Archive for January, 2013

CHILDREN IN THE CROSSFIRE (PART II)

January 27, 2013 Comments Off on CHILDREN IN THE CROSSFIRE (PART II) General

CHILDREN IN THE CROSSFIRE PART II

One day many years ago, I was walking with a friend in the early morning in New York City. It was a very cold and windy winter day. We passed a small apartment building. There were two very young children with bare feet dressed only in pajamas running around playing in front of the building. I stood and worried. Had they been left alone? Was the adult who cared for them unconscious or incapacitated? My friend said, “Let’s go! You can’t do everything!” My response was, “So far, we have not done anything.”

The point I want to make with this story is that being unable to solve an entire social problem does not absolve us from taking the steps that are very clearly within our reach. In the case of the children above, my friend and I entered the building and inquired about the children with several adults inside. They shook their heads and indicated the parent was always irresponsible; one of them called the children in and walked them back to their apartment. Probably everyone involved wished they could do more, but something was done. Who knows? In some way this might have made a very big difference to the children involved.

This story, for me, relates to the seemingly overwhelming social dilemma of children and violence. What, one might wonder, can an individual or small group possibly do? Many children have been killed, and many lives of children are harmed or destroyed by all the ramifications of the violence with which they are surrounded. No one has the power to solve this entire problem, but we all have the power to do something. Something can always be done!

Don’t be discouraged by the fact that the press and media is already shifting from the most recent terrible murders of children and teachers to more diffuse issues and unrelated distractions. Interest in any one event will always fade but we have the power to keep our own passionate interest in the related social problems alive and active. Let’s take the time to write and express our support to any local, state, or national leader who is proposing a solution to the problem of gun violence and mental illness. A thoughtful email might take only minutes. Guns are not the only problem – we can look at the other forms of violence we see affecting children. Let’s start conversations in our schools and communities about the causes of fighting or nastiness or hurtful behaviors – and what we can do right now to reduce hostility and incivility. (This will often require us adults to take steps to meet the needs of children, no matter how difficult they are, with more compassion and understanding). We all have something that is possible and manageable right within our reach and every action contributes to a significant change in our larger society.

I’d like to return to the story with which I started to make one more point. The children were apparently not being cared for and kept safe by the adult charged with that responsibility. Many people who see themselves as kind and helpful do seem to feel that it is not their responsibility to step in and help children if their parents or other adults are seen as negligent. “I take care of my own children; I don’t have time to take care of children whose parents are irresponsible!” Some adults will openly make statements like this; others express concern but still privately agree with that viewpoint. It seems a lot easier to look the other way at child suffering if we can blame it on inadequate parents. Of course we want every parent to be caring and responsible! But, when children are suffering and need help, our own compassion and actions of caring are truly necessary. A huge step toward the resolution of the problems related to children and violence would be taken if all adults in America would embrace a sense of responsibility for all children – their own children and other people’s children as well! There are thousands of small steps that could be taken in the right direction – the direction of hope for future of every child. That direction ultimately might lead to the solution to all forms of senseless and devastating violence in our nation.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

CHILDREN CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE PART I

January 20, 2013 Comments Off on CHILDREN CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE PART I General

CHILDREN IN THE CROSSFIRE PART I

A front page headline in the New York Times (Friday January 18, 2013) read: “Massacre at School Sways Public in Way Earlier Shootings Didn’t.” The article indicates that the terrible deaths of 20 first graders and 6 adults in Newtown, Connecticut have galvanized the broadest support for stricter gun laws in about a decade. Certainly our sorrow and compassion for the Connecticut victims and for those who are grieving for them should dictate a national concern about guns and violence in America. A window of opportunity has opened and all of us who have been concerned for decades and more about children and violence in America must step up to the plate and give depth and permanence to this critical national conversation.

A few years ago, I worked for three fall semesters with student teachers from my rural university in Western Pennsylvania who had selected urban public school placements in North Philadelphia. In front of the very first school I entered stood a memorial of flowers and stuffed animals and other items honoring the death of a young child. She had been gunned down and killed in front of the school in crossfire. As I worked for several years with the children and teachers, I became aware of other similar child deaths. One morning, walking past the Free Library of Philadelphia, I saw a sign advertising a meeting that would be held for the public in the library that night. The meeting was called “children caught in the crossfire” and it was taking place to bring to light the deaths of children, numbering in the hundreds, who had died in gun crossfire in the last year in Philadelphia. I attended this meeting; it was crowded with concerned legislators, citizens, and community leaders. The rage and frustration over the ease with which anyone in the city could obtain assault weapons was very much in evidence. Many people demanded that the legislators “do something!” One legislator stood up and spoke. He said, “You must realize that for the most part legislators are reactive, not proactive. They don’t wake up in the morning and think of controversial issues that would cost them votes to address! They wake up and take a look at that to which they must react – the loudest current public agenda. You the people must raise the issues and demand reaction from your legislators! That is how it works in this democracy.”

