As a global organization reflecting diverse cultural experiences of children and families, Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE) members honor a wide range of ways of knowing and realize a fundamental commitment to social justice in all their activities (https://receinternational.org/about/). We decry policies and actions in the US and elsewhere that protect white privilege and heteronormativity, and perpetuate multiple forms of oppression. We also note with alarm the growing attacks on freedom of thought and expression affecting children, educators, and families.
RECE, as an organization, also decries any efforts to turn back the clock by denial of curriculum and practices that teach accurate US history, reflect and honor the diversity of children and families, and work toward equity and inclusion, rather than exclusion, in education.
A recent example of misguided and racist policy in the USA, was the Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education’s resignation after Alabama State Governor Ivey requested the review and removal of the National Association of Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) Guidelines for Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP), (4th Ed., 2022) , alleging that it “contained a woke agenda.” (https://www.npr.org/2023/04/22/1171474014/alabama-governor-education-director-woke-book; https://alabamareflector.com/2023/04/21/ivey-forces-early-childhood-education-secretary-to-resign-over-teacher-training-book/)
According to the Alabama Governor’s critique, the book included “inappropriate” content (in its over 800 pages) regarding “larger systemic forces that perpetuate systems of White privilege,” and claimed “the United States is built on systemic and structural racism,” and that it should be taught to pre-K students that “LGBTQIA+ need to hear and see messages that promote equality, dignity and worth.” (https://www.npr.org/2023/04/22/1171474014/alabama-governor-education-director-woke-book)
This critique represents a gross misunderstanding of the NAEYC DAP guidelines, an established and widely used document first developed in 1987. Over its various editions, NAEYC DAP guidelines have been expanded to be more culturally and racially inclusive, and to recognize gender diversity in children and families (e.g., NAEYC, 2022, p. 55). Indeed, RECE scholars have pushed for such changes to occur throughout the history of DAP . Much RECE scholarship has also recognized white privilege and systemic racism, and promoted anti-oppressive and inclusive practices.
The Governor’s misguided attack parallels other state legislation in the US banning books and so-called Critical Race Theory, and widespread restrictions on school practices related to gender and LGBTQ+ issues. In the case of the Alabama Governor’s critique, the focus is on early education. We write to express our dismay at the reactionary and racist Alabama event and its attempt to ban “wokeness” in early childhood contexts, and to express our solidarity with early childhood educators and children directly affected by this event.
Given that it is clear that very young children begin to understand differences in attitudes and behavior related to race, class, LGBTQ+, ability/disability, we support NAEYC’s acknowledgement of the importance of these issues for educators and families in early childhood education. More importantly, we decry the racism and sexism/heterosexism of such policies that build on a long legacy of oppressions of children and families in the US.
While the Alabama governor’s actions reinforce the idea that what children learn in the early years is very important, we suggest that banning books (be they NAEYC’s guidelines, children’s books, or critical scholarly works), and banning speech, whether written or spoken, is inconsistent with US democratic values, and is unwise and unethical policy for the state, for its educators, its families, and its children.
More generally, RECE, as an international community of early childhood educators, decries the increasing numbers of states and countries that attempt to ban books, or legislate against the rights of transgender children and youth and their families. Such policies reflect the manufactured crisis of white/heteronormative panic, and a tendency to move toward closing down debates and ideas, at the expense of a new generation’s ability to imagine ways of being that reflect a diversity of ideas and more, rather than less, inclusionary values and practices. These efforts are underway in the US as well as globally; it is not a time to slide backward.