Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
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.
(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.