Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
“Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood” by Affrica Taylor
Published 2013, Contesting Early Childhood series
I came to this book because I have deep admiration for the Contesting Early Childhood series. These are not normally easily available around where I live and shop, but Book Depository and Amazon stock these titles. Affrica is an Associate Professor of Education at the University of Canberra.
Gunilla Dahlberg and Peter Moss write in the book’s introduction that the most original work in early childhood comes from trans-disciplinary work; the voyage into uncharted waters allows us to bring new and different ideas into early childhood and take early childhood into new and different spaces.
Affrica begins by detailing the concept of the ‘natural’ and ‘innocent’ child, probing deep into the legacies of Rousseau, Froebel, Montessori, Walt Disney and other cultural texts, suggesting a romanticised coupling of children and nature (This stings me. I romanticise this coupling to some degree; it makes me question whether I resource and use natural items (sticks, stones, rocks, leaves, tree cookies, baskets, repurposed items) because they are the best pedagogical item for my intention or because I have romanticised the idea of nature equaling best practice. Do I look at the learning occurring or pretend that the utilisation of these items is all that is important?).
The second part of the book is the most interesting to me. Affrica writes about the concept of ‘common worlds’- something I have never heard of before. She describes this as “worlds full of entangled and uneven historical and geographical relations, political tensions, ethical dilemmas and unending possibilities” (p.62). This sounds like the world I live in, it sounds like the places children and myself voyage to, become lost in, dis- and re-orientate ourselves in. It appeals to me and my way of thinking, teaching and living.
Affrica further extrapolates that a common world is “dynamic collectives of humans and more-than-humans, full of unexpected partnerships and comings together, which bring difference to bear on the ways our lives are constituted and lived” (p.78). That sounds a lot like what early childhood ‘is’ every single day. A collective of people, the partnerships you form with children, with families, with other educators. Our lives are changed because of these interactions. Other people’s lives are changed because of our interactions with them. We often craft things that are contextual, unique, relevant to us in our ‘common world’, but would have little relevance or meaning to anyone else who lays outside of our sphere.
I have been thinking about the binary of individual/collective recently. I don’t quite have the words, the understanding to explain this in a way that satisfies me yet. I feel like we focus so much on the individual child’s development that we can overlook the individual’s role within the collective. My first forays into reading around this suggest that this centreing of individualism is a Western attitude. I don’t really know how to look outside this yet. But I find interest, encouragement to pursue this thinking as Affrica writes “children need relational and collective dispositions, not individualistic ones… such dispositions and capacities will never be fostered through the application of a child-centred and hyper-individualistic developmental framework” (p.117). Whoa. I appreciate anyone who questions the status quo, who speaks the unspeakable. Questioning child-centred programs?! I’m hooked.
Affrica writes tantalisingly about common worlds. I’m left with a passion to understand more. I want to know how collective inquiry can be used to find out more about the common worlds in which children live. I want to think about how perspectives can be exchanged on the where, who, what and how of stories. But what hooks me the most is this quote:
Common worlds and what they contain are “not carefully chosen or selected for their value-adding qualities or educational benefits to children- they are included because they are already matted into the geo-historical trajectories of children’s… collective worlds” (p.119).
Can we claim a place to say that educational benefits are not the main priority in some instances?
How can we seek to acknowledge and think about children’s common worlds?
What are the common worlds in which educators live?
Who shares what worlds with one another?
What happens when very different worlds collide with one another?
Do they make bound and entwined meanings or reject and repel each other?
How can I think about these ideas in relation to my own teaching?
How can I find out more?
(A tiny sidenote: This book was published in 2013 by a writer living and working in Australia. There are many places where this book could have referenced the EYLF Learning Outcomes of Identity, Community and Wellbeing. And it didn’t. The EYLF was not mentioned once. I respected this a lot. So many publications now plaster EYLF all over their writing, as if that marks the importance of the publication, as if using the EYLF as a reference point sanctions the ideas contained within. We don’t need that. Not all the time.)