Diversity in ECEC - What Happens When Parent and Educator Beliefs Differ?
There has been a huge amount of online discussion recently around gender issues in early childhood education. From complex discussion surrounding assigning gender at birth, to simple opinions about what constitutes appropriate dress ups in play, the discussion has ranged from intelligent reflection to general trolling. However throughout there has been one notable theme. And it is a common theme whenever political discussions arise in ECEC. Educators have, in some cases, told parents they are wrong to be upset if their child is exposed to discussion or play within the early learning context that opposes their own personal views. In one particular comment thread an educator told a parent ‘your personal beliefs should not supersede good pedagogy’. This is an interesting comment to make. Because does good pedagogy not respect the individual beliefs of each family?
We are living in an increasingly diverse society and in Australia we are finally taking steps towards equality. This is excellent progress and bodes for an exciting future. However, this is not a reflection on those issues. This is a reflection on how we address differing beliefs to families on any big subject — and there are many from how we approach child protection issues to gender identity, to how we celebrate holidays. Culture and religion (where most of these beliefs come from) are steeped in tradition and should we, as educators, not respect all views and opinions? We don’t have to agree with them on a personal level but we can be intelligent, critical thinkers and understand where these different beliefs stem from and how they are important to the family.
Throughout our framework partnerships with families is a concept which is reinforced frequently. The Early Years Learning Framework (2009, p. 12) recognises “that families are children’s first and most influential teachers. [Educators] create a welcoming environment where all children and families are respected and actively encouraged to collaborate with educators about curriculum decisions in order to ensure that learning experiences are meaningful”. It then goes on to state (p.13) “Educators honour the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child rearing practices and lifestyle choices of families”. The National Quality Standards (2017) Element 6.1.2 states “The expertise, culture, values and beliefs of families are respected and families share in decision-making about their child’s learning and wellbeing”. While the ECA Code of Ethics (2016) promises educators will “learn about, respect and respond to the uniqueness of each family, their circumstances, culture, family structure, customs, language, beliefs and kinship systems”.
It couldn’t really be any clearer that where our personal beliefs differ from the families, their belief should supersede ours in the education of their child. If we have a strong opposing view to a family at our service then it is on us as educators to make a genuine connection with the family and through that connection, to introduce new ideas and educate from our own point of view. It is not for us to decide the values a family should place on their child or which of these values we should respect. It goes without saying, that in such a diverse society this can be difficult. We find ourselves having to understand all points of view, no matter how different from our own. It is a difficult, but not impossible, endeavour. The point is that no matter what side of any argument we stand on we should understand that our beliefs are not universal and change is an intimidating process for some. We must show all our families understanding, from those we personally agree with to those we may not.
Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (2017) National Quality Standards. Sydney, NSW: ACECQA
Department of Education and Training (2009) Belonging, Being, Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia
Early Childhood Australia (2016) Code of Ethics. Deakin West, ACT: ECA