Teachers who are advocates, take note! Many legislators who are now reacting to gun control issues are used to “flash in the pan” public concern. Some might be perceiving this as a temporary “one event” public interest that will soon pass. It is up to us to raise our voices and shout that the issues related to children, guns, and violence are enormous and must be addressed on many levels. Take a look at the Children’s Defense Fund Cradle to Prison Pipeline initiative! When I attended the CDF Cradle to Prison Pipeline Summit at Howard University some years ago, Marian Wright Edelman said, “The corner of race and poverty is the most dangerous corner on which any child in America can stand.” The terrible violence that can be experienced by children in poverty can draw them into death or crime and imprisonment before they reach adulthood. This same terrible violence is reaching out into all of America; all of its victims must be honored by adults with the courage to stand up, face the truth, and act with compassionate diligence to change the life trajectory of every child in this nation – change it to peace, safety, opportunity, and a future characterized by love and decency.

It is too late for all the children who have died, but it is not too late to take a stand and struggle for the survival of all the living children of our nation. Let’s tell our legislators and all our leaders in no uncertain terms about the ways in which the children with whom we work are affected by violence – all kinds of violence from which they should be shielded and protected! The legal nuances of the Second Amendment can be left to lawyers and judges. But the child issues of violence, danger, and death must remain in the hearts and minds of every American until very serious social, political, and economic problems are addressed. Our voices must be heard for years to come!

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

WHY WRITE A BOOK FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS?

January 13, 2013 Comments Off on WHY WRITE A BOOK FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS? General

Why Write a Book for Early Childhood Educators?

I want to welcome my blog readers back to my weekly entries as I write my book STANDING UP FOR SOMETHING EVERY DAY: ETHICS AND JUSTICE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD CLASSROOMS. In my former blog entries, I have explored the three postage stamps on my website and the reasons why they were selected. My interests in early childhood education, which began when I taught preschool children in New York City, have brought me steadily into the spheres of public policy, equal educational opportunity, child advocacy, and the role of teachers in standing up for social justice in a democratic nation. That being said, I still proudly identify myself as a teacher and an early childhood educator. The stereotypes about early childhood education being less important than later years of elementary school, middle school, and high school belie the central role of the field as it has historically served children and their families from birth through the early elementary grades. The history of early childhood education is powerful and fascinating. Many great teachers, advocates, and early childhood leaders have made tremendous contributions not only to the lives of children but to the public understanding of the critical impact of the earliest years of life on all the years that follow.

When I began my doctoral studies in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, I selected early childhood education as my area of specialization. This turned out to be a truly wonderful decision, in great part because of my brilliant professor and mentor Dr. Leslie R. Williams. She had been deeply influenced as an exceptional young scholar at Harvard and Teachers College by the Civil Rights Movement, the War on Poverty, and the inception of the Head Start Program for young children who were poor. Although Leslie would often say that she was not political, she made it clear to us that she disagreed both with the deficit models of children who were poor that emerged with the Head Start Program and with the fact that early childhood educators were left out of early Head Start planning. (Those invited to participate in early program development were largely sociologists, psychologists, and pediatricians). Leslie wrote a fascinating article for Teachers College Record called “Early Childhood Education in the 1970s: Some Reflections on Reaching Adulthood” in 1978 – the year I began my studies at Teachers College. She had an exciting, vibrant vision for the field that inspired me and many other doctoral students at TC at that time.

What began to interest me the most was what I saw as the deeply political nature of early childhood education. While Leslie’s interests were very much focused on curriculum, she strongly encouraged me and others who wanted to pursue topics related to advocacy, legislation, and the continuing struggle for children’s’ rights. She was the encouraging and enthusiastic chairperson of my dissertation on the political and advocacy history of child abuse legislation in the United States, which included qualitative interviews with many people around the country who had testified at the House and Senate hearings on what would become the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974. At the same time, Leslie always retained her own passionate commitment to multicultural curriculum for young children as a central method of honoring every child as a worthy person and capable learner. I continued to learn from Leslie and to cherish her friendship and mentoring until her death from cancer in November 2007.

Today, as I talk to different colleagues and friends about the book I am writing for the Early Childhood Series of Teachers College Press, I often hear the question, “Why are you focusing only on early childhood education? These are important messages for all teachers.” I do not disagree, but I see early childhood education as a space where teachers can have a powerful early impact on children, families, schools, and programs. I’ve always felt that, if we early childhood teachers can lead the way into advocacy and social justice, we can ultimately have a great impact on education as a general field. I was able to develop this vision during my studies at TC, and was thrilled when Leslie Williams, who was the editor of the Early Childhood Series of Teachers College Press, invited me to submit a proposal for a book on child advocacy as I was finishing my dissertation. Since the publication of that book in 1989, I have always wanted to return to the topic in a way that was much more closely related to the actual classroom and the teachers who work daily with children. Thus, I am thrilled again to be writing this book for the Early Childhood Series! My hope is that the early childhood educators who read it will see all the opportunities they have to create ethical and just classroom environments and to enact a daily curriculum that builds strong and accepting relationships with all children – and I consider every child in America to be part of the diversity of our nation. I also hope that the early childhood educators who read it will see their right and responsibility to be advocates for children and to speak up for social justice for all children in this nation.

We teachers as well as school administrators are all linked together in our goals for the children of America! Some powers that be would like us to ignore child poverty and school inequality, and pretend that high test scores should be our only focus. We all need to stand up to this, and to speak out for a socially just America in which all children have a fair share of our considerable cultural and economic capital. Advocacy, however far it ultimately extends, must begin with the teachers who first greet all our children at the school or program door.

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children