Fossilised Concepts

I didn’t expect there to be links to our profession when I read an article in The Saturday Paper on ‘homegrown terrorism’! Phil Gregory, who lectures on terrorism and intelligence at Monash University, commented that when concepts become very fashionable they can ‘fossilise thought’. He added, ’When you use clichés, you stop altering paradigms. You don’t shift your thinking’._DSC0316

What are the fashionable concepts and contemporary clichés in early childhood care and education?

A number of terms and concepts in the Early Years Learning Framework and the Framework for School Age Care, most of which also appear in the National Quality Standard, come to mind. My list, accompanied by brief notes about possible fossilised thinking’, follows:

Agency: giving choices, letting children do things for themselves. Common example: allowing toddlers to pour their own drinks, putting out more than one puzzle.

Learning stories: wordy accounts of something a child has done (sometimes including what they are learning), often accompanied by photos. Many educators would say that learning stories are the best way – some would say with certainty the only way – to document learning.

Diversity and cultural competence: refers to cultural background and ethnicity. Examples are celebrating Harmony Day and making sure there are lots of Aboriginal prints and posters around the service.

Play: the best way for children to learn, an unquestioned belief, often accompanied by the idea that the educator gets involved only if absolutely necessary.

Learning Outcomes: identity, connection and contribution, wellbeing, learning, communicating – that’s it. End of story – obvious.

Sustainability: doing something that relates to recycling or nature, for example, having a recycling bin and a worm farm.  

I’m not questioning the merits of these concepts or the practices that follow from them. They are sound and represent progress in thinking and pedagogy. I do wonder, however, if there is a taken-for-granted acceptance of them that interferes with altering paradigms.

Considerable effort has been invested and in resources and professional learning to enlighten educators about some of the concepts and terms in the Frameworks, terms that were deliberately chosen because they were fresh, novel and not readily recognised. Is it time for a shakeup?

Do widely held understandings about these concepts and terms promote progress, continuous improvement and innovation in thinking and practice or, on the other hand, are the unquestioned understandings and beliefs about them an impediment?

What are some ‘taken-for-granted’ understandings and ideas that inform your practice and that of your colleagues?

Choose one or two of these for examination and questioning with the aim of ensuring that your thoughts and practices are not ‘fossilised’. Encourage colleagues to share varying perspectives. What is the result?

Have a debate about the following statements – or chose another commonly accepted idea to challenge:

  • Supporting children’s agency is not always a good thing.
  • There are categories of diversity other than cultural that are more confronting.
  • Play is not always the best way to learn.

Just sayin’…

Anne Stonehouse

Anne Stonehouse AM lives in Victoria and works as a consultant, writer and facilitator of professional learning in early childhood. She has published many books, articles and other resources for educators and parents. Her main professional interests are the nature of good quality curriculum for babies and toddlers and family-educator relationships in early learning settings. She was a member of the writing team in the Charles Sturt University-based consortium that developed the national Early Years Learning Framework. She is currently engaged in a number of projects related to the national and Victorian Frameworks.

4 thoughts on “Fossilised Concepts”

    Chris Ellis says:

    Hi Anne
    Thanks as always at provoking debate and thinking. I, as a retired early intervention teacher, believe there needs to be some thought given to combining some of the rigorous and proven strategies into EC practice. Eg.embedded instruction, explicit teaching within a DAP environment and working closely with professionals and families to meet family and child needs.

    Helen says:

    A great challenging article Anne. I have taught many years and have been feeling lately that with EYLF we are expected to include so much in the program… cultural links and observances, indigenous perspectives embedded, links to community that seem to keep rolling in. One ‘event’ seems to roll into the next and we bounce from Harmony day to Mothers day to links to the local library to Simultaneous Storytime day and it all rolls on and on. What has happened to the times where we could just follow the interests of the children we have before us, and sew if they wanted to sew, day after day, or make puppets and put on shows that grew and developed over days and weeks. We seem to be ticking boxes for other people but lacking the depth for the children we have. The parents love this “cover all bases” curriculum we now have, but it seems shallow to me. Thoughts?

    Nice post.Thank you for sharing such an important post.

    Thanks for sharing this blog . keep writing .

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