Educator-As-Community-Keeper

This post is a bit of a brain dump as I’m unwinding a cognitive knot. It is the result of my participation in a few book studies, both personally and professionally. The books we read were Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer and How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong.

My personal reading of Braiding Sweetgrass led me to some deep reflections and contemplations about my relationships with plants (in addition to animals). Kimmerer’s words really slowed down my experience outdoors and allowed me to focus on small moments.

How We Show Up challenged me on a deep personal level. As an introvert who values my independence and singlehood, I found myself questioning what it means to live alone. The chapter about queering friendships, specifically, got me in the feels.

But it wasn’t until I discussed these books in their respective book study groups that I truly felt transformed by the knowledge gifted in them. I’ll share a few examples of things that we questioned and the new understandings I have come to.

Through a conversation about Braiding Sweetgrass we got to a point where we were talking about gifts, and how when you give a gift you shouldn’t expect a gift in return. One person shared that if they were to give money to someone sitting outdoors, they would do so without strings attached, meaning that they trust the person would spend the money on whatever they need, not expect them to purchase food or clothes or save it. They said that there shouldn’t be an expectation of return within our reciprocal relationships. But as a group, we lingered on that, because is that not part of the point the reciprocal relationships? If we are in two-way relationships, can we not trust that we both give and receive? I felt stumped by this for a second and I didn’t see a way out. But then another person offered a path forward: aren’t we still talking about being individuals rather than being truly interconnected? An systems of interdependence mean that what we give, we do get back. In interconnected systems-thinking, we are constantly giving to each other and ourselves. This also means that survival occurs through unity; all flourishing is mutual. In this way, giving money is act of perpetual, unconditional kindness, but it also questions and resists the ownership and hoarding of money. To give is not necessarily to expect to receive, but it is to know that people around you and before you are looking out for you. If we all take responsibility for our part in a community, we all survive and thrive. So ow does this relate to being an educator? My explanation requires a reflection on my next book study: How We Show Up.

This book is a critique of the racist and heteronormative American Dreamism culture and a reimagining of family, friendship, and community. Early on in the book the author makes a point of how family units are a replication of our toxic individualist culture in North America, whereby we exist separately from our neighbours, and things like relying on friends for childcare is considered a shameful last resort for many people. For middle-and lower-class families, paying for childcare seems to be the dominant idea of “what is best for the child”; yet, this rationale reinforces the idea that early childhood educators know what is best for children and that somehow other adults like family and friends do not. I’ve been trying to challenge this notion because, despite our specialized knowledge and years of experience, we are not more knowledgeable than parents, elders, and generational or cultural wisdom. Our collective vision of parents is to see them as capable and competent; therefore, our role becomes slightly challenged when we shift to viewing our livelihood as interconnected communities rather than supporting toxic individualism. If we don’t have the expertise we think we do, then why are we demanding higher pay? If we are as capable and competent as parents and families, then why should we be asking for better occupational conditions, when this is straying further and further away from the home-life experience. How might we lean into these questions, rather than been threatened? I’ve provided a consideration from the book Illuminating Care to demonstrate this notion:

In our conversation about this book we talked about our differing perspectives on individualism. Myself and another person shared that we experience intimacy as threatening, whereas another felt that they had always had friendships that pushed boundaries of intimacy. We discusses our experiences of living with or feeling connected to family, but then realized that family to us, is something that tends to feel permanent whereas friendships can feel transient. We were sensing agreement that the transientness of friendships came with grief, protectiveness, and a resistance to change. We talked about what it means to move, to leave behind communities, and how some folks can feel quite angry when our good friends move. This is especially relevant given our current life stage, not quite 10 years into our careers when moving can happen frequently. But I recalled something that was getting called upon within me: Mike’s wisdom of how home is created and recreated on our paths throughout life, with new people. It’s not about the structure and it’s not about who is kept in or out of a space. It’s about community, bringing people together with the struggle of food, survival, and hard work. I think he would have liked this book a lot.

So again, what does this mean as an eduator?

To that I would ask, am I not recreating home indefinitely? Am I not embracing the transientness of children temporarily being in my care? Do I not enter into very intimate relationships with families and children, even becoming part of families? Am I not empowered and humbled by this, rather than threatened? Do I not operate within a community hub, bringing families together, supporting children’s young friendships, and fostering dispositions for lifelong learning? Do I not uphold community through my responsiveness to both individual and group needs? Don’t I turn local wisdom and familial cultural practices into sacred, shared experiences for all children to benefit from? Do I not prioritize my relationships above almost all else? Am I not a reciprocal partner, ally, and co-conspirator in children’s lives? Defender of wonder, play, and joy in ways that invite children into relationship with humans and the more-than-human world? Do I not resist toxic individualism almost as a job requirement, whereby I use systems-thinking to understand, extend and support the many interlocking relationships I have entered? Am I not a keeper of this community knowledge, resources, and connections?

I think am and I do. And this is how I am choosing to reframe myself. I’m not just a researcher, co-leaner, play partner, care mentor, and nurturer; I am a community keeper.

Critique of All Party Platforms in Canada’s Federal Election

Earlier today I published a tweet in which I tried to summarize and reframe the various promises and funding allocations that would reveal each of the parties’ basic values and beliefs. Here, I further break down what I was trying to demonstrate.

