From Autonomous Child to a Child Entangled within an Agentic World: Implications for Early Childhood Education for Sustainability

Kassahun Weldemariam, A.E.J. Wals

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Over the past decade, the discourse within the early childhood education for sustainability (ECEfS) field has significantly changed. A central concept in the discussion is the notion of young children as agents of change for sustainability. Recent research has indicated that children are agents who are able to engage with complex sustainability problems and can be part of the solution for sustainability challenges. This belief works with the assumption that humans at large, and children in particular, are agents who can be taught to be ethical and rational to care for and safeguard the world. This approach is inherently anthropocentric, unintentionally overlooking the agentic characteristics of the non-human world. From the very beginning, this approach, albeit often unintentionally, declares ontological and epistemological separation between the human child and the wider more-than-human world, which turns the non-humans into a passive background for humans to act on. In this chapter, we challenge the idea of making the rational, ethical and agentic child, and explore possibilities for the unfolding relational child, and its implications for sustainability. Drawing on a posthumanist and post-anthropocentric perspective, we argue that the child is not a fixed autonomous and self-privileged subject, but rather is a situated being within an agentic, assemblaged world that he/she becomes-with, and is affected by multiple non-human actors and forces. Pedagogically, this moves ECEfS from focusing on the agentic child to recognizing diverse ways of knowing that include: affective learning, embodied learning and learning with others.
The discourse within the early childhood education for sustainability (ECEfS) field has significantly changed. A central concept in the discussion is the notion of young children as agents of change for sustainability. In this chapter, the author challenges the idea of making the rational, ethical and agentic child, and explores possibilities for the unfolding relational child, and its implications for sustainability. Drawing on a posthumanist and post-anthropocentric perspective, the author argues that the child is not a fixed autonomous and self-privileged subject, but rather is a situated being within an agentic, assemblaged world that he/she becomes-with, and is affected by multiple non-human actors and forces. Pedagogically, this moves ECEfS from focusing on the agentic child to recognizing diverse ways of knowing that include: affective learning, embodied learning and learning with others.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearching Early Childhood Education for Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationChallenging Assumptions and Orthodoxies
EditorsSue Elliott, Eva Ärlemalm-Hagsér, Julie Davis
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoutledge
Chapter2
Pages13-24
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780429446764
ISBN (Print)9781138332256
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020

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