26 Jun 2013

Family Values V The Stalinist Straightjacket

By Liam McNicholas

Judith Sloan's comments this week about early childhood educators show she has little idea of how the sector actually works. Liam McNicholas sets her straight on why kids need an equal start

What began as a short, strange and fairly callous Catallaxy Files post by Judith Sloan on childcare workers, who she called “dim-witted” educators from “second-rate universities”, has reached national attention thanks to her appearance on Q and A.

It hardly seems worth going into Sloan’s lack of evidence (not to mention lack of an apology). But it’s worth taking a slightly more serious look at her published thoughts, as they showcase the fairly common conservative perspective on early childhood education.

Sloan’s use of the term “Stalinist straightjacket” is telling. The notion of universal access early childhood education (ECE) for all children is a direct attack on conservative “family values”.

The conservative argument is essentially that the best place for a child, any child, is in a stable home with Mum and Dad (certainly not two Dads, or two Mums, but we’ll save that for another day).

Anything outside of that, particularly when it is run or funded by government, is a form of social engineering, designed to produce little leftists. The “second-rate universities” Sloan casually slights are also often accused of being socialist factories.

The view that children are better off with a loving Mother and Father (and more usually the Mother) is a deceptively simple one, and any arguments for and against are usually run with high emotions on both sides.

On the other hand, proponents of universal access to ECE argue that it provides a level playing field for all children, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. When we argue for universal access to highly qualified teachers and educators, we get hit with the same arguments time and again:

“So you’re saying that you can only be a good parent if you have a degree?” “So you’re saying if I don’t send my child to childcare I’m making them stupid?”.

To be clear, as I so often have to be, I am certainly not saying either of those things. Do I believe that high-quality ECE can be of benefit in the long-term to children? Yes.

I never attended childcare when I was a young child. I still did well in school, have a degree (admittedly not from one that would meet with Sloan’s approval) and have a great job in a sector I love.

My parents had no degrees in early childhood education, but helped set my brother and I up to work hard in our studies (primary, secondary and tertiary) and in our work.

However, I was extremely fortunate to have two well-educated, stable and loving parents with no mental health issues or disabilities. I was given every chance to be successful.

Not every child has these opportunities. Some children will grow up in disruptive environments, where their parents are suffering immense challenges of their own.

Advocating for universal access to ECE is about ensuring that any child, no matter the circumstances of their home life, can be given the same start. Such a system would mean that any child may even have the opportunity to attend a first-rate, Sloan-approved university!

Individually-focused learning through fun and play, targeted work on social skills and developing a love of learning can be of immeasurable benefit to young children. These are the focuses of the “Stalinist” National Quality Framework (NQF) for Early Childhood Education and Care.

The main document we use to support children's learning, the Early Years Learning Framework, actually encourages children's learning to be unique, individual and contextual to each child and their community. It asks educators to consider diverse perspectives when supporting children's learning.

About as far away you can get from teaching every child to think and act the same. It almost makes me wonder whether Sloan bothered to check it out all.

The NQF is also there to ensure children’s health and safety – surely a reasonable ask when you consider that the latest figures show that over a million children are now in some form of ECE program.

Ireland's loose system of regulation and minimal oversight has resulted in terrible outcomes for children, and is rightly coming under increased scrutiny.

Considering that we have a similar low-paid, overworked and disrespected workforce of educators and teachers, tight regulatory controls are an absolute necessity to ensure children are safe.

ECE is not about replacing parents. It’s about recognising that supporting young children to reach their potential can have significant benefits to society as a whole, including lifting families out of generational disadvantage.

These arguments will never convince conservatives like Sloan, who instinctually see any government work with children as the worst form of socialism. But for people like myself, dim-witted or not, our work with children is vitally important. All children deserve the best possible start in life, and I will continue to advocate for the work do.

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Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 09:02

Good Article. ECE isn't the magic bullet but goes a long way to leveling the playing field.

Especialy when most families need two incomes to buy a house and partack in the economic rat race to the bottom.

The Yanks are the Democratic blue Print we all follow. Take into acount the Tax implication in both Countries. Aust. and the States, given what they should be yet are, could we ever become Neon Light when we can only ever be a Fog Light in the real enviroment of Taxation or the economic possibilities Taxation allows. 

Are we here Cows who try to sound like Yank sheep yet can only ever be cows.

Watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE8RtL3azDg.

and then understand the bases behind life and or even America Democracy and where America is even going with it, as in.



the right to vote was purchased by men selling their right to life

Whats that got to do with ECE and Judith Sloane, everything, think about it.

Why do Economists lie about what economies are capable of and what they actualy do.


Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 11:48

What an amusing article this is!


Very funny!

Australians criticising the education system of a nation like Ireland which scores particularly well in literacy and graduation rates, coming fifth behind South Korea, UK, Finland and Poland.


Great stuff! Keep the funnies rolling!

This user is a New Matilda supporter. RossC
Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 15:50

Yeah, I saw that particualar Q&A.

What you haven't mentioned is that Judith Sloan is an idiot.

No amount of early childhood intervention could have fixed that.

Perhaps that's why she's so down on the whole concept?

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Mercurial
Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 17:28

Obviously your parents weren't that good, otherwise you would have said "but helped set my brother and me up"

Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 21:31

No, Mercurial, it was the second rate university that allowed that minor grammatical slip up in an otherwise commendable article. 

There can be no disputing the need for every child to have as good a start in life as possible, just as there is no disputing the fact that many parents make life very difficult for their children. 

Whether the solution is compulsory pre-school education is moot. How young should we start? I certainly didn't suffer from having parents who never went to high school, and not starting school until I was five. But then my mother was always at home, always busy, creative, inventive, immensely practical, always ready to teach me and have fun... I reckon that was far better than preschool or over-educated parents pushing me where I wasn't interested in going. I ended up well educated, independent and thorougly pleased with my life. 

One size never fits all, and we must always take individual circumstances into account.


Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 23:33

I can see the virtue of having at least one supervisory early Childhood Education Expert in each child-care facility but insisting that ALL child care workers must have university degrees in this is absurd.

Indeed the real life reductio ad absurdum is that by making ALL child-care workers ECE graduates, child-care is so expensive that non-university graduates cannot afford it, this  meaning that the children of such parents will suffer non-university graduate child care at  home in dire poverty.

The next logical step - as under the obscene, racist Stolen Generations policies - would be government removing children from the care of non-university graduate parents.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Tokujiro
Posted Friday, June 28, 2013 - 00:36

I think RossC's comments about Judith SLOAN - whilst not necessarily polite - are - in essence not far from a kind of truth - as I have often thought of her hubristic comments on Q&A - and in the print media. The other night her ill-considered pronouncements merely confirmed for me her general level of ignorance - no matter her position/salary level. Apart frtom several days in a northern Sydney Jewish pre-school when I was three (?) - and enrolment at West Tamworth Public School when I was still four - I had no formal pre-school education. In fact I want to say that my success in the educational sphere was due to my mother (she reached middle school level only in the early/mid-WWII years) - to my Scottish teacher grand-mother - and to a mentor through my upper primary/high school days who took the encouraging role which was largely vacated by my step-father! But that was back in the early 1950s-1960s. Nowadays those who successfully begin school are bolstered by the keen interest of carer grand-parents (on both sides -if lucky - like my grand-nephews/niece) and attendance at pre-school. Why should those teachers not bne the best educated and - indeed - the best paid! The most crucial stages of development merit the best educated of teachers. Therefore well-remunerated! After which come primary school teachers - the next most important. Beyond that - secondary school teachers. Last of all the narrowly specialised tertiary teachers. Perhaps if teacher salaries reflected this vision of education - attention to the qualifications and delivery would see a huge reversal of the curtrent distortion - and Judith SLOAN and whatever her current position is relegated to its true insignificance!

Posted Friday, June 28, 2013 - 12:20

Right on, Dr GP. "The next logical step - as under the obscene, racist Stolen Generations policies - would be government removing children from the care of non-university graduate parents."

You have demonstrated the cruel absurdity of Stolen generation [and all interventionist0 policies. 

If you don;t measure up then we'll make you!


Posted Monday, July 1, 2013 - 10:46

I or me?

'After verbs and prepositions, the object pronoun me should be used; before verbs, the subject pronoun I should be used: They have invited my mother, my father, and me [ not I ] to the wedding. He works with Mary and me [ not I ].  My friend and I [ not me ] will  help. 

Confusion and errors occur in the highest places: "She [Margaret Thatcher] could give a better answer than that to  I and my honourable friends"  (said tby Neil Kinnock during Prime Minister' Question T ime  14 April 1988).'

Manser, M. H.  1990. Bloomsbury Good Word Guide