Rethinking Childhoods Podcast

Rethinking childhoods podcast is recorded by Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, professor of early childhood education at Western University in Ontario, Canada. This podcast is recorded with intention of thinking collectively about the construction of concepts such as young child, childhood, children, and even education.

The question that we hope you keep in mind as you listen to the episodes is: How might we think childhood as a space of resistance and regeneration?

Trailer: Rethinking childhoods

Transcript of the episode:

Hello. I am Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, the host of a new podcast   Rethinking Childhoods

We all have stories of childhood, at least of our own childhoods, but have you ever thought about how we have come to think of children as different in nature from adults?  Why is childhood a romanticized stage? What exactly do we mean when we use the term “childhood”? What is childhood is just an idea, a discourse, a construction? What if there is no one single childhood, but multiple childhoods? 

In   Rethinking Childhoods, I will be discussing topics that challenge the idea of a normal childhood. I hope you can join me in this new journey. 

Episode 1: Displacing child development

Hello. I am Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, and this is Rethinking Childhoods. This is the first episode of Rethinking Childhoods, and today I want to talk about displacing child development.  


I want to think about   What if childhood as an idea? What if childhood is a discourse? Just a concept?   I want to begin to trouble this romantic notion of childhood that we have. The idea that childhood is an innocent stage that needs to be completely protected from the world.  

The variability of conceptions of childhood is vividly expressed by the myriad disciplines that study childhood. What is emphasized about childhood differs slightly across disciplines and theoretical frameworks. We might think about childhood sociologically and study their role in society. We don’t all understand childhoods in the same way. 

We might think about childhood sociologically and study children’s role in society. Or we might study it anthropologically and focus on how children in different cultures and contexts live their daily lives. We might even think about childhood from a historical perspective, and ask questions such as:   When has the idea of childhood being created? How have children been thought of throughout various time periods? What bodies of knowledge have contributed to the construction of the idea of childhood?   Geographers also tell us about the complex relationships between place and childhood. And I can keep going…. Architecture, Archaeology, Gender Studies are all disciplines that have contributed to the study of childhood.  We also have the field of childhood studies that emerged in the 1980s…  

How childhood is understood affects children’s daily lives by influencing, for example, child-rearing norms, schooling, a wide range of scientific “truths” that have been created around children, and the role that children play in society. Even if you think about it, it affects children’s physical capacity to attend school. It also affects how we organize education, their daily activities, and even what they are allowed to do to learn and to think.  

The meaning of the concept of childhood constantly shifts based on time, space, beliefs, and social needs. For example, right now in the pandemic we have been thinking about how to rethink our conception of childhoods. Childhood is also experienced and thought of differently across categories of race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, and sexuality. What the stage of childhood encompasses is highly debated in practice and scholarly circles. Childhood might denote innocence, vulnerability, and purity, but it also might serve to highlight the notion that children are political subjects with agency who actively participate in making worlds. 

You might then think, why is it that in early childhood education we don’t think too much about this conception of childhood. We all have already an understand of what childhood it. We all come into early childhood education thinking that we know the child, what children need.   What if we don’t know? What if what we do know about early childhood education is that it has been dominated by developmental psychology? That our understandings of childhoods have been simply defined by developmental psychology? I am referring to the idea of childhood as a stage of life and different in nature from adults and therefore requiring careful scrutiny. Education in Western society – to be more precise in North America – has inherited ‘the developmental child’.  

Think about the many developmental ideas of childhood that early education supports: the normal child, the school ready child, the healthy child, the self-regulated child, the well-adjusted child, the autonomous child, and even the always happy child. We pride ourselves of knowing a child developmentally. We call ourselves child development experts. We ‘educate’ families how to become ‘good’ parents by supporting children’s development. We constantly tell ourselves and others about the importance of a child’s first years without even thinking about how this idea has been constructed. 


My proposal today is that we thinking about these questions and we begin to recognize the dominance of developmental psychology in early childhood education. And to do that, let’s talk a little bit about the work that  psychologist Erica Burman  has done.  

She wrote the first edition of   Deconstructing Developmental Psychology in 1994, and this edition was then followed by the 2008 edition and then by a 2017 edition. And I always wonder how could it be that with all this work that has been done around destructing developmental psychology that early childhood education has paid so little attention to this work. And although I do not want to simplify the answer to his question, I want to invite all of you to think about why is it that developmental psychology  has such a strong grip on what we do in early childhood education. And perhaps begin to think about the implication of early childhood education in the process of nation building. The very close relationship between early childhood education and developmental psychology needs to be understood within the project of government. Psychological discourses in general have provided the knowledge and techniques to produce individuals whose behaviors confirm with political objectives, as Erica Burman tells us. Young children became the instruments through which the creation of, for example, self-regulated independent autonomous individuals could be realized. And early childhood education is the space where all of these processes can take place. Early childhood education is the space where children become objects to be known and administered. Young children’s appetites, emotions and attitudes are conceptualized and distinguished in accordance with scientific rules. Procedures of government have been invented which ordered young children’s social and physical spaces in early childhood education with the purpose of creating individuals able to govern themselves. Perhaps we need to consider the invitation of Erica Burman to think of early childhood education where the rational organization of childhood takes place.  


Let’s spend a bit of time thinking about how child development has emerged within the context of Canada. And I want to think here with the work of Canadian historians such as   Donna Varga  who has written about the child study movement that began around 1920s in Canada. And she calls this period the rationalization of child development. Varga says that interest in child development emerged from the results of medical and psychological testing during the First World War. And these tests showed that many young men were psychologically maladjusted, like she writes. And one of the conclusions drawn from the results of the testing was that the existing child-rearing practices were inappropriate for creating well-adjusted individuals. Of course this concentration on child-rearing practices is not surprising given that environmental explanations of social problems emphasized prevention in the area of mental health as an important element of psychological discourse. What I want to emphasize here is that it is at this moment in time that children became an important element of psychological discourses in Canada.  

The child study movement of the 1920s was mainly promoted through private funds, one of which was the wealthy and instrumental Laura Spelman-Rockefeller Memorial. The Memorial was established to provide funding for child welfare projects that, as Varga tells us, were designed to have an immediate as well as a long-term impact on the lives of children. The Memorial was instrumental in combining the research in child development and parent education. These funds were directed towards the development of model child study institutions that included nursery schools. In the 1920s several of these institutions were created such as the Iowa Research Station, the Yale Psych Clinic, that was under the direction of Arnold Gesell the Institute of Child Welfare Research at Teachers’ College Columbia University. And what is relevant for us here is the St. George’s School of Child Study at the University of Toronto and the McGill University Nursery School and Child Laboratory. The St. George’s School of Child Study at the University of Toronto was organized as a section of the department of psychology in 1925. And Dr William Blatz, a medical doctor and psychologist, that was educated in Toronto and Chicago was named director of the Institute.  

In 1938 the Institute was formally established as an independent department within the University of Toronto and its name was changed to the Institute of Child Study. This Institute was comprised of two divisions: the nursery school and the parent education department. They worked in a complimentary way to each other, int hat the practices of the nursery school were expected to be adopted by the parents of the children attending the program. The nursery school was organized so that children’s behaviors could be observed through the controlled and manipulated environment, and the parent education division was created so that the Institute could understand children’s behaviors in home situations and to provide parents with current child development information. Now I’m sure that all of this is becoming very familiar right now as to how early childhood education institutions are ran today within the context of Canada. The nursery schools were described at that point as “appropriate” for the psychological development of young children. And these nursery schools became extremely popular among professionals in the areas of psychology, social work, and medicine.  

I encourage you to read a little bit more about the work that the Institute has done within Canada. Historians have documented the practices of the Institute through the analysis of its curriculum and organization of children’s routines. They have documented the role of the Institute in shaping childcare views in Canada during the 20th century. Skepticism among some parents and professionals around the practices advocated by the Institute have also been recorded, particularly its role in shaping the lives of   Dionne quintuplets  after the 1930s.

And I encourage you to read about the Institute of Child Development at the University of Toronto and about the lives of the Dionne quintuplets not necessarily to inform ourselves about the history and think about these ideas as if they happened in the past and now we are better off, or now we have progressed to a better understanding of childhood.  Instead, I encourage you to read and view this information to think about how our present conditions have been created. It is not by chance that today we think about the child in the ways in which we think about children. It is not by chance that today child development is the main body of knowledge of early childhood education. All of our current ways of thinking about childhood have been created in a particular way throughout history and for particular reasons. Read these texts and view these films as a way of doing a history of the present. H ow is it that child development has become such an important body of knowledge in early childhood education? What actually happened so that today early childhood educators can only think about childhood from a developmental perspective?

