Ethics in early years

As part the Contesting Early Childhood Series, Gunilla Dahlberg and Peter Moss in their book “Ethics and Politics in Early Childhood Education” explore an alternative approach to early childhood services, putting ethics and politics first, in services that are essentially ‘public spaces’ full of unpredictable possibilities. The authors consider that early childhood services can in fact contribute to ethical and democratic practices and contest that there are other discourses in the early childhood field which are not focused on social regulation and economic success.

The move towards an institutionalisation of childhood and the effective governing of children works on the premise that “a young child is constructed as a redemptive agent who can be programmed to become the future solution to our current problems.” By contrast, the alternative discourse of early childhood work originating in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia welcomes complexity, diversity and ‘otherness’.

It is this concept of ‘otherness’ which acts as one focus for the authors. “This ethical and political subject – our responsibility for others – is replaced with a technical question: how effective are preschools/school-age childcare in producing certain outcomes?”

A successful service is defined in terms of its ability to deliver the goods on time, to specification and as cost effectively as possible. With international outcomes in early childhood services being largely concerned with future development, educational attainment and employability of the child, Helen Penn suggests that the focus on the technical has the purpose of distracting attention from the power relations which create poverty and inequality in the first place.

The authors propose that “ethics here is the ‘should’ question…how should we think and act?” in relation to each other and society with the ethics of care being about how to interpret and fulfil responsibility to others. It is this responsibility which entails a respect for otherness and suggests a different way to understand the needs of others rather than putting ourselves in their position.

One alternative early childhood discourse focuses on the ‘pedagogy of listening’ defined by Carlina Rinaldi as “having the openness and sensitivity to listen and be listened to – listening not just with our ears, but with all our senses.” Listening acts as the premise to any learning relationship, welcomes ‘otherness’ and regards learning as a creative process rather than transmission of information or knowledge, respecting and not grasping the other.

In support of a pedagogy of listening, Peter Moss and Gunilla Dahlberg propose that teacher and child be partners in a process of experimentation and research whilst pedagogical documentation can support this relationship, make learning visible and function as a tool for opening up a critical and reflective practice challenging the dominant discourse.





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