Complicating classroom community in early childhood
Wisneski, Debora Basler
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In the dominant early childhood education discourse, creating and maintaining a classroom community is recognized as a vital component of successful teaching and learning. Community is valued and discussed through the discourses of democracy, care, and inclusion in early childhood education. The purpose of this study is to explore the meanings and experiences of classroom community with a teacher and her students within an early childhood setting. This aim of the study is to contextualize the life experiences in classroom community, thus highlighting the tensions and complexities. This qualitative case study employs a multitheoretical interpretivist analysis that interrupts the current discourses of community as a coherent cohesiveness and offers up the possibility of examining community critically. The guiding questions of the study are: 1) How do the members of an early childhood classroom experience and come to understand community?, 2) What are the tensions of community in an early childhood setting?, and 3)What are the (im)possibilities of classroom community in early childhood education? The data show that through classroom members defined community in the following terms: Classroom community 1) provides a place that is safe and comfortable without conflict, 2) requires working together and helping one another, 3) offers spaces to address issues of inclusion and exclusion, and 4) involves learning to be good citizens in a democracy. However, these ideals of community are interrupted within the context of the discipline of a public elementary school that insists upon control and conformity. Tensions are identified around the incompatibility of the different participants’ ideas of community, the conflicting roles different members play, and social issues based on difference. The ideals of community become another discourse to control, categorize, and exclude others. Yet, the struggles within this exploration allow participants to find opportunities to reflect and question their interpretations of community and take social action. The researcher concludes that building community in early childhood classrooms is not the answer to our educational goals, but rather is a point of departure for questioning contentious issues in our lives so we can learn about others, our selves, and make change in the world.