science “leaves behind” many core competences that enrich the child as a whole and that are more difficult to standardize. A positive side is that monitoring schools allow interventions to happen early and assess issues on the basic core competencies evaluated in the program.

Personally, I think these tests controlling the curriculum have not made children and families happier and more successful in life. Maybe they have help families to function in the society we live in, which is not a bad thing, but happier?….I am not sure. Is there is a research study about the subject?. I think it has added a lot of stress in parents, teachers, and ultimately children. It teaches kids to learn based on external motivations (Pass a test) and does not promote the development of internal motivations.

I think the legislation for elementary schools has had an impact on early childhood programs. I think parents are big influences. School readiness is a major concern for parents and standards and statistics play a mayor on parent’s perceptions. Preschool administrators and the teachers are constantly pressured on this matter. I think teachers do their best in order to find a balance but priorities need to be evaluated constantly in order to avoid creating a curriculum that is too narrow and do not promote the development of the whole child.

In what ways do differences of gender, culture, physical and emotional and cognitive abilities impact teachers and children in early childhood programs?

The differences impact in so many ways the early childhood education programs:

- Language: The language that we use to guide children in their learning process, as well as the language that we use to communicate with parents.
- Curriculum: In order to engage children in their learning process all of these differences must be taken into account.
- School Environment: The materials available for children as well as the social dynamic between peers and teachers.
- Parent Education: The needs of each child are different as well as the needs from the parents. Parent’s backgrounds and expectations should always be considered during Parent Conferences and Parent Seminars. Teacher Training: The teacher needs to develop skills and knowledge in multiple areas including cultural practices.

Gordon, Browne. Beginnings and Beyond: Foundations in Early Childhood Education

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