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FORMING ETHICAL IDENTITIES IN EARLY CHILDHOOD CHILD-ADULT PLAY. European Early Childhood Educational Research Association Conference 2007 Praha. BRIAN EDMISTON. The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio, USA edmiston.1@osu.edu.

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forming ethical identities in early childhood child adult play

FORMING ETHICAL IDENTITIES IN EARLY CHILDHOOD CHILD-ADULT PLAY

European Early Childhood Educational Research Association

Conference 2007 Praha

brian edmiston
BRIAN EDMISTON

The Ohio State University

Columbus, Ohio, USA

edmiston.1@osu.edu

slide3
I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child but a child who survived. I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but that if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination.
    • Ursula Le Guin, 1979, p. 44
between the ages of 2 8
Between the ages of 2 - 8
  • The younger he was the more I played with Michael
  • Often 80-90% of the time I spent with him
  • I entered into imagined worlds with him and followed wherever he led me
  • We pretended to be, and interacted as if we were, any characters from any narrative in any event that interested him
  • We also talked, as ourselves, about those events
slide6
As we interacted in-and-around our play we explored multiple possible selves
  • Michael constructed ethical understanding
  • Over time we co-authored ethical identities
  • Michael’s ethical identity was apparent in his everyday ethical dispositions
michael was 13 years old when he asked
Michael was 13 years old when he asked …
  • ‘What would you say to the families of the people who will be killed in an invasion? Going to war is more complex than the President is making it sound. It’s not as simple as that. There are always other ways to think about it.’

(Michael, aged 13, March 2003

michael addresses the congresswoman s aide to
Michael addresses the Congresswoman’s aide to …
  • imagine acting from different viewpoints
  • evaluate your actions from the positions of those affected
  • conceptualize situations as more complex
  • question the actions and discourses of those in authority
  • … have agency and improvise a response rather than rely on the positions of others
for michael aged 16 his understanding of being ethical was always more complex
For Michael, aged 16, his understanding of being ethical was ‘always more complex’
  • I don’t think anyone really deserves to die, I don’t think it’s right, but I think it’s sometimes necessary. I think it can be justified if you have no other option or if you’ve already tried all the other options and they haven’t worked. You can kill someone in self-defense, if the person is directly threatening to kill you or somebody else particularly if that person isn’t capable of defending themselves. It’s always more complicated than that but that’s the basic principle.
his ethical identity aged 13 was apparent in his everyday dispositions
His ethical identity, aged 13, was apparent in his everyday dispositions…
  • I helped a wasp stuck in a swimming pool because I imagine what it would be like to be drowning and I don’t want it to die even though you don’t technically gain anything by rescuing it.
  • When I was in kindergarten I sat next to a kid on the bus that other people thought was weird and I became friends with him.
slide13
Whenever I see someone obviously struggling with something that I can help them with I always go and try to help them.
  • When kids are making fun of another kid, you have to imagine from the point of view of the person who’s being horrible and you feel sorry for the person who’s being ridiculed. If you intervene and you stick up for them sometimes you don’t because you’re afraid others will laugh at you.
slide14
For Michael, aged 4 1/2, his disposition was clear and his understanding of being ethical was also complex, though less sophisticated …
  • ‘You can be mad but you can’t be evil … being mad is saying you feel angry but being evil is hurting and you mustn’t be evil … Sometimes I’m mad but I’m never evil.’
  • In a conversation about pretending to kill monsters

Brian: ‘Would you kill all monsters?’

Michael: ‘Oh no, only those that have done many, many, many mean things …. killing people mostly’

Brian: ‘And what would you do before deciding you had to kill it?’

Michael: ‘I’d teach it to stop doing those mean things.’

slide17
Our PLAY was highly significant in the formation of Michael’s (and my)
  • ethical understanding,
  • ethical dispositions,
  • and ethical identities
ethical understandings that michael aged 13 could articulate as
Ethical understandings that Michael aged 13 could articulate as …
  • There's always evil as well as good ... because without evil there can't be good. There needs to be shadow for there to be light. There needs to be yang for there to be yin. They need each other. If everyone was perfectly good there'd be nothing to define the good or to make it good.

