Learning Together with Young Children
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makers of history, not passive citizens giving up on
America’s failure to live up to our democratic ideals. It
was an exhilarating time—a time of rage, joy, determi-
nation, dancing, and singing—a time of great hope. A
fierce sense of possibility first brought us to work with
young children and here we are, many years later,
clamoring again at the gates of hope.
Perhaps you, like us, came to work in the early
childhood field because you wanted to secure the
future for young children, and because you wanted
to be reminded of the joy and passion for living that
young children offer nearly every minute. But in the
United States today, childhood, early childhood edu-
cation, and the teaching profession are under siege,
with so much conspiring to diminish our dreams. Ed-
ucational policies are taking us away from the joy we
once felt. Educational authorities want us to believe
education should be about teacher-proof, mandated
curriculums, high stakes testing, and conformity. The
energies of teachers and administrators are pulled to-
ward an avalanche of regulations and accountability
systems. We say, “¡Basta!” We can do better than this for our
children and ourselves.
Thinking and Approaches
We know this problem is complex, and simple solu-
tions do not exist. A number of factors contribute to
problems in current approaches to early curriculum
for children. Here’s what we think is currently wrong
with the way early childhood education is being con-
ceptualized in the United States:
Definitions of quality are inadequate.
Factories serve as a model for education.
Teachers lack philosophical foundations.
Authorities view children as needing to be
“readied” and fixed.
Play is not considered a viable source of
Child-directed and teacher-directed approaches
are presented as opposed and mutually exclusive.
There is no infrastructure to support teachers’
Teachers and programs are required to adopt
quantifiable “research-based” curricula.
• problem •
Definitions of Quality Are Inadequate
In the United States, decade upon decade of research,
professional efforts, and advocacy have attempted
to demonstrate and put into place the components
of good experiences for young children. Despite the
substantial body of research demonstrating that qual-
ity early childhood experiences are directly related to
healthy brain development and to social, emotional,
and cognitive maturity, the status of early care and
education in the United States is a national crisis, and
should be a national shame. As policy makers begin
to recognize the links between early education and
academic success, they have marginalized our pro-
fessional knowledge and decision-making power, and
directed quality reform efforts toward measurable
outcomes and high stakes testing. And, as is the cus-
tom in U.S. culture, commercial interests then swoop
in with quick-fix, easy solutions—so-called teacher-
proof curricula, time-saving literacy strategies, tools
that take the guesswork out of assessment. “No need
to worry or trouble yourself with thinking too hard
about all this,” is an appealing message for distraught
educators. It is also a big source of our problems.
If teachers are to take charge of the direction of
early care and education, they must begin to ask,
“What is quality?” and the more important question,
“Who gets to decide?” What assumptions, values, and
agendas do you want to guide efforts to revamp early
care and education in the United States? Each com-
munity and early care and education organization
must undertake an open discussion of its purpose,
and the values, philosophy, and theoretical frame-
works it wants to guide everyday program practices.