Keep in mind that psychological discourses normalized and regulated the practices of day nurseries as they positioned children in need of intervention. Young children attending day nurseries were placed in a marginalized position as they were perceived in need of regulations that would ensure their normal mental health through appropriate behavior guidance approaches. It is this unequal positioning and the idea that [educators of] young children within the childcare system needs psychological expertise to run a developmentally appropriate program that define today the otherness of young children within the childcare field in relation to psychology. 

Also keep in mind that the otherness of young children was made possible through psychological discourses, that strove for the administration and control of young children and their families. Psychological discourses were associated with the construction of self-disciplined individuals able to govern themselves in a changing society. Through the ordering of young children’s social and physical spaces, these goals could be accomplished. And finally keep in mind that when we claim child development expertise, we are holding on to eugenics discourses, as Erica Burman reminds us, we’re holding on to racialized, classed, gendered ideas. 


To end this episode, I want to leave you with two important ideas from Erica Berman’s first chapter. And here’s the first idea that she writes (pg.25):

While hailed by some as the forum in which to resolve age-old philosophical questions about what knowledge is innate and what acquired, the emergence of modern developmental psychology was also prompted by other more pragmatic concerns to classify, measure and regulate, in particular, those populations deemed a social threat to the prevailing order.

And here is the second quote (pg.27): 

..the drive towards rationality in models of development may have been a reflection of the rationalisation of capitalist processes taking place at the level of individual psyche, rather than only industrial development. The norms and milestones that have structured developmental psychology present a picture of orderly, progressive graduation through stages to ever greater competence and maturity. We can see here the modelling of an ideal-typical citizen-subject who is knowable, known, docile and productive.


Notes from this episode are at available on our website You can follow me on Twitter at @/vpacinik and you also welcome to post a review of this episode. 

Thank you so much for joining me this week! 

This episode was recorded on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples, where I am grateful to live and work. 

This has been R ethinking Childhoods. Enjoy the readings, and see you next week! 

Readings suggestions that I mentioned in this episode:

  • Burman, E. (2017).  Deconstructing developmental psychology (Third Edition).  London: Routledge. Introduction & Chapter 1
  • Burman, E. (2020).  Developments: Child, image, nation (Second Edition).  London: Routledge. Chapter 1
  • Varga, D. (1997)   Constructing the Child: a history of Canadian day care. Toronto: James Lorimer.

Episode 2. Discourses of childhood

Hello. I am Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, and this is Rethinking Childhoods. 

In this second mini episode, I would like to extend the discussion on displacing child development from episode 1, and say a few words about how discourses of childhood work.  Like in the previous episode, I want to recommend to you all that you spend time reading the work of the work of childhood scholar Erica Burman – especially her two books   Deconstructing Developmental Psychology   and    Developments: Child , Image, Nation. 

Like any discourses, discourses of childhood are performative in that they not only organize our ideas, thoughts about children, but they also organize our everyday experiences with children, or, in other words, govern our actions in relation to children.  We talk to children in a particular way; we might engage children in activities that only speak to what we think is developmentally appropriate (a very concrete example, we might never offer infants clay because we are absolutely convinced that they will not be ready to encounter clay). In this way, discourses of childhood create certain kinds of worlds for children to encounter, and not to encounter other worlds or other ways of being in the world.  

As Burman also reminds us in her writings, there are competing and contradictory discourses of childhood.  They are not always harmonious and they are not organized in a particular  (or even clear ) manner.  Think about how multiple and competing discourses of childhood are, for example, integrated in the Ontario curriculum.  In the one hand, it states “knowing what to expect in typically developing children can also help educators to recognize when a child is experiencing challenges…” (p. 17); and on the other hand it says “children are competent, capable of complex thinking, curious, and rich in potential” (p. 6).  So we have discourses on competence existing alongside discourses on vulnerability.     


Burman also reminds us that discourses of childhood shift across time and across places.  Yet, we can find many continuities between discourses.  In the previous episode I talked about how theories of self-regulation were key to the construction of child care in Canada in the early 1900s, and how they existed in relation to definitions of mothers, of families, and of the state.  It is not a coincidence that discourses on self regulation continue to be important in our discussions in education – they are part of the Ontario curriculum.  Yes, these discourses engage with different debates within our society.  But they continue to reflect and invoke specific models of political organization.  I invite you think about how discourses on self regulation work today.  What purposes does self-regulation serve today?  And more importantly, how do discourses of childhood that value self-regulation are organized in relation to societal and state interests?  


The final idea about discourses of childhood that I want to speak about is that dominant discourses of childhood serve to silence other discourses or even silence some conversations.  I have been thinking a lot recently about the discourse of children as learners that has dominated discussions about education during the current pandemic.  I have noticed that by focusing on the discourse of children as learners, we have avoided an open conversation about   what are schools for.  I hear in the media, I read in government documents and in international organizations guidelines about that the idea that children are at risk of not learning because schools had to close during the pandemic.  What this really means is that children are at   risk of not performing well   on what has been deemed as basic literacy and numeracy skills.  What this idea is doing is ensuring that we don’t open up a conversation about what education is for, or what school is for?  Who does school as a societal form of organization serve?  In other words, what I am thinking about here is that through the discourse of children as learners, the discourse of education as a mode of subject formation is currently silenced.  

You might wonder, why is this really important?  Why is it important to understand that there are many different discourses? What I want to emphasize before ending is that as educators it’s key that we are able to analyze, to read how discourses of childhood work and how we are implicated within discourses of childhood.  Because childhood is not an innocent category, our role as teachers is not to know the child, to be an expert in child development, to serve as saviours of children’s ignorance.  As educators, we are compelled to study what are the current discourses of childhood that exist today?  And, importantly, what are the discourses that might open possibilities for new relations?  What kinds of discourses might I challenge as an educator, and which ones might I choose to nurture?  


Notes from this episode are at You can follow me on Twitter @pacinik.  You are welcome to post a review of the episode. Thank you so much for joining me this week. 

This episode was recorded on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples, where I’m grateful to live and work.

This has been ​ Rethinking Childhoods​.

Readings suggestions and references for this episode:

  • Burman, E. (2017).  Deconstructing developmental psychology (Third Edition).  London: Routledge.
  • Burman, E. (2020).  Developments: Child, image, nation (Second Edition).  London: Routledge.
  • How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years, 2014. Online:

Episode 3. Problematizing School Readiness

Hello. I am Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw.

This is the third episode of   Rethinking Childhoods. I have invited my colleague and dear friend, Dr. Kathleen Kummen, to speak about the concept of school readiness. 

In previous episodes, we have been thinking and unraveling how the concept of childhood is closely connected with child development and, consequently, with the construction of a particular kind of society. In the following lecture, Kathleen expands for us these connections. She focuses specifically on how the discourse of school readiness connects to the making of a nation. She also highlights for us how school readiness produces docile subjects and perpetuates inequities within our society.  We are calling this episode   Problematizing School Readiness.

Welcome, Kathleen!

Hello. My name is Kathleen Kummen and I’m the chair of the school of Education and Childhood Studies at Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Veronica has asked me today to talk about universal understandings of childhood. I selected the concept of readiness to think about how childhood, understood as purely preparation for the future, can enact and maintain inequities. I think about childhood in this way as a Once-Upon-a-Time story.   Once upon a time, perhaps, there was a ready child…

But before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that I am recording this presentation from my home in Treaty No. 2 territory, in the province now known as Manitoba, which are the traditional and ancestral lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, and Dakota nations. Treaty No. 2 in Manitoba is also the homeland of many Metis people. I offer up this land acknowledgement to express my deep gratitude as an uninvited guest on these lands, and to honour the lands current and ancestral keepers. Further, my hope is that in acknowledging the land, I make visible the ongoing acts of resilience and resistance enacted on Treaty No. 2 lands. I celebrate and honour the resistance that led to the building and opening of “Freedom Road”, which allowed for the end of a boil water advisory for the Shoal Nation, whose waters for decade provided clean drinking water for Winnipeg. I acknowledge the resilience of the people of Grassy Narrows Nation, where 90% of the community continue to suffer from mercury poisoning. I share this information so that as we engage today, together, thinking about childhood, we remember that we do so on lands where, daily, children experience acts of ongoing systemic racism and state-sanctioned violence.