)

understandings selves identities and dispositions form over time
Understandings, selves, identities, and dispositions form over time …
  • Holland et al argue that over time a person’s everyday choices and their usual attachments form into relatively stable aspects of their identities creating ‘sediment from past experiences’ (1998, pp. 18, 137).
and are socio cultural and ethical
… and are socio-cultural (and ethical)

Just as my socio-cultural identities are apparent to others in my dispositions – how I tend to act over time – so is my ethical identity.

  • ‘I’ act as different ‘selves’
  • my ‘identities’ are how I conceptualize my relationships with other people (including how I relate to people in terms of evaluating deeds as right-and-wrong)
  • my dispositions are how I tend to act (including my tendency to evaluate actions from other’s viewpoints)
the socio cultural and the ethical are not synonymous
The socio-cultural and the ethical are not synonymous
  • Your ethical self does not necessarily behave in a ‘socially appropriate’ ways

(e.g. in Czech or N Ireland societies)

  • Our ethical identities can cut across ethnic divides
  • My ethical dispositions may parallel or conflict with others’ social norms
over time our interactions form our ethical identities
Over time, our interactions form our ethical identities
  • For Bakhtin, a person acts ethically when they are ‘answerable’ to anyone who ‘addresses’ them about the consequences of those particular actions (1990).
  • Over time, our actions form our ethical identities and dispositions
  • Are they formed mostly passively by others? or authored by our intentional answerable ethical acts?
we are not ethical when we merely follow the rules or other people s authority
We are not ethical when we merely follow ‘the rules’ or other people’s authority
  • The ethical becomes ‘desolated’ when it is reduced to applying rules rather than generating values

(Liapanov, 1993, p. 84).

slide30
Our agency to author dispositions and identities over time lies in the improvised interactions of our selves
  • ‘Agency lies in the improvisations that people create in response to particular situations, mediated by [their] senses and sensitivities. They opportunistically use whatever is at hand to affect their position in the cultural game in the experience of which they have formed … sets of dispositions’

(Holland et al, p. 279).

we co author ethical dispositions or values and identities using our dialogic imagination
We co-author ethical dispositions (or values) and identities using our dialogic imagination
  • Using what Bakhtin (1981) called ‘the dialogic imagination’ we can ethically evaluate actions from the viewpoints and discourses of others who address us.
  • Imagination is ethically so significant because we can evaluate the consequences of our own and others’ particular actions by viewing and understanding them from the different standpoints of people who may or may not be physically present.
slide32
What has this got to do with PLAY?

… and with Vygotsky and Bakhtin?

when we play we have high levels of agency because we improvise
When we play we have high levels of agency because we improvise
  • We have agency to author possible selves
  • … to explore possible identities
  • … to act ethically-unethically and be answerable for our actions
  • … to address others and make them answerable
slide34
And I mean to say that WE HAVE AGENCY because play is not only for children
  • Adults play too and can play with children…
notice where i positioned myself as we played
Notice where I positioned myself as we played
  • I am doing more than facilitating
  • I am playing with Michael inside the imagined worlds of Frankenstein and the Wolfman
  • … as Dr. Frankenstein or the Wolfman or whoever he wants me to become
as adults and children play they can co author understanding in a zpd
As adults and children play they can co-author understanding in a ZPD
  • Every time we played we created ZPDs
  • Michael (and I) developed understanding about life-and-death, good-and-evil, right-and-wrong
as adults and children play they can co author ethical understanding
As adults and children play they can co-author ethical understanding
  • Like Emerson I regard the ZPD as a ‘practice zone’ or a ‘test site for moral behavior (1997, p. 242).
the meaning of play predominates over actual actions and objects used
The meaning of play predominates over actual actions and objects used…
  • As Vygotsky (1978) recognized, when children play, their attention is more on the meaning of things and actions in imagined worlds rather than on actual objects and movements in the everyday. Children create an imagined world when they play.
  • Adults playing with children must also focus on the meaning of imagined violent or loving actions, including their ethical meaning.
play is imagination in action in imagined worlds
… play is ‘imagination in action’ in imagined worlds
  • ‘The child [or adults] weeps in play as a patient but revels as a player’ (Vygotsky, 1967, p. 549).
  • ‘I’m not scared of monsters because we play with them. I know that they’re pretend. I feel a little bit scared, but I like feeling I want to be scared.’

