What’s in a name?
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
Famous words from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and words that I have been pondering recently.
Last week I had the privilege of listening to the brilliant Peter Gray speak about his research on how children learn. During the talk he shared stories of the Sudbury Valley School and one thing that stood out for me was that they do not use the name “teachers”. For some reason this stuck in mind and I have been thinking about it for the last week. I looked up the Sudbury Valley School and found their explanation for this, when asked the question “do you have teachers?” (which was as Peter had said, however didn’t rely on me remembering it word for word!):
We have adults. They’re called “staff members” and they do sometimes teach, as do many of the kids, but their main purpose is to be here as resources, as people who help make sure the school is running properly, and as role models for what it’s like to be a grownup. Hopefully we’re okay at being grownups.
I can’t get this out of my head and last night I began thinking about the various names in early education and care.
Children or Kids?
I have been known to refer to children as “kids” and have been chided by others who have stated that they are not, in fact, baby goats and that the term is disrespectful. A quick google search revealed that the slang or informal use of the word kid/kids to describe children may have begun in the 16th Century, which I found quite interesting. There were also various opinions on why the term is offensive, with some suggesting that is sounds hierarchical or reminded them of goats.
Well, I am indeed aware that children are not baby goats and while my use of the word kids is not at all derogatory or suggestive that they may well be goats, I do now find that I am correcting myself whenever I say “kids”. Why? Does it make a difference to the way I feel about them or the way I interact with them or to my role as an advocate for children?
Early Education and Care, Child Care, Day Care, Early Learning, Preschool
There are so many names used for what the service that we provide – is any one better than the others? Is there even a difference?
When I started working at a service it had a very long name which included “Community Preschool and Child Care Centre”. When I questioned the use of both “preschool” and “child care” it was explained that the service had previously been a “preschool” (in NSW – operates school terms, 9am – 3pm for children 3-6years) Over time, the hours had been extended and the starting age lowered, qualifying the service for CCB Subsidy, hence the addition of “child care centre.” The service has since gone on to have a name change which now better reflects the service it provides and is less of a mouthful! But, I often find myself wondering how we came to use so many different terms and whether they suggest to parents that we offer different things. Does a parent read the names and think “hmm, that one only offers day-care, while this one over here offers early learning”?
Would some consistency in naming help families and the community to value more highly, what it is that we do? And if so, how do we achieve that consistency?
Teachers and Educators
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the “teachers” at Sudbury Valley School are known as adults. In early childhood settings we primarily use the terms educators or teachers. Are these one and the same? Is the only distinguishing feature a university degree and a wage difference? Or is there more to it than that?
In my experience as what is known as an “educator” (who at that point in time was referred to as a “child care worker”) who then became a “teacher” – I experienced no real difference in my practice, in my work with children. I also didn’t feel, in either role, that it was my role to “teach” or “impart my wisdom” onto children, but that I was a facilitator – someone to walk alongside them as they made discoveries about the word, someone to listen to their questions and support them to unpack their hypotheses. In fact, I was also the learner – I was learning about the children and how their brains worked!
The Oxford Dictionary defines a teacher as “A person who teaches, especially in a school.” Interestingly, they define an educator as “A person who provides instruction or education; a teacher.”
Does the term teacher suggest a hierarchy? Is that hierarchy warranted? Do we value children as teachers also? Do we value parents or community members as teachers? If we were to not use the term “teacher” does it in any way de-value our professionalism?
Little Flippity-Jibbets Sunshine and Rainbows
Perhaps it’s just me, but the cutesey-fying (not a word… but should be!) of service names has always driven me crazy. I have always felt that it promotes an inferior image of the child – that instead of an image of capable contributors to society, it suggests cute, squishy playthings! But now, as I write this post, I find myself reflecting on whether this is fair. Perhaps this is no different to me using the term “kids”? This is something I need to think more on and would love to hear your thoughts on this.
One thing I do not need to think more on, as I know I absolutely will not change my mind, is the intentional misspelling in service names. E.G. Kute Kids or Krazy Kidz (P.S – These exact names are made up, however the use of the K instead of the C or a Z instead of an S is completely factual!) If we wish to be taken seriously as an education and care service, this is just a huge no-no.
So why does any of this matter?
Well, perhaps it does and perhaps it doesn’t. Who does it matter to? Why does it matter? Do the names we use make suggestions about the type of service we provide or our image of the child? Do they make a statement about who we are and what we believe or value?
Lots to think about… what are your thoughts?