Carlton and Winsler (1999) write that “how a child becomes ready and exactly what readiness means are still a mystery” (p. 338). Within the field of education, researchers, scholars, and educators have ardently contested the notion of readiness for over a century. Scott-Little, Kagan, and Frelow (2006) explain that “the concept of readiness has been influenced by varying (and often competing) views of readiness.” (p.1) Although a universal definition of readiness has not been determined, readiness has become a central feature of policy development in early year services in an attempt to provide young children with a smooth transition to school and future academic success (Wesley & Buysse, 2003).

The sentiments of this discussion are captured by Dockett and Perry (2009) in the statement that “parents and educators anguish over whether or not a child is ready for school as they try to make decisions they believe will best support children.” (p. 20) In their time of anguish over the issue of readiness, parents and educators, at least in the province where I teach, might be relieved (if actually not surprised) that the current   School Act  (1996, c. 28) defines readiness, or the ability to enter school, as the following: being of school age; being a resident of the province; and having adequate classroom space and facilities as determined by the school board.

What is disturbing to me about this concept “readiness” is that it reduces the complexities of childhood to a single story of preparation for the future. A future that Moss and Petrie (2002) assert as “unpredictable” (p. 102). Are we preparing future adults with social, economic, political, and environmental context for which we cannot foresee? 

The discourse of readiness must consider the question asked by Graue (1993): “Ready for what?”  Do we want children to be, to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson (cited in Weiss 2002, 88), “always getting ready to live but never living”?

Social constructionist theory holds that knowledge is not a static truth but constructed in a community shaped by culture, history, gender, language, beliefs, and practices (Hacking, 1999). Since knowledge is always in a state of construction, it is never seen as whole, only partial, and understood as an interpretation rather than an objective fact or truth. Facts, writes Hacking, are the “consequences of ways in which we represent the world”. (p. 33)

From a social constructiveness perspective, readiness is not a definable or measurable characteristic of an individual. Readiness “is lived through others’ perceptions and interpretations” (Graue, Kroeger, and Brown 2002, p. 350). In this way, readiness is understood within a particular time and social context so that “the beliefs, expectations, understandings, and experiences of those in the school, and in the community in which the school exists, largely determine definitions of readiness for that context” (Dockett & Perry 2002, p. 71). With any discourse, readiness reflects the politics and knowledge of the time and the culture and place in which it is created. Readiness must then be conceptualized from the perspective in which it is being positioned at any given time.

In trying to understand readiness, professionals working with young children have been enchanted by the methods of positivist science, in particular the science of psychology (Cannella 1997; Dahlberg, Moss, and Pence 1999, 2007; MacDonald 2007). Rose (1998) writes that developmental science has allowed the child to become definable, quantifiable and classifiable. Science has provided measurable variables to determine the difference between a child, who is developing outside or below the universal norms, or according to those norms. This ability to assess a child’s developmental level through either chronological age or a skill assessment allows professionals working with young children to determine a child’s readiness for school.

What is even more concerning is that child development has created a discourse of childhood from which social policy has been constructed.  Rose (1998) writes that the child through developmental psychology is seen as a universal concept that can be “known objectively” (p.118). And if we take that seriously, it means that we are using scientific knowledge as if it was fact to determine the lives of young children.

What’s troubling about this is the universal understanding of development is based on research conducted primarily on children living in the western regions of the world. Scholars such as Arnett (2008), Pence and Hix-Small (2007) write that research based on the western regions of the world disregards the experience of more than 90% of the world’s children. This contests the ability of science to generalize child development findings to a world population on the basis of its own criteria for scientific validity. It appears that readiness is not a neutral, objective concept based on natural developmental progression, but an assessment that privileges one way of understanding childhood over another.

A number of challenges have been raised against the notion of readiness as a universal set of indicators that demonstrates a child’s readiness to enter school. As this perspective pathologizes individual children and communities of children who do not conform to the universal standards (Phoenix, cited in Burman, 2008). <Burman writes – please see Burman, 2017, 2020> If we take seriously [Erica] Burman’s assertion [propositions], cultural and economic inequities are evident in number of studies, suggesting that children from particular ethnic groups and lower socio-economic groups are over identified as not yet ready to enter kindergarten.

The goal of the government of British Columbia ( Strategic Plan 2006/07-2008/0), where I’m from, is to have “the best educated and most literate jurisdiction on the continent.” This vision is not without some merit and does speak to the province’s commitment to children and youth; yet, to quote Foucault (cited in MacNaughton 2005, p. 201), “my point is not [that] everything is bad but that everything is dangerous.” The concept of readiness is not inherently a bad thing, but the implications of readiness as a single story of childhood, one of preparation, void of critical reflection, can be dangerous.

I would like to consider some alternative perspectives that seek to transform social policy on readiness by imagining childhood as complex and contradictory. MacNaughton (2003) writes that a transforming perspective aims to change in order to create something new or different. This view implies that social policy as it relates to readiness needs to challenge existing injustices so to create a more just and equitable society.  I would argue that children need to be viewed as “human beings” rather than “human becomings” (Qvortrup 2008, p. 4). Moss and Petrie (2002) write that “each time we use expressions such as ‘children are our future’ we colonize their lives and make them instruments of our redemption” (p. 102).

Readiness privileges childhood [the child] as of a future adult or citizen, and marginalizes the child’s value in the present. I would like to suggest that in education we have an obligation to address the child as a citizen of today and provide children with opportunities to reach their potential on the basis of that citizenship and not some future value. Furthermore, I would argue that, by presenting the future as a known commodity, we fail to recognize that the future is unpredictable and that will hold circumstances that we cannot anticipate (Moss & Petrie, 2002). We only need to look at the current example of the life in a pandemic to understand this.

Further, Moss and Petrie suggests that in preparing children for a predetermined future, we risk seeing learning as a singular pathway that limits the possibilities of diversity in the future. If we are to value diversity, then we would maximize the possibility that future citizens will have a diverse set of skills and knowledges. And children who learn in an environment that values diversity and multiple perspectives might be more open to alternative ways of seeing and thinking about issues and problems that that will confront them in the 21st century.

“Throughout our everyday interactions, – Robinson and Diaz (2006) write, – we speak and perform discourse into existence” (p. 30). By speaking of readiness, we bring into being the ready and unready child and reinscribe the inequities associated with that binary. Transforming social policy and education to <create> a more just society asks us to think differently in order to change something. By removing the discourse of readiness from childhood, we challenge discrimination and make visible the effects of discrimination on the learner.  By the elimination of readiness, we invite those who work with children, to quote Davis (cited in MacNaughton 2003, p. 77) to “build their own pictures of children as learners and capture specific children, in specific circumstances, at specific times”.

Giving up the discourse of readiness evident in current social policy also requires moving away from employing child development as the sole source of expertise in understanding children. The removal of child development would make room for the voices of other cultures, other disciplines, and other understandings that have been silenced or marginalized as a result of the hegemony of child development (MacNaughton, 2003).

If we disrupt the dominant discourses of developmental theory, including the discourses of readiness, then childhood might more easily be recognized as a social construct in which children are not a universal entity but complex, diverse, and at times contradictory human beings (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 2007). 

Working with an image of children as complex and unknown individuals opens ups the possibility of multiple ways of pedagogical practice. This image also constructs an image of an educator who creates spaces that are ready to welcome children and not spaces for readying. Rinaldi (2006, p, 125) writes that “this requires a ‘powerful’ teacher, the only kind of teacher suitable for <…> ‘powerful’ child.” A powerful educator, Rinaldi explains, is open to the unexpected and engages in learning with the child as a researcher to be open to possibilities in the project of education.  The task of the powerful educator is to “create a context in which children’s curiosity, theories and research are legitimated and listened to, a context in which children feel comfortable and confident, motivated and respected in their existential and cognitive paths and processes” (p. 126). The question of readiness seems to be extraneous in a classroom in which powerful individuals come together to co-construct understanding and meaning. Moss, Dillon, and Statham (2000, p. 250) refer to this image as a “rich” child, as opposed to a child in need, who is “born equipped to lead, neither asking nor needing adult permission to start learning.” In response to the image of the rich child, Moss and Petrie (2002) envision spaces where children and adults come together as a community to construct relationships as co-constructors of knowledges.

