Re-framing disadvantage

Children learn about themselves and construct their own identity within the context of their families and communities. This includes their relationships with people, places and things and the actions and responses of others. Identity is not fixed. It is shaped by experiences. When children have positive experiences they develop an understanding of themselves as significant and respected, and feel a sense of belonging. Relationships are the foundations for the construction of identity – ‘who am I?’, ‘how do I belong?’ and ‘what is my influence?’

The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, p. 20

This passage from The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia is my favourite from any of the ‘framework’ documents I have encountered so far in my teacher education.

It focuses on the child.

It reminds us of the value of the experiences and relationships a child has at school as facilitated by teachers, not solely the child’s progress within the realm of the curriculum.

It has strong ties to Bronfenbrenner’s ‘Ecology of Human Development’ (1979) as well as Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. I think if you were to examine an individual child under only the lens of the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ you’d be at risk of developing deficit discourses based on what you perceive to be ‘adequate’ or ‘normal’ – an entirely subjective stance. Reliance on this may simplify the complex soup of experiences and culture that defines that child and lead to the ‘dehumanisation of people (parents, or past schools) through blame’ (Churchill 2019, p. 163).

By being curious about the child’s individual traits (e.g. shyness) in the context of their kinship and cultural influences, community environment and networks (Bowes, Grace and Hays 2009) you can begin to see the strengths in that child’s experience (i.e. resilience, conscientiousness, competence in non-academic tasks, empathy).

What this comes back to is inclusion, and the root of that: Love. There is a great passage from spiritual leader Ram Dass which resonates with the theme of inclusion in school.

When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you loose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgement mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

Ram Dass
Ramdass.org

The child – or the tree – may have unattractive personal characteristics or limited capabilities due to trauma or disability or some other twist in the roots as they encountered obstacles, but they none-the-less deserve an equal opportunity of being accepted, valued and supported through his or her journey of learning and growth.

This is a photo of me and my dad on the day I graduated university with a First Class Bachelor of Science (Honours). How did I, myself someone who toyed with the poverty line most of her childhood, get there? On the shoulders of my community. My teachers did not blame my parents for what they were or were not able to provide, they simply took me for who I was and imbued within me a responsibility for crafting my own story – what do you want out of life?

Collectively, these people helped me to re-frame my experiences of adversity in childhood as a strength, an absolutely essential part of who I am.

References

Ashman, A 2018, ‘Education for inclusion and diversity’, P. Ed. Australia

Bowes, J, Grace, R and Hays, A 2009, ‘Children, families and communities’ contexts and consequences, 3rd Ed.

Bronfenbrenner, U 1979, ‘The Ecology of Human Development’, Harvard University Press, Ca

Churchill et. al. 2019, ‘Teaching: Making a difference’, Wiley, Australia

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