Saturday, July 2, 2011

Introducing the Principles of Emmi Pikler...

Welcome to part two of Instead of Education: an anarchist exploration of early childhood education. Here I introduce the theories of Pikler who steps away from adult agendas as seen within social constructivism to let children take authentic control of their learning.

The educational theories of Emmi Pikler grew from her work with orphaned babies and draw primarily from attachment theory and developmentalism, but recognises the importance of social-constructivism and relationships, and finally blends these with an image of the child that would make any anarchist smile.

Children gain an image of themselves and who they are, mirrored in the ongoing relationship between themselves and another. Our image of the child is constructed by who we are and the impact of social and historical discourses: charity, medical, gender, development, rights, economic, liberation and so on. These discourses create multiple lens that reflect our own pathway. Our image of children and childhood is therefore socially constructed as is what we think children and childhood should be. Are we filling children with our notions of correct knowledge, or do we let go of the reins?

Pikler considers the child as an equal to be awarded the fullest of human rights. Core beliefs would include:

• Respect as an unique individual with the right to live in the here and now

• Freedom to move and explore as one desires

• Time for uninterrupted play

• Acknowledgement and respect of the child's decisions, motives, interests etc

• To be an active participant in their lives

• To see the value in struggle and failure

• To allow development and learning at their speed

• Safety, stability and continuity of care

Tolstoy describes education as a compulsory, forcible action of one person upon another to create a predetermined idea of knowledge. Compare this with culture, the consequence of a myriad of influences upon a person, that grows through the free association of people based on the need to both give and receive knowledge. Teaching is a means of both culture and education, the difference being only the matter of compulsion.

At the core of the Pikler model is the removal of power-over relationships that twist the acquisition of culture into 'education'. The early childhood centre is not a closeted place of prescribed learning, rather it is an active part of the wider community where the natural curiosity of children guides their learning. The adult agenda is primarily safety, but eyes and ears are always open: we notice, recognise and respond to the evolution of learning by providing knowledge, by modifying the environment to provoke further challenges and to provide resources, and to offer encouragement of course!

In typical double-speak, traditional educationalists talk of how we must restrict children's freedom in order to prepare then for freedom as adults within a democracy. Somehow amidst this clusterfuck of control, the early childhood sector is handed a window of freedom and the irony of it is that it exists within a framework established by the state, who in making the curriculum so vague, hope that the seeds of neoliberalism would filter through the personal pedagogy of teachers and thus create another generation of loyal obedient workers.

So where do we find 'Pikler'?

Everywhere there are seeds: Pikler inspired centres are rare, but they are growing in popularity as educators attend the growing number of workshops and conferences. 2010 saw the first national Pikler-inspired conference in Christchurch with several hundred enthusiastic teachers ready for change. The parent-run Playcentre movement is strongly influenced by Pikler as are some home-based providers. Hit the internet, look for key words and phrases, ask.

Anarchist's have a proud history of subverting education: Louise Michel, Francisco Ferrer and Tolstoy all infused education with their anarchism. While neither Pikler or Te Whāriki talk of anarchism, the possibility of creating learning centres which truly reflect our cultures whilst promoting and practising egalitarianism, social justice and critical thinking are very real goals. Of course the enemies of freedom are well aware of this and the state is under increasing pressure to revisit the early childhood curriculum.

Emmi Pikler focused on infants and toddlers and when you consider the type of learning that this age group engages in, her theories make perfect sense. Relationship building is during close care-giving moments, otherwise you leave baby (safely) alone or with peers to learn and develop. But what about older children where the learning has shifted from more individualistic learning that is often about fine and gross motor skills, to more social interactions with their associated higher concepts of learning?

There are now early childhood centres that cater for older children that are adopting elements of Pikler. I will explore their practice and ponder the relevance of Pikler's constructivism in part three so come back soon for more fun and games!

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