Competent and complex children must be recognized as “experts of their own lives”, write Dockett and Perry (2005, p. 4), and adults should be seen as often having “limited understanding of children’s lives and experiences”. A transforming position moves children from the position of “objects of inquiry”, write Dockett & Perry (2002), to contributors to research. In a study in which children were viewed as experts on the discourses of readiness, Dockett and Perry (2005) asked young children these questions: What did you need to know when you started school? What is important for them to know about this school? The significance of this study lies not just in what the children said, but also in the fact that their opinions were deemed worthy. The research repositioned children as competent and knowledgeable actors in the readiness process.

 My intention in this presentation is not to condemn the project of readiness, but to challenge it and to invite conversations that make visible the possible dangers inherent in a project based on a Western scientific conceptualization of “the child,” as one that is primarily concerned with the future (Lather, 2007). Scott (1998, p. 95) labels projects with a future focus and whose authority is derived from scientific knowledge as high modernism. The high modernist project is problematic, Scott argues, because it has a “tendency to disallow other competing sources of judgment.”

Readiness, I contend, needs to be understood as a complex, diverse, and highly problematic concept. Readiness should not be heard as a single story in which children are seen as ready or not ready.  As a social construct, readiness must be interpreted from multiple perspectives and not just from a measurable set of characteristics within a child.  By inviting into the conversation other understandings of readiness, we might be surprised and inspired to discover infinite possibilities for welcoming children into schools.

You just heard a lecture on school readiness by Kathleen Kummen. If you want to learn more about Kathleen’s work, you can check out the  Capilano University School of Education and Childhood Studies website . You can follow Kathleen on Twitter   @KKummen.

As always, notes from this episode are available at our website.

This is Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. You can follow me on Twitter   @vpacinik. You are welcome to post a review of the episode in OWL.

Thank you so much for joining me, this week, and until the next episode!

Readings suggestions and references for this episode:

  • Arnett, J.J. 2008. “The Neglected 95%: Why American Psychology Needs to Become Less American.” American Psychologist 63, 7: 602-14.
  • Burman, E. 2008. Developments: Child, Image, Nation. London: Routledge.
  • Burman, E. 2017. Deconstructing developmental psychology (Third Edition).  London: Routledge.
  • Burman, E. 2020. Developments: Child, image, nation (Second Edition).  London: Routledge.
  • Cannella, G. 1997. Deconstructing Early Childhood Education: Social Justice and Revolution. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Carlton, M., and A. Winsler. 1999. “School Readiness: The Need for a Paradigm Shift.” School Psychology Review 28, 3: 338-51.
  • Dahlberg, G., P. Moss, and A. Pence. 1999. Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Care and Education: Beyond Quality. London: Routledge.
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  • Moss, P., J. Dillon, and J. Statham. 2000. “The ‘Child in Need’ and the ‘Rich Child’: Discourse, Construction, and Practice.” Critical Social Policy 20, 2: 233-54
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Episode 4. Reconfiguring the natures of childhood: A conversation with Affrica Taylor.


I am Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw and this is the fourth episode of Rethinking Childhoods. Today, I will be having a conversation with my colleague and dear friend Dr. Affrica Taylor.

Affrica is an adjunct professor at the University of Canberra in Australia, and she is the founding member of the   Common Worlds Research Collective. The collective is an international network of childhood and feminist scholars and educators whose work refuses the divide between social and natural worlds. The collective focuses on the productive entanglements of worldly relations, and experiments with methodologies and pedagogies that exceed an exclusively human focus. Affrica has a long-standing interest in the interdependant and mutually-constitutive relations between people, places and other species. Her work is informed by her cultural geography background as well as nearly two decades of teaching in remote desert and urban Australian Aboriginal communities. She has a keen interest in the current environmental humanities’ responses to the Anthropocene and in establishing a dialogue between Indigenous ontologies and the more-than-human term within the social Sciences and humanities. She has played a key leading role in bringing these debates into the fields of education and childhood studies.  

Today, Affrica is going to be talking with me about her book   Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood . In this book, she uses reconstructive feminist methods to re-theorize childhood and nature and to explore the pedagogical affordances of children’s real life common relations, including indigenous and non indigenous children’s relations with places and other animals.  

Affrica has also published a second book that I had the privilege to co-edit with her and the title is  Unsettling the Colonial Places and Spaces of Early Childhood Education . In this book Affrica contributes to the project of decolonizing early childhood pedagogies by interrogating the colonialist tensions that inhere in the physical spaces, epistemological spaces, and in the indigenous-settler relations of early childhood education.  

I will also mention that Affrica has conducted multi species ethnographic research with young children. Many of you listening have been questioning what to do after the critique on child development, and I encourage all of you to take a look at Affrica’s work with young children where she thinks about childhood beyond developmental psychology. Her most recent iteration of multispecies ethnographies is recorded in a blog that is called   Walking with Wildlife in Wild Weather Times,  and in this project she worked with preschool children at the Australian National University. You can access this blog through the   Common Worlds Research Collective  website. In this research, she challenges anthropogenic climate change and species extinctions, and seeks multi species and inter-generational environmental justice. With young children she investigates and promotes a relational and decolonizing ethics for multi species living and learning in ecologically volatile times.  

And finally, I want to mention her most recent book titled   The Common Worlds of Children and Animals,  that again I had the privilege to co-author with Affrica. This book addresses issues of Inter species and inter-generational environmental justice through examining the entanglement of children’s and animals’ lives and common worlds. The book explores everyday encounters and unfolding relations between children and urban world life. As many of Affrica’s books and writings, this particular one is inspired by feminist environmental philosophies and indigenous cosmologies. The book poses a new relational ethics based upon the small achievements of child-animal interactions. It also provides an analysis of animal narratives in children’s popular culture, and it traces the geo-historical trajectories and convergences of these narratives and of the lives of children and animals in settler colonial lands.  

VPK:  Now, following this introduction, I want to welcome Dr. Affrica Taylor. Thank you, Affrica, for joining us in this episode of Rethinking Childhoods!  

AT: Thanks very much, Veronica, for asking me to talk about my book Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood.  

VPK: Affrica, as you know your text  Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood has been a very important book for my own scholarship and my own work with young children in early childhood education spaces. And I also want to note for all of our listeners that the book Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood really changes the conversation in childhood studies. It is a very important book that provides us knew venues for how we might view early childhood education and particularly how we might view the concept of childhood. I want to begin our conversation by asking you if you can speak a little bit about what motivated you to reconfigure the natures of childhood.  

AT:   Well, the main thing I wanted to do was to tackle the unscrutinized relationship between popular Western concepts of childhood and closely associated popular Western concepts of nature. And that’s because most of us in the West just take the idea of nature for granted. It’s sort of seen as something that’s self-evidently real. We don’t actually often see nature as an idea, or in other words, as a cultural concept, and this is because in Western knowledge traditions nature just is. It stands apart from culture. And in fact, nature and culture are regarded as quite separate, if not polar opposites. So before I could work on reconfiguring childhoods, I needed to pay close attention to how certain taken-for-granted Western understandings of nature shape existing Western understandings about childhood. And I wanted to tease apart what happens when we think about childhood as something that’s self-evidently natural or a stage of life that is self-evidently close to nature. One of the things that prompted me to do this relates to Donna Haraway’s work and she’s always been a muse for me. She reminds us quite regularly that it really matters what ideas we used to think other ideas with. So back to, you know, these ideas of nature and ideas of childhood, I wanted to put the spotlight on how these certain taken-for-granted ideas about nature and natural matter to the ways that we understand childhood in the West, that is. And by doing so I wanted to open up a space for reconfiguring childhood in ways that aren’t premised upon the separation of nature and culture. But you know, it’s a two step process and step one is to understand what ideas about nature do to ideas about childhood, and how this shapes the practices of early childhood education.  

VPK: Affrica, I might even say that you have been an outspoken critic of romantic notions of childhood and nature, and, throughout all of your work, you have been working to denaturalize childhood. Can you speak to us a little bit more about what this romantic notions entail? What are their premises? What are some of their assumptions?  

AT:   Even though nature is always cast as separate from culture, in Western knowledge traditions, there are very different ways of valuing it. Early childhood education has been profoundly influenced by the Romantic philosophical movement associated with Jean Jacques Rousseau which sanctify’s nature is pure and perfect. But there of course there are other Western philosophical traditions that cost nature as in need of improving by cultivation. But, ever since Rousseau wrote his 18th century romantic treatise called Emile on the merits of educating young children in nature, highly romanticized conceptualizations of childhood and nature have been closely coupled. So Rousseau’s ideas have had an enduring influence on the trajectory of early childhood education and  ways of thinking about childhood, much more in the early childhood sector than in any other sector of education.  