(Michael, aged four-and-a-half)

.

play is not just a rehearsal for life
Play is not just a ‘rehearsal for life’
  • Vygotsky was adamant that ‘to consider play as the prototype of a child’s everyday activity and its predominant form is completely incorrect’ (1978, p. 101).
slide43
In play we can imagine possible selves acting in possible worlds and try out possible identities,including ethical identities
  • When children, and adults, imagine that they are other people or creatures they try out ‘possible selves’ (Markus & Nurius, 1986) in ‘possible worlds’ (Bruner, 1986).
  • Pretend play allows people to explore possible identities as they imagine ‘what they might become, would like to become, or are afraid to become (Markus & Nurius, 1986, p. 73).
in positioning play we can project into all possible ethical unethical positions
in ‘positioning-play’ we can project into, all possible ethical-unethical positions …
  • All positionings in a narrative are potential subject positions
  • If we shift among them then no characters’ viewpoints remain outside our consciousness including those positions that some adults might avoid projecting into (like dragons or ‘monsters’)
  • There are no amoral bystanders
  • There is no demonization
slide46
… and make meaning as we evaluate actions and combine competing positions to create understanding with more or less authority
  • Understanding comes from identifying (positively-and-negatively) with all subject positions
  • Multiple viewpoints (inside and outside narratives) can be used to evaluate the consequences of actions
  • Not all positions have equal authority -- they become more or less authoritative over time
multi dimensional play events can become ethical heuristic devices
Multi-dimensional play events can become ethical ‘heuristic devices’
  • By returning again and again to ethically evaluate with me imagined events both in play and by referring to them as he made sense of daily events, Michael was using play events as ethical ‘heuristic devices’
  • …that ‘turn toward self-understanding’ of thoughts and emotions in situations
  • … and as facets of identities they ‘are social forms of organization, public and intimate, that mediate the development of human agency’ and self-management (Holland et al 1998, p. 282).
our playing created heuristic devices
Our playing created heuristic devices …

… that were highly significant in the formation of Michael’s (and my)

  • ethical understanding (of many possible self-others),
  • ethical dispositions (and self-management),
  • and both possible and actual ethical identities
heuristic devices acquired multi dimensional ethical meaning
Heuristic devices acquired multi-dimensional ethical meaning
  • The dragon, the knight, the lady, the people, and different readers are all possible selves that have different and competing interpretations of events within the narrative
  • … in relation to each other and for Michael in relation to the deeds of characters in other narratives
  • … and in relation to adult (especially my) ethical evaluations of characters’ (and our everyday) actions
slide52
Quickly, the knight rose. He drew his sharp sword and struck the dragon’s head so fiercely that it seemed nothing could withstand the blow. The dragon’s crest was too hard to take a cut, but he wanted no more such blows. He tried to fly away and could not because of this wounded wing.

Loudly, he bellowed – the like was never heard before – and from his body, like a wide devouring oven, sent a flame of fire that scorched the knight’s face and heated his armor red-hot. Faint, wary, sore, burning with head and wounds, the knight fell to the ground, ready to die and the dragon clapped his iron wings in victory, while the lady, watching from afar, fell to her knees. She thought that the champion had lost the battle (Hodges, 1986, unnumbered pages).

slide53
Heuristic devices co-authored over time in play interactions around many favo(u)rite stories like ‘The Hobbit’

I was lying in bed this morning with Michael and Zoë. Michael was pushing my arm with his foot as I leaned over Zoë.

