Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates

Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.

Police Brutality and Fireman Sam

To first frame this event and my thinking around it, I must position myself and my culture within this piece. I am a punk. I have been part of the punk subcultural scene since I was a teenager. I have lived most of my life with the lifestyle and music of a rebellious, resistant culture.

I am connected to this culture and its meanings through events in my own lived history and as part of my everyday life. The cultural capital of ‘punk’ allows narratives to form that establish and strengthen this cultural community (Gregorčič, 2009); it provides a sanction for these narratives to be told, to transverse the limitations of time and space and to illustrate the daily lives of people who have lived and do live in the same culture I have chosen for myself.

Police brutality occupies a common theme in these songs and narratives. It’s not just about seeming tough, seeming above or outside the law. These are narratives of lived histories and anticipated futures. These are narratives of inequity. Police brutality stretches past these musical narratives into the narratives of my own lived experience. Many (most) of my friends have been beaten up and victimised by police. I have been pepper sprayed for being part of a congregation, standing on the street. I have been denied police assistance when clearly being assaulted. The musical narratives and my own narratives entwine and become part of the same story.

Now that I have positioned myself, let me explain the rest of this story. I am at work. Two children, let’s call them Paulo and Bell, ask me to play Fireman Sam with them. I agree. They say I can be Norman Price. I say I don’t know who this is and they explain that he is the baddie of Fireman Sam. I ask what I need to do that is bad. ‘Just be bad’ Paulo tells me and hits me on the leg with a shovel. I ask him why he is hitting me and he laughs and does it again. I say I don’t like you hitting me and I don’t want to play if you just hit me. Bell explains that they have to hit me. I ask why. She says ‘because we are the police and you have to go to jail’. I say I don’t like this. Bell continues ‘police have to hurt people to take them to jail’. She looks at me with such an intensity, such a ferocity. She won’t be dissuaded on this. I don’t disagree with her. Our truths align.

I don’t know what Bell and Paulo’s experiences are that led them to decide that in order to punish me as a baddie they can assume the role of police to hurt me. I don’t know if this is a fantastical imagining or has grounding in lived experiences. I am maybe not sure if that matters or not. A fantastical imagining still requires a perception to build from, to use as a foundation.  I am a big fan of Jonathon Silin (1995) and others of his ilk that don’t hide or dilute the ‘real world’ for children. I consider this influence and perplex at why I feel I cannot reflect on these ideas publicly. Is this something unspeakable?

I shared this reflection with Grainne and Jeanne. What are these ideas I am thinking, why has this bothered me so intensely?

The traditional images of childhood understand children as innocent and unformed. The current ideology positions children as capable and competent (DEEWR, 2009). But this isn’t about either positionality. We have to consider that children have power; not power to decide when and what they eat or whether to wear their shoes or not- but a different sort of power.

Grainne tells me “wasn’t it clever of the kids to pick you as the object of their violent arrest. They must know that if they violently arrest the other children they will get in trouble, or at least stopped, but if they work directly with you they can test the limits of hitting and still get to play the game the way they think it needs to be played”. And it was. If they had done this to another child I probably would have shut down the play without hearing the narratives they were trying to tell. I know who I can tell particular stories and narratives to. I know who I can’t tell them to. I know what to tell particular people if I want to exclude or marginalise them. Why would I presume a child doesn’t have that same ability? Would I think that children are too innocent, too unformed to understand the power structures and relations in their lives?

If I say they were just playing, am I negating their power and their intent? Does the insistence on play-based learning confine children to the innocent stereotype of ‘they are just playing’ (Grieshaber & McArdle, 2010)?

I haven’t watched Fireman Sam before, so I’m not even sure who Norman Price is. I find out that Norman Price cannot control himself; he is a non self-regulating person (Fireman Sam, n.d). The EYLF tells us to make children into self-regulating beings: children who have agency; are resilient; deal with frustrations; feel secure; initiate relationships (DEEWR, 2009). There is little space for children who cannot ‘control’ their emotions or behaviours.

I also discover that there are no police officers in Fireman Sam. This intrigues me. What has formed their perceptions? I search on Google Images for pictures of police brutality in Australia during the past two years. There is a lot. Would Bell and Paulo have seen these on the news, on the fronts of newspapers? Children are not shielded from this world.

098001-occupy-melbourne-tent-protest766247-muslim-protest-in-sydney

an-occupy-melbourne-protester-is-removed-dataRiverstone1

SydneyprotestSeptember202012Kings_Cross_shooting_THUMB_648x365_2225333967-hero1

(All images sourced from Google Images and copyright held by original owners.)