Rousseau’s romantic philosophies are premised on the belief in nature as the epitome of goodness of purity, of morality, of innocence. And as the opposite and and also the antidote to the corrupting evils of culture and urban society. He promoted a very binary good nature vs. bad culture framework, and he also assumed childhood to be a naturally good, pure and innocent time of life because he saw it as a time before the evil influences of corrupting society can take hold. He argued that nature is the child’s best teacher, and that an education in nature will ensure that childhood and children remain pure and innocent. So following on from Rousseau’s philosophy’s Froebel, who was you know often referred to as the so called “father of early Childhood education”, he picked up on Rousseau’s romantic philosophies when he designed the first kindergarten, which is literally, you know, the children’s garden in the first half of the 19th century. So Froebel likened the cultivation of young children’s growth and development to the practice of cultivating plants. These kinds of romantic associations still prevail in contemporary discourses. And one that really stands out is Richard Louv’s writings about returning children to nature in order to save them from the psychological damage of techno society. He wrote a book called Last Child in the Woods, Saving Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. It had a big influence. So, what I’ve kind of noticed  is that in recent times this romantic association of nature in childhood has really intensified with the upsurge of interest in nature-based early childhood educations. And some of that is due to Louv’s work and his influence, but not entirely. The all-weather-outdoor kindergartens in Scandinavian countries have been happening, you know, for the second half of the 20th century. They’ve spawned an interest in forest schools in Germany and in the UK, and then of course this new wave of nature kindergartens springing up across the anglophone Western world, often picking up on Louv’s ideas. So in all of these circles nature is celebrated as the best teacher for young children and is seen as best for their moral education, their physical development, and their emotional development.  

So in order to pave the way for reconceptualizing childhood beyond the nature-culture divide, even a divide that positions children on the side of nature, I wanted to trouble this romantic association of nature in childhood that’s so foundational to early childhood education and seems to be, you know, just gaining more and more traction in contemporary times. So my first step in the book was to interrogate what romantic understandings about nature do to these associated romantic understandings of childhood, and the whole point of the work that I was doing in this first part of the book, in this first step, was to trouble trouble the limits of this coupling.  

VPK: Affrica, these forest schools or outdoor programs that you trouble are right now in fashion in early childhood education, at least in Canada or even within the Western world. What is so troubling about romantic notions of nature and childhood for you? And how did you go about troubling it?  

AT:  Well, for me, the biggest trouble is that romantic Western notions of nature as somehow pure transcendent and set apart from corrupting culture simultaneously feed off and reinforce the deluded hyper-separation between humans and the rest of the world. Or what is often referred to as the nature-culture divide. And they pull notions of childhood with them in quite nuanced and complex ways. Also very problematic is the fact that unexamined and essentialist kind of Western notions of nature have long been mobilized in very sort of dangerous ways to justify unjust hierarchical orders as natural and normal. To say: you know it’s, it’s just like that, is just naturally like that, that’s the order of things. And nature is being used in such ways to identify certain groups of people as unnatural, or naturally inferior. Here think about racist, misogynist and homophobic oppression and modes of persecution. Now I know this isn’t exactly what’s happened in the case of children, but within early childhood education there is a strong element of justifying white middle class measures of childhood development as self-evidently natural and therefore universally normal. And this, in turn, renders all non-white/Western/middle-class ways of knowing about and responding to young children in deficit terms, and this is a problem.  

The other obvious problem is that, and it’s related to the last one, is that not all people everywhere and in all times maintain this kind of hyper separation of nature and culture. It’s actually a very modern Western kind of thing to do, and it’s quite blind to its own cultures of nature and leads us into lots of delusional, dangerous ways of relating to the wider world, which we are actually not separate separate from at all, l but an integral part of it. Anyway, back to early childhood education. What struck me was that even though childhood had been thoroughly theorized, mostly by developmental psychologists as a series of natural life stages, but also more recently by post-structuralists as a cultural not a natural phenomenon, neither side of this theoretical divide, you know, the natural developmentalists or the the cultural poststructuralists within the early childhood field had attempted to theorize nature. It was just, you know, a taken for granted concept for both camps. And in my mind this was a problematic oversight and a missing link in identifying the underlining cultural premises structuring our understandings of childhood.  

Now, because of my geography background, I’d already been exposed to a plethora of work that troubles Western notions of nature. It hasn’t been happening in education, but it’s been happening in lots of other fields. In fact, nature as a notion as being subject to close scrutiny in a whole heap of fields that straddle the humanities, the post humanities, and the natural and social sciences: fields like more than human geography, environmental humanities and science, and environmental philosophy. So because I’m an interdisciplinary scholar, because I straddle more than human geography and education, I wanted to use the troubling theorizations of nature that I’m already familiar with from my geography background to throw further light on the theorizations of childhood and nature. In particular on the popularity of nature-based early childhood education.  

I wanted to explore how certain ways of understanding childhood as natural, and children as having a natural affinity with nature, had long been bolstered and justified by taking for granted Euro/Western-centric and universalized notions of nature.  

VPK: Thank you Affrica for outlining the problems with these romantic notions of nature and childhood. And it’s interesting to hear how you have gone about troubling some of these notions, given the importance of this problems, right? Affrica, my last question: can you speak about why is the reconfiguring of the natures of childhood important, particularly now in the 21st century?  

AT:  Ok, I’ll answer the question of importance in a minute, but first I want to note that the second half of the book is my attempt to reconfigure childhood beyond the nature-culture divide. In this part I wanted to show what childhood might look like if it’s not coupled with purist notions of nature, or seen as a purely cultural construct. So, in order to reconfigure childhood, I reposition it within what Donna Haraway calls “natureculture”, or the inextricable entanglement of the natural, cultural, technological, semiotic, material, etc, etc worlds.  

This kind of indivisible world and this natureculture world is also what Bruno Latour refers to as “common worlds”, worlds which are constituted through the comings together of all of their actors and the shaping and the reshaping, the making and the remaking of those worlds collectively. And when he talks about this sort of action of common worlding of all these different actors, he’s speaking about not just human beings and beings other-than-humans, but also all the forces on Earth, and, you know, the geological forces shifting tectonic plates, seismic eruptions, winds, ocean currents, and also entities, geological entities: landforms, rivers, mountains, deserts. So he’s talking about common world is being all of that. If we re-position childhoods in these naturecultures, or these common worlds, these full, very full inclusive worlds, rather than in the either/or of separated-off human culture and society or some externalized romantic notion of nature, we can’t help but simultaneously reconfigure childhoods.  

Ok, so to get to your question, why is it important to do this now in the 21st century century? Well, it’s because along with others like Val Plumwood the Australian ecofeminist philosopher, I believe that the multiple catastrophic ecological collapses that we’re facing today are the direct consequence, a whole suite of human actions. And these actions are based on the mistaken belief that humanity is separate from the natural world and invulnerable to it; and that the natural world, presumably out there, is simply a resource for our use.  So for example, I’m thinking of rapid global warming, or climate change as it’s often referred to, which is brought about by our extractive fossil fuel economies and our excessive consumption, and our carbon emissions that come from all of that. I’m also thinking of the critical loss of biodiversity and the breakdown of ecosystems that is manifesting in this cascade of mass extinctions. They are calling it the sixth mass extinction event, the first to be caused by human actions such as deforestation, land clearing, industrial scale agriculture and habitat destruction, along with pollutants in the waters and on the lands that kill creatures as well.  

So this Western notion of the nature/culture divide, I see it as the driving premise of this current age of human-precipitated ecological crisis which is now referred to as the Anthropocene. I think that this divide underpins the deluded assumption that we can act upon the natural world at will and with impunity to satisfy all of our human desires which we tend to misconstrue as needs.  

Any way, to bring this back to the need to reconfigure the natures of childhood: if we continue to relegate childhood to either natural or cultural worlds, instead of indivisible natural-and-cultural common worlds, will continue to enact the same divide that is the root cause of all our problems. We will continue to pretend that the idealized romantic notion of nature that we’d like young children to learn from exists in some utopian imaginary that’s totally out of touch with the realities of the Earth’s current state of ecological damage and precarity. Or we’ll continue to pretend that children grow up and learn in a hermetically-sealed human society or cultural context that’s disassociated from the more than human world around it. Either way will remain in denial. So I argue in the book that re-situating childhood in the imperfect, messy, damaged but also potentially recuperative common worlds, in which children actually grow up, will be much more realistic. Will also be better able to foster collective dispositions, and to guide children in ways of learning with others,  human and more than human; in learning about how to inherit and respond to their common messy legacies. In a multi species sense, they’re all kind of inheriting this mess together. We bequeathed it to them. And I guess we’ll be helping them to learn how to live as well as possible together with all of these others with all of their differences.  

