The Words We Use
Delivered during the Worthy Wage Day Rally, May 1, 2002, Seattle, Washington
by Tom Drummond, M.Ed.
All of us here care about young children and want to do something, today, to make the world better for them. We know rich experiences in the early years open possibilities for each child to live a full life. The goal we share is to transform how our society is educating the very youngest among us. I want to take this opportunity to examine one aspect of our effort to make a difference for children. I want to discuss how we talk about what we do - how we put what we do into language.
Sometimes we hear ourselves saying to the public, and to each other, that we are undervalued - that society does not recognize us or see the importance of what we do. That word "undervalued" does not convey the essential idea accurately. Although people may not know everything about early learning, most people, especially grandparents, do care about young children. In more ways than we may realize, what we do is valued.
So, we are not undervalued; we are under-resourced. I invite all of us to not say we are "undervalued" and to express the essence more truthfully: we are under-resourced.
Sometimes we hear ourselves saying to the public, and to each other, that we are asking for more government spending. That word "spending" does not convey the essential idea accurately. When we educate young children, we are not spending. We are investing. Anyone who runs a business knows the difference. Anyone who buys a house knows the difference. When you rent, you spend money and never see it again. When you invest, the outlay creates value.
So, we are not calling for spending; we are calling for investment. I invite all of us to not use the word "spending" in regard to early education and to express the essence more truthfully: we are calling for an investment.
Sometimes we hear ourselves saying to the public, and to each other, the words "preschool," or "pre-kindergarten," when we are not pre-anything. Childhood is growing time. Likewise, we hear ourselves saying to the public, and to each other, the words "child care" and call ourselves "child care workers" or "child care staff," when care is only part of what we do. Those words "preschool" and "child care" are not fully accurate. It is closer to the truth to say that we are committed to a journey. We are on a collaborative quest to provide the best educative experiences we can for young children and their families, with ever-evolving, deepening skill. It is more than care that we strive for.
We are not preschool teachers or care providers; we are early educators. I invite us all to avoid the word "preschool," and to consider avoiding the words "child care," in the hope we can express the essence of we do more truthfully: we are early educators. We work in early education centers and early education homes.
Sometimes we hear ourselves saying to the public, and to each other, that we want training, or we have to take training, or we want to provide training, as if training were a way to impart to others a clear, proper practice in early education when there isn't one. We do not "train" children to play with pens or blocks or dress-up clothes. Rather, we provide rich experiences and a warm, thoughtful, responsive presence as they construct for themselves their understanding and sense of self. Early educators most benefit from developmental experiences that facilitate growth in the same way. If our language about ourselves implies that we are cogs in a machine, we are less likely to be treated as professionals. That word "training" does not accurately convey ideal conditions for personal development.
We do not desire training; we desire opportunities for professional development in our professional practice. I invite all of us to stop using the word "training" and to express the essence of growing better more truthfully: we seek professional development opportunities.
Sometimes we hear ourselves with the public, and with each other, agreeing to the idea of readiness for school. For example, we want each child to be prepared to read. Such ways of thinking arise from visions of older children who are not succeeding in one way or another. It creates images of deficits, so we talk of fixes. However, that focus on "readiness" does not convey our essential desire accurately. When we view children as naturally competent, we can let them lead and document their unfolding before us. We can think of children as pumpkin vines on hot summer days and literally watch them grow and twine, becoming fully themselves when conditions are optimized.
We are not preparing children; we are facilitating their natural growth. I invite all of us not to talk of "readiness" and to express the essence of our goal as making children's learning visible.
We are here, united, because we are taking a stand for the very best for all our community's children - those in early education settings and those who stay at home. For when all our children grow in the most enhanced ways, all the members of the community benefit...in civility, gentleness, respect, and active commitment to each other's welfare.
One way we can act, beginning right now, is to take care to use language that illuminates the truth of what we stand for together.
Early Childhood Education
North Seattle Community College