Diversity in Unity: Developing an anti-racist framework within Froebelian pedagogy


A new research project, funded by the Froebel Trust, set to begin in the summer of 2022; prefaced by a new journal article on collaborative writing about race with/on early childhood.

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In light of the murder of George Floyd and the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement, the past two years have weighed heavy with questions about how we, as educators, can meaningfully address race and racism in early childhood contexts. A new research project led by Shaddai Tembo and Simon Bateson, funded by The Froebel Trust, is set to contribute to these debates, beginning in the summer of 2022.

Ongoing reports of racism against Black and minoritised children within educational environments continue to paint a stark picture of the lack of progress that the early childhood field has made in the past two decades. While it is increasingly accepted that it is no longer sufficient to be merely ‘non-racist’, to date there remains some disagreement with regards to what an actively ‘anti-racist’ approach may look like in practice. Furthermore, few, if any, studies have examined how such an approach may align with an explicitly Froebelian pedagogy. As such, there is currently little clarity about how well Froebel’s original principles could be generatively broadened to meet the pressing commitment toward anti-racism, without departing too far from the core values of a Froebelian approach.

While the perception remains prevalent that racism is a less significant issue in Scotland because of a less ethnically diverse population, we see such a position as symptomatic of whiteness. To maintain this argument would be to displace the burden of engaging in anti-racism onto Black and minoritised people, whereas the existing research has long made clear that white-majority settings have a significant role to play in countering colour-blind attitudes, racial prejudice and discrimination, and in consciously promoting the value of cultural diversity.

Yet, currently, there remains little existing research into how race, racism and whiteness may show up consciously, or not, among children within white-majority settings in ways that commonly go unnoticed. This project intends to examine these issues as they emerge through observational inquiry into children’s play, utilising decolonial fields of scholarship to consider how the historically-present characteristics of whiteness continue to shape power relations in children’s play (Jones and Okun, 2001; Harris, 1993; Mignolo, 2012; Braidotti, 2013).

This collaborative inquiry offers a long-overdue study into how well Froebelian pedagogy, on the ascent in Scotland, responds to social justice within the twenty-first century. It will specifically foreground the question of how “whiteness” shows up in ELC communities, with a view to developing a framework for mobilising anti-racism in practice. Our aims are twofold:
1. To examine the relation between Froebelian pedagogy (as interpreted through Friedrich Froebel’s founding texts/contemporary commentary and in its application in practice within two Froebelian nursery settings) and anti-racism: understood as a range of practices that may counter racial prejudice and discrimination, through the lens of whiteness theory.
2. To develop a framework for understanding how racial differences are produced between children within Scottish early childhood provision, attending to relational practices in play that may create inequalities between different racial groups.

As an important prelude to this forthcoming research project, Simon and Shaddai have published a journal article that has been deliberately written prior to any research undertakings. This paper discusses how the authors came to engage in anti-racism together, examines individual tensions with/in this line of inquiry, and develops an ethical praxis of engagement for this forthcoming project.

This paper can be accessed free here.

Shaddai Tembo is a lecturer in early education and childhood practice at Perth College UHI, an associate lecturer at the Open University, and a postgraduate research student at the University of the West of Scotland. Shaddai began his career as an EY practitioner and family support worker for a children’s centre in Bristol. He is a trustee for both Early Education and the Fatherhood Institute. Shaddai also co-convenes the SERA EY Network and is an independent writer and speaker through Critical Early Years. He has published research articles in the Journal of Early Childhood, Ethnicities, and Emotion, Space and Society.

Follow Shaddai at https://twitter.com/criticaleyears

Simon Bateson is a Co-director of Froebelian Futures, an international training and research programme which aims to develop and deepen Froebelian pedagogy and leadership in Scotland and beyond. He also teaches on the Froebel and Social Justice MSc at The University of Edinburgh. Additionally, Simon works as a practitioner with young children at Cowgate Under 5s in Edinburgh. He has a diverse leadership background in the arts, social justice and environmental sectors in Scotland and has served on a number of third sector boards. Simon is the founder of the Scottish social change charity, Take One Action.