But this takes us into the territory of common worlding pedagogies. And I think that’s probably best left to be the topic of another podcast, ’cause it’s a whole new discussion to be had. So thanks very much, Veronica, I hope this helps to clarify what the book’s about.  

VPK: I want to thank you, Affrica, for joining us today to talk about your book Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood. You have certainly given us lots to think about and to understand the key role that early childhood education has in the ongoingness of the world. And of course, we take your offer to come back, and hopefully we will be able to continue the conversation on common worlds that you began.  

Before we go, I want to mention again for those who are listening today to visit to check out the   Common Worlds Research Collective website. Thanks again, Affrica!  

You have been listening to  Reconfiguring the natures of childhood: A conversation with Affrica Taylor. If you want to learn more about Affrica’s work, you can check out the   Common Worlds Research Collective website.

You can also follow Affrica on Twitter @AffricaTaylor (and that’s Affrica with two F’s). I also want to encourage all our listeners to read Affrica’s book with the same title as this episode,  Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood.   Notes from this episode, as always, are at our website.  

I am Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw  and you can follow me on Twitter at   @vpacinik. You’re welcome to post the review of the episode in OWL. Thank you so much for joining me and Affrica.  

I have recorded this episode on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples, where I’m grateful to live and work. 

This has been Rethinking Childhoods.  
Until next week.  

Episode 5. Decolonizing Place in Early Childhood Education: A conversation with Dr. Fikile Nxumalo.

Episode 5. Conversation with Dr. Fikile Nxumalo.  

Hello. I am Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. 

Welcome to the fifth episode of Rethinking Childhoods. You are all for a treat this week! In this episode I am having a conversation with my colleague and dear friend  Dr. Fikile Nxumalo

Fikile is a faculty member in the   Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education  at the University of Toronto, where she directs the  Childhood Place Pedagogy Lab . Fikile’s scholarship focuses on reconceptualizing place-based and environmental education within current times of ecological precarity. Her work is rooted in perspectives from indigenous knowledges, black feminist geographies and critical post-humanist theories. Her research and pedagogical interests are informed by her experiences growing up in Swaziland and working as a pathologist with children and educators in North American settler-colonial context. Her research and practice collaborations include that he  Tkaronto CIRCLE Lab,  the  Common Worlds Research Collective (which you’ve heard about on the last episode), the  Early Childhood Pedagogies Collaboratory and  Planet Texas 2050. Her latest book is  Decolonizing Place in Early Childhood Education  (Routledge, 2019). The book examines the entanglements of place, environmental education, childhood, race, and settler-colonialism in early learning context. 

VPK:   Fikile, welcome to Rethinking Childhoods. 

FN:  Thank you, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me. 

VPK:   Fikile, let’s start with an introduction to your amazing and important work. Can you please tell us about your scholarship in early childhood education? What interests you? What ideas, theories, concepts are important for you right now? 

FN:  Sure. Perhaps I’d like to start by just saying that I come into the conversation through multiple geographies that include, but are not limited to, my own experiences of encountering anti-black racism while growing up in close proximity to the apartheid regime in South Africa, to multiple experiences of then adult and in Canadian context, and most recently working in Central Texas. And perhaps most relevant to our conversation is in my field, when I was working in early childhood education as a family childcare provider taking care of children, including my own children, and trying to make sense of young children’s encounters with racialized identities. And then also in my work as a pedagogista, having different experiences with the ways in which young black children encountered my blackness inpredominantly white spaces. So my work has come from both personal embodied and emotional experiences with anti-blackness and racialization, as well as a desire to make sense of, or theorize, the complex ways in which young children navigate their racialized subjectivities. One of the first pieces of writing that I did was actually with you, Veronica, was about my young daughter trying on the identity of a blonde, long-haired Rapunzel and the multiple emotions that stood up for me. So that’s one way that I would say I kind of come into the conversation. And I have come to think with black feminist perspectives to think about the ways in which blackness emerges and comes to matter, not only in its structural effects, but also in these everyday encounters in early childhood education. So black feminist perspectives have helped me to pay close attention, for instance, to the ways in which black place matters to anti-blackness. And so in my recent work, for instance, I’ve been thinking with black feminist geographies as a way of refusing the deficits and erasures that abound with respect to black children and families’ relations with the environment, particularly in urban spaces. So I also come into the work, in relation to my most recent work, with wanting to think with black feminist geographies about what it can mean to affirm black childhoods in place-based and environmental education.

VPK:   You have been an outspoken critic of anti-black racism within the context of early childhood education. Can you speak more about what anti-black racism entails? What are the premises and assumptions? And of course, what are the implications of racism for children and their families? 

FN:  That’s a good question. I find it really useful to think <and> work with the term anti-blackness and so my friend   kihana ross  defines anti-blackness as one way that some black scholars have articulated what it means to be marked as black in an anti-black world. So, in helping to think about it as more than just racism against black people. But also a way of thinking, or a conceptual framework that really illuminates society’s inability to recognize black humanity, and so the kind of disregard for black lives. And so it captures, I think, in a stronger way the reality of the kind of violence that saturates black life that is not based on something who has been racialized as black has done. So, and it’s kind of the ways in which unrelenting kind of everyday anti-blackness pervasive in society. And I would say this definition also applies to early childhood education, where I think there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence for the everydayness of anti-black dehumanization for young black children, including in the Canadian context. And so there’s been a lot of work done around the ways in which preschool teachers, for instance, observe and over discipline young black children, especially young black boys, who are subject to surveillance and punitive discipline beginning in the early childhood years. And this, as expected, has devastating implications and effects, including effects captured, but by what to me is a really heartbreaking descriptor called the preschool to prison pipeline, referring to the early years as the beginnings of, you know, the carceral experience of schooling and push out and criminalization of black children. And I do want to underline that while much of the research has been done in the US, this is very much relevant to the Canadian context as well. And so I think it’s really important in our context in Canada to not be seduced by the rhetoric of Canadian multiculturalism, but to really think about the ways in which anti-blackness is pervasive in Canadian early childhood and schooling contexts as well. And I think it’s important to emphasize that there are these kind of explicit instances of anti-blackness in early childhood, but also many disturbingly mundane ways that young black students are constructed in deficit ways. So in my work I’m interested in responding to anti-blackness in environmental and place-based education for young children, which for me means responding to the whiteness and coloniality that underpins dominant understandings of nature, wilderness and environmental education, which yourself, Veronica, and Affrica [Taylor] and others have also done important work in this area. And for me, this whiteness manifests in constructions of nature as a fixative, so as a way to improve individual developmental and academic outcomes for black children. And there’s a surprisingly large amount of work that constructs, for instance, schools, gardens, or nature education in this way, for racially marginalized children who are always seen, already viewed as lacking or out of place or out of touch with the so-called natural world. And so I’m interested in taking apart the ways in which nature education comes to be positioned as a form of rescue for so-called at-risk, racially-marginalized children, while for privileged white children, such as those attending white kindergartens, predominantly white kindergartens and preschools, the nature ones, nature is seen as a space of, you know, play and discovery. And so, the wonderful Affrica Taylor writes so well about the coupling of innocence and nature. And to that I would add white childhood innocence in nature. So this is just one way in which anti-blackness matters in early childhood, that perhaps is maybe not so prevalently known about it and maybe not paid as much attention to, but I think really matters a lot. 

VPK:   Fikile, I want to pick up on what you mentioned regarding settler-colonialism. How do you see settler-colonialism impacting black lives within the context of early childhood education? And a related question: how do you grapple in your own work with these complexities? 

