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Redleaf Press: Redleaf e-News: An interview with Margie Carter and Deb Curtis

The State of Early Childhood: Where We've Been and Where We're Going

An interview with Margie Carter and Deb Curtis

Designs for Living and Learning We recently interviewed early childhood experts Margie Carter and Deb Curtis—authors of Designs for Living and Learning—to find out their thoughts on their newest book, their inspirations and concerns, and what they believe the future may hold for the early childhood field in the U.S.

Designs for Living and Learning continues to receive an incredible response from practitioners around the world. What has been the most rewarding—or surprising—result of having written it?

To us, the overwhelmingly positive response to Designs for Living and Learning reflects a hunger in people to have more meaningful and nourishing environments for children, families, and teachers. It especially pleases us that people are finding the text as useful as the photos. The book seems to give people a different perspective on their work with children and a more positive image of themselves and children. They recognize that they deserve environments that show respect, are aesthetically pleasing, and are emotionally and intellectually engaging. Our hope is that the people who are drawn to the ideas in the book will climb over any internal and external barriers and not settle for less than what they deserve. We've had licensors in our seminars tell us that though the ideas present challenges for their work, they are eager to negotiate and problem solve to help programs use these ideas and still meet the intent of regulations. It's been rewarding and reassuring to have this book resonate with so many colleagues in such diverse settings around the world.

What are some of the most inspiring things you've seen happening in early childhood today?

Most inspiring to us in the last ten years is the small group of people who have worked so tirelessly to launch the Worthy Wage movement to educate and advocate for better wages and working conditions for teachers and providers. These issues are now center stage as a major concern of the entire profession. We are proud of the early Worthy Wage activists who took the risk to force the issue and continue to push for the changes needed.

We also feel indebted to the culturally relevant anti-bias activist groups across the country who have been steadily teaching us how to recognize the way racism and institutional injustice permeates our work. This, too, is often unpopular work, but their perseverance and commitment has begun to make a big difference in early childhood practices around the country while connecting with colleagues around the world.

What concerns you most about early childhood in the U.S.?

The Art of Awareness We are very dismayed that early childhood education programs in the U.S. are, for the most part, mediocre at best. Our policy makers don't have the understanding, respect, or will to make children, teaching, and education a priority in our country. Instead they take us down the mistaken path of "Leaving no child untested" and don't address the systemic problems that plague our profession: lack of affordable, high quality universal child care, minimal requirements and salaries for teachers, poor working conditions and lack of resources. Our country does not value childhood as an important time of life and only views children as needing to be readied, remediated, and as present and future consumers. We are worried about what this says about our values and who we are as a nation.

In your opinions, what will the field look like in ten years?

We believe that our profession is at a critical fork in the road. We can build on the important body of knowledge and research our profession has amassed and take our profession to a whole new level where children are viewed as competent, eager partners in the teaching and learning process and have the right to thoughtfully planned environments and learning experiences with highly competent and educated teachers. Or we can continue to let others drive us down the path where children and teachers spend their time in boring, overcrowded, underfunded, institutional settings that disrespect and dumb them down and put the emphasis on meaningless tests and faulty accountability systems. Each of us must step forward and provide leadership to keep our profession moving in a progressive, rather than regressive manner.

How can teachers balance developmentally appropriate, child-centered practice and address early learning standards as they emerge from states?

As hard as we've worked to create play-and-child-centered programs and developmentally appropriate practices, our profession hasn't mastered the recognition and articulation of how these practices are related to learning for young children. For learning outcomes to be met, teachers must become more intellectually engaged in this work, rather than just following routines, rules, and curriculum activities to keep the children busy. Early childhood teachers must become more knowledgeable about how to plan engaging, meaningful play experiences that provide for desired outcomes in the different learning domains. If teachers must do this balancing act and continually seek new knowledge, then more resources, time, and organizational support must be provided.

What is your message to policymakers about funding early childhood?

• Policies should be developed around the rights of children rather than political or economic interests.
• Teachers and program administrators should be at the decision-making tables, developing policies in line with the actual resources, time and knowledge that will be required for true learning and school success.
• We will never have high quality programs without well-qualified teachers. We'll never have well-qualified teachers without public dollars funding teacher education and supporting salaries and better working conditions.
• Take the research seriously. Children can't learn in large groups with high teacher-child ratios or inadequate learning environments with minimal materials and equipment. Neither can they thrive without adequate housing, nutrition and health care.

The Visionary Director For more information on Margie Carter and Deb Curtis, visit

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