As an experienced practitioner, researcher and lecturer specializing in early childhood education, I have had a mixed reaction to the recent push for being ACE Aware. Discussions about love, kindness and empathy are very welcome and needed. At Strathclyde, our students discuss how their settings are moving away from punitive practices, toward a deeper culture of listening to children and young people and reflecting on relationships of power. There seems to be a real interest in recognising and remedying injustice and changing practices within systems. There has been increasing discussion of children’s rights within ACE Awareness, which is also very welcome and needed in early years.
At the same time, there is a danger that ACE Awareness is reinforcing damage narratives (Tuck 2009) and deficit thinking about young children and families:
- The (poor) child and family as a site of damage to self and society
- Labelling—professionals telling people what they are
- Hero worship–the valiant professional who swoops in to fix the individual
- Oppressive structures and behaviours remain unchanged
This vision of the heroic professional is not new or revolutionary in early years—it is just more of the same. Early years education is plagued by deterministic and simplistic views of human development—for example, the belief that the pattern for our lives is set by three years old. This belief easily leads to aggressive diagnosing of difference and labelling of young children. Alternative visions for early childhood education include celebration of difference as a source of strength, anti-bias work, political action, and walking alongside children and families to dream equitable worlds into reality (RECE, 2014).
In the CRFR seminar, we heard from audience members who felt curiosity, hesitance, inspiration and anger about ACE Awareness. Calls to dismiss or even condemn those who aren’t sure about ACE Awareness, or to accuse people of not caring about children or even doing more harm to children by questioning ACEs, are profoundly unhelpful and disheartening. In early years, ACE Awareness could potentially help challenge oppressive practices, recognise children and families’ own voices about their lives, disrupt power dynamics in institutional settings, and inform political education and action. However, ACE Awareness also has the potential to reinforce damage-based thinking, paternalistic practices and professional ego. If we choose to accept ACE Awareness, we must see it as only one facet of the intellectual and moral challenges of early childhood work. We must insist on continuing to ask uncomfortable questions about who benefits from this awareness.