Racism and imperialism in the child development discourse: deconstructing ‘developmentally appropriate practice’

[This post is part of a series highlighting particular publications or resources I have written or developed in the past which may be of interest to my blog readers.]

One of the most influential approaches to early childhood education in North America is ‘Developmentally Appropriate Practice’ (DAP), articulated by the NAEYC. When I used Foucauldian and other perspectives to analyze the text of the DAP position statement, I found threads of implicit racism and imperialism. This work was written up as a chapter included in ‘Childhoods: A Handbook‘, edited by Gaile S. Cannella and Loudes Diaz Soto. Here is the abstract, followed by a link to the full paper. Note that this analysis in particular is focused on discourse, not on application or practice.

In this chapter, it is argued that, as part of the modern Enlightenment project, the dominant discourse on ‘child development’ reflects and reproduces racism and imperialism. In the first section, it is asserted that racism, as defined by Foucault (1975-76/2003), is found within the child development discourse, both in the regulation of children’s bodies and the bodies and spaces with which children interact. Racism also serves to divide, classify, and ‘normalize’ notions of childhood. Through the above, the discourse aims to produce useful and docile children who will become useful and docile adults. In the second section, it is argued that the child development discourse privileges and produces characteristics associated with the modern Western imperial subject. This includes imagined notions of progress towards civility, and a fantasy of the White Subject who is scientist, conqueror and explorer, citizen of democracy, and a contributor and consumer in a capitalist market economy. Moreover, the discourse emphasizes a Western imperial sense of ‘Self’ versus ‘Other’, both in the goals of child development, and in the discipline’s representation of itself. These arguments are demonstrated empirically through a textual analysis of the official position statement of the U.S.A. National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 1997), found in the guidebook entitled: Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997, p. 3-30). This text is an example of the dominant child development discourse, and is highly influential in the design, development, and evaluation of programs, curricula, and pedagogical practices with young children, both in North America and around the world.

Follow the link within the citation below for the full paper:

Shallwani, S. (2010). Racism and imperialism in the child development discourse: deconstructing ‘developmentally appropriate practice’. In G. S. Cannella & L. D. Soto (Eds.), Childhoods: A Handbook, pp. 231-244. New York: Peter Lang.

I hope you find it interesting. Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Sadaf Shallwani

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