Opening address from The Victorian Launch of The Anti-Bias Approach in Early Childhood 17th May 2017
My first experience with anti-bias thinking came only recently in 2015 when I attended the Social Justice in Early Childhood Conference in Melbourne. I was drawn to this conference even though I’d had almost no experience with the concepts that would be discussed on the day. Or so I thought. For those who weren’t there, you totally missed out. It stirred something in me. I’ve always had a thing for fairness, justice and equality. But I had always related these concepts to adults, to the educator teams I worked with, and to my schooling. Never had I thought about how issues of social justice affect children. Having been an early childhood educator, and now teacher for over a decade, I walked away from that conference that day almost two years ago knowing that something had to change, knowing that I had to change, knowing that we as educators had the capacity to make a difference to children’s lives, and this change had to start now!
Fast forward and here we are, with this incredible piece of literature in our hands: The Anti-Bias Approach in Early Childhood 3rd Edition (Scarlet, 2016). To me this book is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to grasp change, to see the world differently, to hold out hope, to challenge the everyday, and to enhance our capacity for change. It’s a chance for advocacy about both children’s unique rights and human rights as a whole. Advocacy can seem like a scary term, but doesn’t have to be! It is okay to start small, to start locally, within our centres and our communities. It’s speaking out against racism, challenging gender bias, and ensuring that service policies are inclusive of all members of the community (not just those who stand out). It’s important to remember that all you can do is what you can, where you can and when you can. Don’t wait, because every moment counts. I truly believe our profession needs this book, and to totally embrace an anti-bias approach. So often we see images and stories on social media that directly conflict with what we know is best practice for children, with the Early Years Learning Framework (Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009) and with our Code of Ethics (Early Childhood Australia, 2016). It’s time to start addressing the inequalities that children are faced with every day. As an example, I have recently been working on some action research projects within my service that place the child at the forefront of the community. Working with the City of Port Phillip I consulted our children in regard to the review of the Council Plan for the next decade (which makes sense, as they are the future of our municipality). The children at our centre demonstrated some incredible thinking, and had plenty of knowledge and ideas to contribute to the Council Plan and I will be continuing this thread of consultation with children in future.
For me, an anti-bias approach is about the little things. It’s all those daily moments where you stop, reflect on and reframe your thinking and your language, like when you catch yourself saying “good boy” and “good girl” and you take some time to speak with others about what this actually means and what the effects on the child will be. It’s when you start to view the world through a different lens, when you start to see what all children, in fact what all people, can be truly capable of. I see an anti-bias approach as a tool to help us consider our work in building children’s sense of identity and belonging, within their families, their communities and their social networks. I also see it as a way of building the confidence and capacity of all children to stand up for their rights and the rights of others.
Before becoming aware of the anti-bias approach, I had never considered some of my practices from this perspective. I’d never thought about how gendered my language was, how many stereotypes were displayed in my planned experiences, and how some children were treated more justly than others for no real reason other than my lack of reflection and critical thought. An anti-bias approach was just never at the forefront of my mind. Now, having been exposed to some deep thinking, thanks to the wonderful Dr Red Ruby Scarlet and this incredible book, an anti-bias approach literally governs all that I think and do.
My current role as Quality Supervisor at Clarendon Children’s Centre has me reviewing, updating and writing policies, completing general admin tasks, maintaining and driving our Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), and helping our Centre to move forward. I am so blessed to be in this role, a role that affords me the opportunity to engage with anti-bias thinking on a daily basis, and to question and challenge the way ‘we’ve always done it’. Every time I now review a policy I consider who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged by what I am writing. I also spend time working on our policies with the children (they are now firmly cemented in our review cycle), to gauge their perspectives and to ensure that they know what their rights are in regard to our Centre’s ‘rules’. This process has led to the children creating their own ‘policies’ that govern and guide their own and their peers’ actions and behaviours. Our QIP goals are set in conjunction with children, parents and educators, to move our service forward in a way that is fair and equal for all. The language we use when speaking with the children is becoming less and less gendered and fraught with stereotypes. And our teams’ practices are moving towards a more strengths-based approach, focused on what each individual can and does bring to the table.
Immersion in the anti-bias approach has also set me on a new path in terms of my own research and my own personal goals. Before engaging with the anti-bias approach I was in a total slump professionally. I had no real direction to my work, no clear interests, no concrete goals. Now I am fully aware of who I am as an educator and early childhood professional, and where I am headed. The anti-bias approach has given me clarity and a yearning for exploring a rights-based approach of working with children. For the past year I have been deeply invested in an action research project to embed Article 12 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (The United Nations, 1989) into our Centre policies. Article 12 speaks about children having the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that will affect them. Anti-bias thinking has helped me make this idea for action real.
For me, engagement with the anti-bias approach has required time. Time alone with my own thoughts and time with others for deep, critical and reflective thinking. I don’t believe it happens overnight, but I do believe it requires commitment, passion and trust that this is the right path for you. Read all you can about it, talk with others, start a personal reflective journal. You can’t change anything or anyone else before you work on yourself so make that a priority first and make sure you take enough time for it.
I truly believe that the anti-bias approach starts with us, right here, right now. The children in our centres are headed for a world that isn’t ready for them, and we need to change that. These children need tools for managing, dealing with, and bringing about change. They need tools for thinking, for problem solving, for caring, for loving and for accepting. And we are the ones to provide those tools.
Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (2009). Belonging, being becoming: The early years learning framework for Australia. ACT: Commonwealth of Australia
Early Childhood Australia (2016). Code of ethics. ACT: Early Childhood Australia.
Scarlet, R. R. (Ed.). (2016). The anti-bias approach in early childhood (3rd ed.). Erskineville: MultiVerse Publishing.
The United Nations (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Treaty Series, 1577, 3.