Higher Education Degrees — The Latest ECE Panacea?

Blog Post
Sept. 18, 2018

To facilitate interaction among ideas presented in Moving Beyond False Choices for Early Childhood Educators, Series Editor Stacie G. Goffin offers opening comments. For readers new to the Series, her introduction explains the series' intent.

Inspired by Sue Russell's blog, Alberto's first draft championed degrees for early childhood educators. As the drafting process progressed, though, and he reread blogs previously posted, such as those by Sherri Killins Stewart, Luis Hernandez, and Maurice Sykes, his viewpoint shifted. Now he challenges the validity of demanding degrees for all early childhood educators, not unlike Fabienne Doucet. Moving Beyond False Choices for Early Childhood Educators is clearly disclosing the entangled threads embedded in ECE's thorny knot.

As series authors, we’ve been challenged to investigate options for moving beyond early childhood education’s (ECE) false choices so the field can fulfill its potential and promises to young children. Yet, as a field, we’re continually focusing on the same false choice: degrees or no degrees for early childhood educators. Choose the former, it’s argued, and a predominantly white workforce, similar to public schools, will be created since as Sykes and Stewart have reminded us, systemic barriers undermine minorities’ educational access. But then Wat forewarns us that if we avoid degrees, we risk reinforcing the status quo: childcare providers in the private market who are “cash poor, less educated, but rich in diversity.”

Can we please move beyond this false choice?

Reducing ECE’s thorny knot to the polarizing question of whether early childhood educators should be required to earn degrees steers us toward either-or answers. If the ECE field wants authentic options for developing early childhood educators’ competence, different questions need to be examined, including this one: why does ECE privilege higher education and resist the possibility that multiple pathways may exist for preparing competent early childhood educators?

Results from landmark studies of preschool intervention programs have led to pre-K becoming an intervention strategy that dominates education’s public discourse. They also have fortified the call for quality ECE for all children, which, in turn, have led to increasing demands for degreed early childhood educators. I think the time has come for the ECE field to take a risk by interrogating how this research is shaping our field’s obsession with degrees and reinforcing singular intervention thinking.

Single intervention strategies can’t resolve complex, systemic problems. Yet the call for degreed early childhood educators is morphing into the latest of ECE’s silver bullet solutions and becoming mythicized as yet another ECE panacea. In today’s digitized and globalized world, most, if not all, of the skills needed for competent performance can be acquired through practical experience in conjunction with other supports. Consequently, obtaining degrees need not be viewed as early childhood educators’ only pathway to competence. Further, while credentialing systems can formalize a field’s disciplinary practices and establish common values, gaining this knowledge solely through institutions of higher education -- without attending to the systemic inequalities faced by women and other minorities -- will only aggravate access issues and continue privileging those for whom eligibility is not an issue.

Developmental (and now neuro) psychology strongly influences the ECE field and informs many of its polarized debates around the content of degree programs. These sciences have inspired curriculum frameworks overly influenced by beliefs and ideals of affluent White and Western families, with the consequence being that value systems pertaining to children and their development from other cultures too often are ignored and/or undermined. Consequently, before endorsing degrees, it must be remembered that a wide range of ways exists for early childhood educators to effectively interact with children and that this knowledge can be incorporated into preparation programs, regardless of their delivery system. With this understanding, it also will be easier to ensure that the field remains guided by the lived experiences of children within the context of their families, communities, and history.

Taking advantage of ECE’s diverse workforce also needs to become a priority. Why are we not capitalizing on this strength by asking them what they feel is most needed to enhance their effectiveness as early childhood educators and promote their career advancement? These individuals have made a commitment to children, and that is what most matters. Rather than mandating them to acquire formal qualifications, the ECE field should instead be continually supporting them at each stage of their careers.

ECE and its public needs to move beyond panaceas. In the process, we need to examine how they’ve affected use of other available strategies for developing children’s, families’, and communities’ capacities. By moving beyond ECE panaceas, we can relieve the expectations placed on us to serve as society’s saviors. Responsibility for children’s well-being needs to be shared across institutions. Then perhaps, at last, we can direct more of our attention to the systemic barriers blocking too many children and early childhood educators from fulfilling their potential.

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