FN:  Well, I would begin by saying that, while in the context of settler-colonial states such as Canada, struggles against anti-black racism and anti-indigeneity are not the same, I really believe, as many others have said and written, that our liberatory futures are intimately connected. And so it’s important for black, indigenous and black-indigenous peoples to find ways to be in relation. And so, a recent piece written by   Sefanit Habtom and Dr. Megan Scribe  uses a term that I like which is  co-conspiring. So, they suggest that we must find ways to co-conspire for decolonial futures, including within educational context. So, building on this perspective, then, the harms of settle colonialism on black lives includes rhetoric that places responses to anti-blackness as diverting attention from or separate from responding to anti-indigenous racism. And so within early childhood, one way to think about this would be through educational practices that absorb black children into the colonial project through pedagogies and curriculum that erase or decentralise indigenous peoples and cultures. And coming back to what I said on trying to avoid the seduction of multiculturalism, these pedagogies can be harmful not only by teaching young people that indigenous people are just another group in the Canadian nation and ignoring issues of sovereignty, these are also harmful in positioning black children as well, regardless of their multi-generational relationship to Canada, as always from somewhere else to what is constructed within multiculturalism, as the original Canadian norm, which is the white settler. So in my work with grappling with these complexities, I think it means finding a way, finding ways to respond within the context of place-based and environmental education.

And two: one thing that I found useful is from black feminist geographer   Katherine McKittrick, who states that black matters and spacial matters, and another,   Dolores Calderon  who states that place is foundational to settler-colonialism. So, in my work, bringing these two ideas into dialogue means that for early childhood research and teaching, that centers race and place, and is situated in settler-colonial space such as Canada, it is always important to be thinking about how to avoid erasures of black, indigenous and black-indigenous relationships to place. So, for my work, for instance, in Central Texas, I recently written about a young black girl whom I call Simone (pseudonym), who was one of two black children in the kindergarten class that I worked with, and thought about how the ways in which, for me, subverting anti-blackness meant, without reinforcing problematic child-centered discourses, but meant for me creating space for her curiosities and being on the lookout for ways to invite her into relations with the more-than-human and pay attention to her relational place-making with indigenous perspectives of the water pedagogies that we were engaged with, and to listen to her stories of her family’s relations to Texas. And so, it was also important, as I just said, that Simone participated in the curriculum which included learning about indigenous place-relations in that particular area, which was Coahuiltecan lands. I don’t think there is one way to respond, but to think about how to be always thinking those two together, in terms of black and indigenous place relations, and always to think about how to subvert Canadian multiculturalism which, I think, gets in the way of grappling with this in complicated ways.

VPK:   Thank you, Fikile! You have give us, especially those of us working with young children in early education context, a lot to think about, to consider as we continue our own work.

You have been listening to   Decolonizing Place in Early Childhood Education: A conversation with Dr. Fikile Nxumalo  in Rethinking Childhoods. If you want to learn more about Fikile’s work, you can check out her website You can also follow Fikile on   Twitter @Nxumalo71. I also encourage you to read Fikile’s latest book with the same title as this episode:   Decolonizing Place in Early Childhood Education .

As usual, show notes from this episode are on our website. 

Again, I am Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. You can follow me on   Twitter at @vpacinik. You’re also welcome to post the review of the episode. Thank you so much for joining me in my conversation with Fikile Nxumalo. 

I have recorded this episode on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples, where I’m grateful to live and work.

This has been Rethinking Childhoods. 

Episode 6. Science Fiction and SF in Education and Childhood Studies: A Conversation with Iveta Silova.

Episode 6. Science Fiction and SF in Education and Childhood Studies: A Conversation with Iveta Silova. 

Hello, this is Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. Welcome to Rethinking Childhoods. This is episode #6 and today I am having a conversation with my colleague Dr. Iveta Silova about SF: science fiction, speculative fabulation, so far… within the context of education and childhood studies. 

Iveta Silova is professor and director of the Center for the Advanced Studies in Global Education at Teachers College at Arizona State University. Her research reveals the multiple meanings and processes of post-socialist education transformations through numerous articles and books, including her latest book published in 2018 titled Childhood and Schooling in (Post)Socialist Societies: Memories of Everyday Life. By contesting a common expectation that post-socialist societies would inevitably converge towards Western norms, Iveta’s work conceptually reframes post-socialism as open, plural, and inevitably uncertain. More recently, Iveta has engaged in research that looks at how our current modernist education paradigm is implicated in the climate crisis by prioritizing Western education models that focus on economic growth, technocratic determinism, human exceptionalism and liberal individualism over environmental concerns. She draws on ecofeminist and memory studies research to explore alternatives beyond the Western education paradigm that could contribute to the collective effort to fundamentally reimagine education. 

VPK: Hello Iveta and welcome to Rethinking Childhoods. 

IS: Thank you, Veronica, for inviting me to speak about the science fiction and speculative fabulation today. 

VPK: It’s a great pleasure to have you with us today. I wonder if we can begin by thinking about why science fiction in childhood studies? Why do you think that there is a space in childhood studies and in education to integrate and to think with science fiction? What might science fiction do, or what might speculative fabulation do in education and childhood studies? 

IS: What a great question to start with, Veronica! And I must admit first, for the record, that I have not really thought with science fiction or speculative fabulation (or SF, more broadly) myself until very recently. And once I did, I think, it made the world of childhood studies and, actually in general, my academic work so much more exciting and also more meaningful, and maybe even more powerful. I actually found myself being able to say things that I thought before, but never dared to say out loud or write about. And so to me the SF, as a mechanism, opened the space to a whole new world and also  gave me the courage to bring into the education discussions [and] things that I did not dare to say or bring up before because of all of the different rules that the academia and the scientific research established historically and we, especially as junior academics, have to follow to fit in and to move through this academia machine that produces who we are. And so maybe now at a later stage in my life, when I do have my tenure and full professorship, I allowed myself to play with SF and found it absolutely liberating and perhaps regretting that I have not done it before. 

But let me just talk a little bit about why it’s important… So many reasons for why we would use SF in education, but I think one of them is because our realities seem to be so much more narrowing and, in a way, controlling how we think about education. our imagination and freedoms are also narrowing, I think, as a result of this kind of neoliberal reality within which we are operating; and that kind of forces us to think about education in particular ways. And I think science fiction, and speculative fabulation, and other SF genres, help us to think outside of this reality and almost in defiance, against some of the historical continuities, and give us maybe also the ability to reclaim the power to articulate new possibilities. In particular I was reading recently an interview with Isabelle Stengers and she refereed there to Ursula K. Le Guin and the acceptance speech that she gave for the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014, and in that acceptance speech she actually said that she shared the reward with all of the writers who’ve been excluded from literature for so long: her fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction, writers of the Imagination. And she added: 

Hard times are coming when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society in its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagined real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom, poets, visionaries, realist of a larger reality. 

In a way, I think, she also really nicely captures the limits of the world that has been constructed for us and it really urges people to poetically imagine the possibilities. 

And, of course, I’m also really inspired by the work of Donna Haraway, who in turn has been inspired so much by Ursula K. Le Guin and others. She talks about the SF stories as possibilities for recomposing lives together and making new sorts of kin in hard times. So she sees SF as a prepositional speculative worlding, basically using speculative fabulation, science fiction to make new worlds, ongoing worlds. And I think we, as educators, should be part of this process because these new worlds have to be created now and I think many of these new worlds already exist in the imaginations of children. And then they have become confined as children go through mainstream schooling, in a way. 

Maybe really quickly I’ll also touch on the whole designation of “SF” because so far I already have used many different terms for it, and I think again Donna Haraway has been really great in trying to maybe bring all of the different forms of SF under this larger umbrella that she called SF, and so she includes there the story-telling and fact-telling; she includes under the SF category science fiction, also science fact as part of the constellation; she also includes the speculative fabulation that, again, can help us transform some of the moral dilemmas into new possibilities. She includes there speculative feminism that, again, gives us this destabilizing power to the sense that we may have the possibility for things to be otherwise and not just follow what’s already there. And I really like the also “so far” in the SF; and this is the cry that things did not need to be what they are, but also the cry for an adventurous empiricism that reclaims facts as free from their claim of authority, that kind of reminding us that things could be otherwise. And where else can we experiment with such alternative thoughts then in education? So, I think to me, this is a perfect place to experiment with new ideas.  

And I guess maybe just one more point. Isabelle Stengers is the one that writes very directly about science fiction as a thought experiment. And she actually links it to also the processes used in science, as a way of thinking a hypothesis through consequences that escape observation in the normal world. She really says that this is actually quite a normal process: we should be pushing ourselves to constantly think alternatives to the hypothesis. And to think outside of the box. Also, as one of the mechanisms to help do this, she suggests how would be really helpful for us to ask question “..and if?”. If we think about the field of education or childhood studies, so it’s taking some of the taken-for-granted assumptions in the field of education and childhood studies, and really interrogating them with this question “and if”: How could things be differently? So I think that’s a really helpful, very practical mechanisms to start experimenting with SF. 

