Race in the Early Childhood Classroom

Why are you a good fit for our program? What past experiences have prepared you for our program? What research questions inspire you to pursue a graduate degree?

In a bustling early childcare classroom, it was a usual day with all sorts of wails and giggles in the background. Out of the corner of my eye I watched as a conversation between children escalated and as a fellow teacher made moves to intervene. I was closer and I saw a Black hand rise to strike. I grabbed his small brown wrists with a tight grip, stopping its momentum. He looked up at me, panic-stricken, and said defiantly, precisely, “Don’t touch my body.” My White hands withdrew instantly as he bolted off and I listened as a different White teacher chastised him for running in the classroom. I turned away confused and stroked the blond hair of the child who I thought had almost been hit.

I am applying to the Arizona School of Social Transformation’s Social and Cultural Pedagogy Masters program to further interrogate this representative moment of power and authority in the early childhood classroom. This moment has stuck with me as exemplary of my role within systems of power and how my positionality within these systems affects others. The Social and Cultural Pedagogy program will allow me to further deconstruct how race, gender, and sexuality function in pedagogy through the School of Social Transformation’s intersectional approach. As I think critically about uneven yet multidirectional exchanges of power, I find it necessary to take courses that examine multiple facets of identity and oppression. With course offerings ranging from Indian Education to Women’s Studies I will be encouraged to think of the multiplicity of power relations taking place at any given time.

As an undergraduate at Tufts University I turned to Child Studies courses in an attempt to better understand my role as an early childhood educator and future scholar. However, I came to realize that Child Studies did not help me to critically interrogate my assumption that a black child was about to be violent. I know now this assumption was linked to a system of White supremacy, the same system that has brought our nation to yet another tipping point as White police continue to get away with the murder of Black children. As a Child Studies major I was not encouraged to think about how my gender, as a woman, played a role in putting me in front of an early childhood classroom in the first place. I was not supported in interrogating the beads of sweat that formed on my brow as this boy’s words reminded me that as a visibly queer person I am sitting within a history of accusations of perversion. In Child Studies courses I was taught models of development that were based in White masculine middle class normality. My experiences in the classroom as both a student and a teacher made it clear that these textbook assumptions could not be used to understand the development of the majority of children.

In the ASU Social and Cultural Pedagogies program I look forward to expanding upon the critical foundation built by the Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies courses I’ve taken. Courses such as Feminist Theories in Education, Radical Lesbian Thought, and Queer Studies have helped facilitate my academic critical consciousness. Through these courses I worked to analyze policy, history and media to think critically about current events and culture. Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies courses taught me to analyze systems of control in order to understand the experiences of individuals. For example, my thesis and the course Doing Feminist Research helped me to articulate my feminist methodological principles, further understanding my role as a researcher engaged with questions of race and gender. In addition to providing me the opportunity to explore critical thought, my thesis best exemplifies my commitment and ability to engage with complex theory and scholarly investigation for an extended period of time. I began working on my research questions during my sophomore year and completed my thesis with high honors two years later in my senior year.

Furthermore, my thesis is evidence of my preparedness for graduate school and my interest in independent research. My thesis and coursework at Tufts were complemented by student activism. Working formally and informally with the Women’s and LGBT Centers opened up opportunities for me to participate in campus initiatives such as the President’s Sexual Misconduct Task Force and the Gender and Sexuality Focus Group. Through these working groups I had the opportunity to work alongside Deans, professors, and peers to better the campus climate. While I learned an invaluable amount working within the campus system, the most rapid and memorable learning took place through student led initiatives. I am most thankful for the conversations with friends that led to late nights writing campus newspaper op-eds, early mornings organizing events to address gaps in campus conversations and afternoons occupying administrative buildings. My academics have helped inform my activism and activism has fueled my academics.

As a part of the Social and Cultural Pedagogy program, I aspire to further blend my activism and academics; to advance my understanding of the overlapping nature of the spheres I occupy; to learn how the college classroom, student activism, and the early childhood classroom interact. I aim to expand my feminist principles and put them into action as a representative of student voice and as a person with authority in a classroom. I am applying to the Social and Cultural Pedagogy program with the goal of gaining an understanding of how my conversations around consent and sexual assault converge with conversations around the control of children’s bodies in early childhood policy and practice; to understand how Critical Race Theory applies to my authority; how I can be subverting and reinforcing power in the same instance; how my voice and the student voice of the child in my example above are working to destabilize power and control.

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