How do children reconcile these images, these narratives to the ones that perpetuate the happy, nice community helper role of the police? The ones that are intended for children to complete their innocent and naïve understandings of themselves and their world.

I wonder what circumstances I would need to consider that I could tell my narratives to them to affirm their ideas. If we lived in a country with rife police corruption? If they lived in Australia and were Aboriginal, or recent migrants, or protestors, or punks, or the children of alcoholics or drug users, or people who lived outside the margins of the status quo? Could that sanction me to affirm their narratives and share my own? What will I tell my own children about my narratives, my experiences?

The stereotype of early childhood educators as ‘nice ladies’ is well-known, pervasive. I reject this. I am not a ‘nice lady’. I am a political, angry, critical lady. I see my work as political and not an eternal search for the best soft playdough recipe. I recently saw Jello Biafra’s spoken word. Jello, if you are not that knowledgeable about punk icons, is an extremely critical, opinionated social commentator and singer. In his spoken word (Biafra, 2013), he talked about how he became this way; how he began to question the status quo. His parents let him watch the news every night. When he asked what a race riot was- they told him. When he asked what the Vietnam War was- they told him. When his schools told him that Russia was brain-washing their children with communist propaganda, he wondered if his American schools were doing the same thing to him. If we accept the current ideology of children as ‘real’ people, then we must also accept that ‘real’ does not equal ‘nice’.  And so if I silence these children, silence these narratives, I question whether I am trying to shape children (and the world) in the same ‘nice lady’ image I am trying to reject for myself. I want to teach children to have a social conscience, to challenge inequities. I cannot do this if I silence the inequities they know.

So if I can believe that children would have seen these images, then why do I struggle with talking about their representations of this? Don’t children represent their worlds through dramatic play? Haven’t I been told that narrative since I started working and studying in early childhood? This has ruptured some understandings; disturbed some of my thinking and assumptions. This is a critical reflection on play-based learning, images of children, the ‘real’ world, narratives, lived experience… the EYLF tells me I need to write these reflections (DEEWR, 2009). But this won’t go in their portfolio books; it won’t go in my group reflection book. I write about sanctions, about being political in teaching… yet I feel restrained by the voice that tells me ‘they were just playing. It doesn’t mean anything’. I don’t know who owns that voice, but it’s strong. And hence I need the sanction of an anonymous name to write this, to speak these narratives.

Commentary on ‘that voice’:

The draft EYLF stated “Reflection includes identifying and investigating teaching and learning practice and issues associated with power, control and social justice. Events can be ‘pulled to pieces’ (that is, deconstructed) to see all aspects involved, which will help educators examine the conditions or context of an event or experience” (DEEWR, 2008, p.12). The final EYLF document does not say this. And why? Because governmental and media pressure said ‘this is not okay for teachers to be doing’. I heard those complaints, I refused those complaints, but I am still shaped by those complaints.

Postscript: I wrote this some months back. Re-reading it before posting it, I think- did it ‘mean something’? I think, if the children were talking about saving water while playing, I would say this ‘meant something’ about their knowledge of sustainability. If they were explaining gravity while building, I would say this ‘meant something’ about their scientific understandings… so why cannot I (still) not (easily) say ‘this means something’?    

(c) Awilda Longstocking, 2013

Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates

Biafra, J. (2013, May). What would Jello do? Spoken Word presented at the Thornbury Theatre, Victoria.

DEEWR. (2008). Early Years Learning Framework: Draft. Retrieved from http://www.qieu.asn.au/files/8913/0926/6809/in20195js.pdf

DEEWR. (2009). Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Retrieved from deewr.gov.au/early-years-learning-framework

Fireman Sam (n.d). In Wikipedia. Retrieved August 8, 2013, from  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fireman_Sam

Gregorčič, M. (2009). Cultural capital and innovative pedagogy: a case study among indigenous communities in Mexico and Honduras. Innovations in Education and Teaching International,  46(4), 357–366

Grieshaber, S., & McArdle, F. (2010). The trouble with play. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

Silin, J. (1995). Sex, death and the education of children: Our passion for ignorance in the age of AIDS. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

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4 comments on “Police Brutality and Fireman Sam

  1. Carly
    December 16, 2013

    I really enjoyed reading this very thought provoking piece. I’ve had it open in my browser for a while to come back to and think about, but not really sure what to write in my comment. I keep coming back to Foucault’s work (or more truthfully, people who use his theories) around power and institutions and how we limit ways of being in subtle ways. For both the educators and the children. The image of the child and the image of the educator and idea’s about play and institutions for children and what children can ‘know’… I don’t know what I’m trying to say here, so I’ll say hmmmm… And think and read some more.

    • Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates
      December 19, 2013

      Thanks for the comment, Carly. It took a long time to write this piece and it was never intended as a ‘pirate piece’, I just started writing it to try and understand it after I realised I had been thinking about it for two weeks after it happened. Foucault is an excellent theorist to try and understand this, I think… I love his ideas around ‘regimes of truth’ and I really think you often don’t notice what is a ‘regime of truth’ because it’s just positioned as common sense, or something everyone knows… and it’s really hard to think outside that- hard to think outside the image of the child or the image of the educator… so if children are ‘innocent’ or ‘just playing’ and that’s the regime of truth that binds you to the way you understand them, then what actually helps you break out of that? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately… what actually is it (and ‘it’ is probably different in all situations and contexts) that helps/makes someone think differently?
      Awilda.

  2. Amanda
    January 31, 2014

    I. Love. this. I find I am presented daily with situations like this. Being in a centre in a mix of very wealthy to very low incomes, across the road from a pub on the Central Coast of NSW, the children bring with them (as they do in any centre) so many different views on life that they do release to others in play. I struggle with writing down authentic reflections about their play and behaviours presented. I find reflections are more of an internal thought process, that to write them down each and every day would take hours and hours on end as I find I can be with the children for just five minutes and be presented with something so profound it takes me a great deal of reflection and time to process it. And whilst my experience with Police throughout my life has been a positive one, unlike yours, I do accept that not everyone’s experiences can allow them to tell children ‘Police are there to help you’, which is just like saying ‘Teachers are there to help you’ given the number of teachers who also abuse the trust placed in them. Everything the children do does mean something, unfortunately I do not think that our profession attracts a lot of people who understand this, or who will strive, like yourself, to understand what children’s play actually means to them. And I truly don’t think even many of the Authorised Officers who step foot into centres to assess their quality levels are at this level of understanding or thinking. I know I personally had a negative experience with our assessor about one of my written reflections about a situation similar to the one you have described in this post. My thoughts were similar to yours, that it did mean something, and that the children were cognisant of the fact that if they treated another child in this manner the play would be stopped and they would not have been able to explore whatever it was that they were wanting to explore, control or come to terms with. The assessor said ‘You are looking too far into it don’t you think? You should have just told them that we don’t hit people. They must have a behavioural problem that needs to be assessed that you haven’t referred them to someone for.’ A long time after the play in question, their mother confided in me that they had in fact witnessed police brutality on their father, that was quite necessary as he had beaten her to a pulp and would not get off her unconscience body. The children witnessed the whole thing, however had never once mentioned that their father had ever beaten their mother. They had never reenacted their father beating their mother, nor have they ever hit or purposefully hurt one of our girls. I have many thoughts about why they were being the aggressive police officers, one being that that the police emancipated their mother and them from their violent father and are thus able to control a violent situation, unfortunately through more violence, in a situation where they were helpless and could not help their mother, that violence is control when you are helpless. Both boys refer to the police as good, and both want to be police officers. Both have trouble when dad’s attend the centre and will seek out a different educator each to sit and cuddle with, which I also have many theories about, and I don’t think it is for their own protection. So our work with them, centres around helping them feel ok with being out of control of situations and not resorting to violence to control them, which they rarely do unless they are so overwhelmed they cannot deal with the feelings, which is to be expected for a 3 and 4 year old. Thank you for so eloquently writing this post. Next time I am questioned about the depth of my reflections on children’s play and not my program as required by assessors, I will produce your post in support of this. Thank you again.

    • Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates
      February 3, 2014

      Thanks for the comment Amanda. I was really moved by it… it was sad and overwhelming. First off, what right does an assessor have to tell you you have thought too much about something? That’s really upsetting. The reliance on developmental understandings is so strong… clearly you recognised that children are aware of and can use power to exclude or hurt others (and know who this can be done to and who it can’t be done to) and that’s a really difficult way to think about children. I find people don’t like it because it shows children as very powerful and capable people who are not so ‘innocent’ as it is liked to be thought. The assessor’s comment that it was a behavioural issue just reinforces that dominant belief that everything is about development and also that you, as the teacher, should have ‘known better’ and referred this child to someone to ‘fix them’. Oooooo, that makes me cross!!

      And if you had have just thought it was a developmental/behavioural issue, then you never would have understood that play for what it might have meant for the children. We can’t start to understand play in different ways if we only ever use the same developmental theories to think about it. If we think about play through how power operates then we can have very different reflections and different understandings. Which in turn, affects how we understand and think about children.

      I feel totally humbled that you would use my post to back up your reflective work. Thank you.
      Awilda.

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