  • Michael - I'm Smaug (the dragon from The Hobbit) and you are the people on the hill. OK, Daddy? Your hand is the people going down the hill [meaning my arm].
  • Brian - OK

[I proceed to walk my hand down my arm. Michael kicks my arm away and giggles. Then he roars and transforms himself into Smaug, snarling and snapping at imaginary people which he devours.]

  • Michael - Now you're a dwarf and Zoë is a dwarf and I am Bilbo Baggins [all characters from The Hobbit]. OK, Daddy?
  • Brian - OK.
slide54
Bilbo/Michael - I have the ring (spoken in a lowered voice).
  • Dwarf/Brian - What can the ring do?
  • Bilbo/Michael - It can make us invisible.
  • Dwarf/Brian - What shall we do about Smaug? He's killed all those people!
  • Bilbo/Michael - We'll all creep up on him.
  • [Zoë starts to cry]
  • Michael - Smaug put his foot on her that's why she's crying.
  • [I turn to comfort her. She stops crying and begins to look around.]
  • Michael - Now Smaug has put his foot on me [lying down as if in agony].
  • Brian - He's put his foot on me too. Help! Help! What shall we do? [also as if in agony]
slide55
Dragon of Goodness/Michael - I am the Dragon of Goodness and I have come to help you.
  • Dwarf/Brian - Help! We're being crushed by Smaug.
  • Michael - [as if grabbing and throwing a great weight] I threw Smaug over the mountain.
  • Dwarf/Brian - He's flying away. Oh, thank you for saving us. How did you know to come?
  • Dragon of Goodness/Michael - Because your spirit called me.
  • Dragon of Goodness/Michael - [kneeling down] Climb on my back [flapping his imaginary wings] We will fly to India. I escaped from the island where all the demons are (i.e. Lanka from The Ramayana).
  • Brian - Thank you Dragon of Goodness for saving us.
  • [We stop and leave the room for breakfast.]
or any other narratives that grabbed michael s imagination
… or any other narratives that grabbed Michael’s imagination …
  • Peter Rabbit
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • Rama and Ravanna
  • Persueus and Medusa
  • Dracula
  • Frankenstein
  • Freddy Kreuger
  • Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
we co authored ethical understanding dispositions and identities
We co-authored ethical understanding, dispositions, and identities …
  • Across many narratives
  • … which were repeatedly affirmed and/or opened up to new interpretations in returning to the same stories and exploring new mostly mythic narratives
slide59

Co-authored complex meaning like … Humans may act heroically, or monstrously, or struggle with not knowing how to act in-between those mythic extremes

slide60

We co-authored meaning out of the competing views of different characters’ positionings of others … all possible selves and possible identities

  • Meaning can be regarded as made in a dialogic interplay among our interpretations of the authority of the different positions of characters and readers on the meaning of a particular events and across narratives.
  • Interpretations that are in ‘reciprocal simultaneity that yokes each of these pairings in dialogue not only with each other, but with other [possible selves and identities] as well’ (Bakhtin 1990, p. xxvii).
as michael authored his innerly persuasive discourses of his ethical identity
As Michael authored his ‘innerly persuasive discourses’ of his ethical identity …
  • Michael authored his own innerly persuasive discourses about play events as he evaluated deeds as right-and-wrong in an on-going dialogue with me across multiple, repeated, but also changing situations
  • He authored his ethical identity as he combined the competing ‘voices’ he used to address the world and answer from the multiple positions of different possible selves
slide62
… an ethical identity that over time became more apparent in the authority of his ethical dispositions
ethical dispositions or values like
Ethical dispositions, or values, like …
  • imagine acting from different viewpoints
  • evaluate your actions from the positions of those affected
  • conceptualize situations as more complex
  • question the actions and discourses of those in authority
  • … have agency and improvise a response rather than rely on the positions of others
when we play with children we can co author ethical identities
When we play with children … we can co-author ethical identities
  • I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child but a child who survived. I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act well and wisely in the adult, but that if they are repressed and denied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination [as harnessed in playing with children].
    • Ursula Le Guin, 1979, p. 44