Liberals value: care/education for children 0-10, innovating a national ecec system, parents’ up-front financial costs regardless of SES/working conditions, family-leave; believe families deserve access to childcare.

@kimpbarton via Twitter

It appears the Liberal party has strategically thought out a potential solution regarding: families’ lack of access to care for young children by investing in the creation of more spots/; lack of access to care for school-age children by investing in the availability and options for after-school programs (but not necessarily quality); establishing a national early learning and care system through the creation of the secretariat role; reducing initial costs to access childcare and taxable benefits for family leave; and making initial funding changes that respond to Canada’s diverse population of parental needs.

2) Conservatives: value parents’ overall financial burden regardless of SES.

@kimpbarton via Twitter

Theoretically, the conservative approach would be to reduce the overall financial burden for families by refunding taxes for parental benefits/leave, including those who use EI at the time of taking a leave, but not reducing any initial costs. This approach delays financial support to families, and although (again, theoretically) it can offer choice to families in terms of how to use the refund, this money is irrelevant without access to quality childcare options. This platform does not address the current national framework which is substantially outdated in terms of investing in childcare, parents’ access to childcare for children of any age, nor any social justice initiatives. Nor does it respond to the layered issues regarding access to quality childcare and the reality of financial burden that is represented by our diverse families and range of parental working conditions. Further, without changes to our need-based subsidy approach that is failing many, many families, this platform does not exemplify its care for the rights of all children.

3) NDP: believe families deserve the right to access quality childcare; value educators’ working conditions and family-leave.

@kimpbarton via Twitter

These three concerns go hand-in-hand and demonstrate that through access, supported parental leave, and investing in educators, the NDP value family, the rights of the child, and adult well-being. Parents and educators require support in order to foster the relationship-based and responsive care/education that our pedagogical approaches preaches. Although the details of this approach are vague, these priorities will clearly guide appropriate funding allocations and policy.

4) Green: believe families deserve the right to (specifically physically) access childcare; are fighting for equality/ to meet minimal expectations for federal investment

@kimpbarton via Twitter

The Green party’s stance exemplifies their beliefs through social justice, prioritizing investing in physical access to childcare, and increasing Canada’s economic contribution to childcare to bring us in-line with other industrialized countries.

Unpacking “Choice” for Families in Early Childhood Care and Education

In our first class I was given the stark reminder of how poorly Canada is doing in terms of investing in children’s early development. Canada is the fourth richest country in the world, and yet we have scored disgracefully low on public spending, indicators of quality, and number of available spots within childcare – and haven’t recovered well. This is shameful to me. Our patchwork approach allows for inconsistent and unreliable options and a large range in financial burden required in order to access care and learning opportunities. This makes me cringe thinking of all of the children I personally know affected by factors such as poverty, parents living with mental illness, and parental job demands that further influence access to quality care. The notion that families should have a “choice” in early learning and care is irrelevant when this access is limited or non-existent. Children deserve investment for their own right, but there are also several compelling evidence-based rationales for investing in the early years, and yet it is not our country’s lack of capacity to invest, but our willingness to do so that is the problem. I do not understand how people are not more concerned about children affected by the lack of childcare and educational opportunities. Treating ECEC as a market commodity and kindergarten as a public good represents Canada’s unjustified and arbitrary division of value of children’s development above and below (roughly) 4 years of age. The lack of funding/financial support for the ECEC sector and the poor public recognition for early years educators needs to change for the sake of children, their families, equality, society, and the Country’s economy.

This issue left me ruminating about my stance and what Canada’s next steps should be. Everyone I have talked to about this issue brings up the socialist approaches used in the Nordic countries. But alas, Canada is built on capitalism and trade, so where is our intersection of public spending and individualistic “choice”?! I feel that the decision to have various funded school systems is extremely precarious and irresponsible for excluding the early years. Considering that by 4 years of age the variation in care and education that children across the country have received is enormous, and that these variations are not due to “choice”, but rather necessity, I draw the line at promoting “choice” at the expense of young children. This is unethical, inequitable, and unnecessary. I have decided that continued advocacy and professionalization of, for, and, from the field is required to gain public attention to change the political climate towards childcare. Learning from Canada’s historical shifts and swings in childcare investment, we require more than hope and promises during this next election.

This journal entry prompted me to start an advocacy blog from which I can share my reflections and insights regarding early learning and care. This blog will be my dedication to advocacy for the field throughout the semester, and a method I plan to use to educate my network and social circles on the importance of considering investments in childcare in the upcoming election. By comparing the investments in children’s early years to children’s school-aged years, including the differences in pay for the educators, I hope to draw attention to the unwarranted and outdated approach to childcare in Canada. If our government truly believes in offering choice to families, we must first invest in a funded, universal, accessible, equitable, and reliable system to be able to conceive viable options for all families (like our provincial school systems). Only then can additional options allow for true “choice” to families. I have started (and will continue) to collect noteworthy articles and follow childcare advocates on Twitter because I believe continuing knowledge dissemination and generating public discourse regarding the discrepancies in our current childcare infrastructure is necessary to achieve this goal. Through this reflection I was able to assess and criticize some of Canada’s historical and political attitudes towards childcare, compare some general international differences, and have begun to develop an advocacy agenda for the upcoming election to address my initial conclusions.