VPK: Thank you for that Iveta. There is a lot of potential in the “and if”, the “what if” in education. And in facy, I think that those are questions that are urgently needed in education and in childhood studies. I want to pick up on something that you said when you were referring to your own work. You noted that engaging with science fiction, or speculative fabulation, has allowed you to say things that you couldn’t say before. Can you talk about what are some of the ideas that you are now working with? What are the ideas that you are now putting out there in education and early childhood education that connect directly to science fiction or speculative fabulation?

IS: Absolutely. So it’s two different things actually here that I wanted to highlight. One is things that SF allowed me to say that I did not dare to say before, but second, also is related to it, is maybe bringing together literatures that before I never really dare to bring together in my academic work either. So I think it’s both of these things, and probably they go hand in hand together and also they reinforce each other. But I’ll start with the second one: the literature, because I think maybe that’s also what pushed me to try to experiment with SF a little bit more in my own work. I don’t know about you, but I know many other people including me like to read several books at the same time, so I always have four or five books that I’m reading at the same time…

VPK: True!

IS: …and some of them academic and some of them are just books that I read for pleasure. And I had a couple of, in the last five years, a couple of moments, several moments when I would read the books and suddenly the ideas from the different books begin to converge. At one point I don’t know anymore whether something that I was reading was in a science fiction book, r in an academic book, or in some other book. And there was this one moment when I was reading books that have to do with feminism in different temporalities that really confused me, And it was an eerie feeling to realize they are all converging. And I could mention these books. One was Naomi Alderman’s The Power, the other book was Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline (these are two science-fiction book), and then at the same time I was also reading a literary text by Marina Warner, and it was Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, where she explores different cultures and the transformation of self through myths and tales, and then I also was reading at the same time Florinda Donner’s Being-in-Dreaming which is an autobiography of an anthropologist who became a witch, and I was reading this really awesome collection of Frieda Forman and Caoran Sowton Taking our time: Feminist perspectives on temporality, which is an edited volume. And it was just absolutely fascinating because all of these different books spoke to each other very-very directly and they all talked about alternative world-making in different ways, whether alternative ways of knowing and being, or alternative gender dynamics, or alternative perspectives on temporality. So at one point, when I read about the alternative modes of time consciousness, for example entering time outside of time, or the potential to tap into different energy sources, whether spiritual, or magical or electric, was it in the edited academic volume? or which of the autobiographies? or which science-fiction book? It was absolutely unbelievable, and really exciting, too! It made me also think that maybe there are different ways of writing what we are researching. Maybe we can also write in a way that makes our work more, not only accessible to others, but that excites and animates others in more powerful ways than more scientific, quantitative or academic writing that we do. So that’s just the very short example of different sources of literature intersecting and making me excited. 

But maybe a couple of words, another example of some of the things that I did not really dare to write before and I am writing now. And then another example of the things that I always wanted to write about but never dared to write about in my academic literature. And I’ll give you a short example that dates back to my early graduate studies, when I went to do my master’s degree. I came from Latvia to the United States to do a master’s degree in comparative and international education, and I always wanted to explore this very strong move in the Latvian culture, in the 1990s in particular, to “go back” to some of the pre-modern cultural values and practices. And in the Latvian context that could be termed as pagan, or nature-based spiritualities. Which actually were really strong also during the Soviet times and practiced on daily basis, but really intensified when the Soviet Union collapsed. To me it was this really interesting moment when, on one hand, everybody talked about joining the European Union and becoming “more than”, but at the same time, there were all these other flows happening at the local level and in communities that really animated this connection to the land in very different ways. I went to do my graduate studies thinking that I will be able to explore these nature-based spiritualities and how they are being animated, including in these spaces of education, but as soon as I landed in the US university, and I was at Columbia University, I was immediately absorbed by completely different discourses about education. And it was all about, you know, neoliberal globalization and the best practices and how they affect various local education spaces. So as much as I had hoped to explore something very different, I was immediately absorbed into this larger narrative of neoliberal globalization and how that affects education. It was not until  fairly recently that I was able to finally figure out how to bring these other worlds into my own writing. Basically I think what it meant was realizations that everything that I was writing for so long was written from a very particular lens that allows you only to see one type of education, reality; and everything outside of that lens basically is absolutely invisible, including these “pagan” education practices or nature-based spiritualities. So for me, the speculative fabulation was a way to open up my own practice to make these other worlds more visible, but also include them in my own writing. I have done some work around this in relation to Latvian education in particular, but also in some of the other spaces. 

I should also mention the work that we have done together for the UNESCO background report on the education futures. We wrote together a background report called Learning to become with the world: education for future survival and that is definitely a very concrete and beautiful example of speculative fabulation on two different levels. On one level because it speaks from the perspective of 2050 and really pushes us to think what we should do, what changes we should introduce or encourage in education now in order to survive by 2050; but also it’s speculative in a way that it presents as real alternatives education concepts and ideas that are not necessarily a part of mainstream education policy or practice right now. For example, we take this the idea of humanism in education. Humanism is so centrally ingrained in education systems worldwide and it’s very difficult to imagine education without it. So in this background paper we try to displace it, or dissenter it, and then open this space for some of the other alternatives, where maybe some of the elements of this humanist education remain, for example, to promote justice, but they extend in much broader ways to an ecological perspective, to include ecological justice rather than human rights or human justice only. So that’s just another example of the some of this very practical work that we have done in speculative fabulation.  

VPK: Thank you for mentioning that paper, Iveta. We will include a link to the paper on the website . Just to end, I’ll ask you a last question and I wonder if you can recommend one or two key SF texts that you would recommend to childhood and education scholars to read and to think with, if they have not yet engaged in thinking with science fiction texts. What would you recommend and tell us why those or the one? 

IS: I’ll mention two, just because you gave me this opportunity. And one maybe is for listeners who are maybe not necessarily the science fiction fans immediately, but are really more interested in academic literature, or who are really unsure whether they could use science fiction, or scientific fabulation in the academic work. For them, I would recommend Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble, just because it’s a really great example where you have the whole book academically written about the environmental presents and futures that we’re currently experiencing, but it ends with a speculative fabulation chapter, and so to me that was a very powerful example, when I first came across, as if you can combine both in really meaningful ways. She ends her book on the speculative fabulation because a lot of the established academic discourses do not really give you the language to imagine radically different alternatives. So Donna Haraway writes Camille Stories to imagine a different way of living together with a more-than-human world and reproducing on Earth in ways that are more responsible. 

And for maybe science fiction fans, I’ll recommend N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy, an only because we have not really directly touched on climate fiction, though indirectly, maybe, spoke about some of these ideas, but this trilogy, The Broken Earth Trilogy, very directly talks to the climate crisis. The first book, it’s called The Fifth Season, so it’s a time on Earth when it’s no longer four seasons, but now there is also a fifth season which is a very long season that may last for years on end, and it’s very desolate time because there is no sun because of all of the other disruptions that are happening and is very difficult to survive. Also because there are really interesting stories and imaginings about children’s lives, and especially about children who are born with special abilities to sense the energies of the Earth; and how these children are socialized, and how their lives are controlled not to interfere too much with these special senses that they have. It definitely has very direct links to early childhood socialization and education institutions, and it really directly ties the conversation to the climate crisis that we have, and really emphasizes the urgency to address the climate crisis, but also think about alternatives to what we have right now. An in that process, participate in the world-making that is different from the current reality, and that hopefully gives us some space and the possibility to survive. 

VPK: Thank you Iveta for the interview and for those recommendations! 

You have been listening to Rethinking Childhoods: A Conversation with Iveta Silova on Science Fiction and SF. If you want to learn more about Iveta’s work, you can check out her most recent book, Childhood and Schooling in (Post)Socialist Societies: Memories of Everyday Life. You can also follow Iveta on Twitter @IvetaSilova  

I also encourage you to check out the website for the Common Worlds Research Collective to read the paper that Iveta mentioned during the interview; the paper that outlines the premises and the collective speculative visions for future survival. That is the UNESCO’s Futures of Education background paper and is titled “Learning to become with the world: education for future survival

As always, notes from this episode are available in the website. 

Again, I am Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw. You can follow me on Twitter at @vpacinik. You’re also welcome to post a review of the episode. Thank you so much. 

I have recorded this episode on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron peoples, where I’m grateful to live and work. 

This has been Rethinking Childhoods.