Attention and early childhood education. (2020)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
Informed by Iris Murdoch’s concept of attention, this thesis argues that economic and scientistic discourses within early childhood education misrepresent and neglect essential moral aspects of pedagogy. Early childhood education is built on particulars, the small and incremental attentive moments between individuals. Attention, described by Murdoch as ‘a just and loving gaze directed upon an individual reality’, improves the moral imagination and enhances the ability of teachers to see and respond to individual children in educational settings.
The concept of attention is utilised to critique neoliberal approaches to early childhood education and to question the increasing application of neuroscientific explanations of the child in educational policy and pedagogical practice. Standardisation, objective empiricism, and limited measurements of teachers and children are problematised for the ways in which they attempt to delineate ‘fact’ from ‘value’. Attention fosters a critical understanding of how teachers’ everyday pedagogical practices can be appreciated as an ‘inhabited’ philosophy of education.
Attention is explored in relation to the Māori concept of aroha. Aroha, as a generous direction of focus to the divine breath within another being, is helpful in developing a deeper understanding of attention. Together, aroha and attention prove synergistic in efforts to promote an approach to education that moves beyond the empirical, quantifiable and scientific. Together, these concepts support another way of understanding the ‘intentional’ teacher through acknowledging the importance of intuition in paying attention to children. Underpinned by humility, aroha and attention are orientations to life that see education as a moral and ethical undertaking. Seen in this light, education informs rather than limits rational investigation.