Living ethics in early childhood contexts: A critical study
thesisposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 authored by Christine WoodrowChristine Woodrow
"...This study reports a critical analysis of the lived experience of a group of early childhood leaders in a regional area of Australia as they come together to discuss the ethical dimensions of their workplaces.". The last two decades have seen increased attention to applied ethics in the professions, nationally and internationally, in most areas of public life, including education. This study reports a critical analysis of the lived experience of a group of early childhood leaders in a regional area of Australia as they come together to discuss the ethical dimensions of their workplaces. It is informed by the broad literature on applied ethics and more recent feminist concerns for its theoretical framing in ethics, and by practitioner action research for its methodology. The study's focus on lived experience, conducted through an action-oriented group process of collaborative knowledge construction, responds to more recent work in applied ethics (Winkler & Coombs, 1993; Jordan, 1996) and feminist ethics (Benhabib, 1987, 1992; Haraway 1991; Hekman, 1995) that calls for closer attention to ethics in situated contexts. Four major themes or areas of concern emerged from the study group, each giving rise to ethical discussion: parent-staff relationships, curriculum, colleagues andthe impact of marketisation. These identified priorities among the group's discussions highlight the embedded or situated nature of ethics and how ethics are fundamentally tied to relationships as they are played out in local sites. The issues are presented both in descriptive terms, illuminating how a group of women leaders deal with ethical issues, and in analytic terms, drawing on a range of theoretical resources to help explain the significance of the ethical issues at stake for and in the field of early childhood. The major engagement by the field in the arena of ethics in Australia has been the development and promulgation of a national code of ethics a decade ago (Australian Early Childhood Education Association, 1991). As a field only recently established within the university sector, there has been little research effort directed towards ethics and this has been mainly focussed on implementation issues around the code. This study, through its focus on lived experience, adds to the basic data available to the field and provides some theoretical resources to problematise dominant approaches to ethics. The study findings indicate that, whilst the codification project usefully provides a language and framework for discussing ethics, and has allowed issues to be identified by practitioners as ethical rather than as matters of management or personal style, in practice issues tended to be resolved procedurally. Current resources available to the field inadequately support an ethic of care that might offer a viable alternative to the application of universalised notions of justice that characterise many of the responses in the group. These kinds of responses tend to reinforce traditional constructions of professionalism and distance these leaders from the very people with whom they are trying to establish respectful and reciprocal relationships. The findings from the study group suggest the need for more robust theoretical frameworks to address competing and dominant discourses within the field. It is suggested that emerging resources from feminist ethics provide the basis for a revisioned ethic of care (Tronto, 1993, 1995), in which understandings of care are expanded and elaborated beyond relationships of dependency, as an alternative framework for dealing with ethics within the highly feminised field of early childhood. There is also a clear need for the further generation of rich qualitative data that can provide nuanced accounts of caring relationships within the field in order to support the development of a stronger ethical practice within the institutions of early childhood in the public arena.