View in Chinese (PDF) HomeJournal ContentsIssue Contents
Volume 11 Number 1
©The Author(s) 2009
“Unintended Consequences”—A Life in Early Childhood Education
The following interview with Dr. Bernard Spodek is the first of what we anticipate will be a regular feature of Early Childhood Research & Practice—conversations with individuals whose work has been influential among those concerned with the education, care, and well-being of young children. We hope to take full advantage of the affordances of online publishing, incorporating video and audio clips as well as photographs, scanned documents, and hyperlinks to enhance the interview transcripts.
ECRP associate editor Jean Mendoza met with Dr. Bernard Spodek, Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in December 2008 in his home in Champaign, Illinois, USA. Dr. Spodek's contributions to early childhood education have spanned six decades, during which his teaching, mentoring, and writing have influenced many around the world who are working in the field today. It all began in the 1950s, as he tells ECRP, when as an undergraduate psychology student, he observed and interacted with young children in a progressive New York City day school. Since then, he comments, a "series of unintended consequences" took him from that classroom to a variety of leadership roles.
The New York Years
JM: You’ve been involved in higher education for many years, and you’ve been a leader in early childhood education nationally and internationally. I think that readers would be interested in the general trajectory of your involvement in early childhood education. For example, what first got you interested in young children’s development and education, how have you been involved, and what aspects of your involvement have been especially rewarding and meaningful for you?
Dr. Spodek: Okay. I’ve been in the field of early childhood education since 1952. I got into the field through a series of unintended consequences. I never planned to be a teacher of young children. In college, I majored in psychology and hoped to be a psychologist, possibly working with children. A course in child psychology required that we do fieldwork in a preschool, and we could choose from one of many in New York City. A friend of my brother’s told me about a school called Beth Hayeled, which is Hebrew for “House of the Child.” He said, “Because you speak Hebrew, you would fit in. It’s an interesting place and you’ll like it.” I signed up for it. It was on West 74th Street in Manhattan. It took more than an hour on the subway to get there. I would go every Friday morning to do my observations.
Click the play button to begin the video.
In order to view the video on this page, you must have
Active X controls enabled and be running QuickTime 4
or newer. Download Quicktime.
It was a school like no school I had ever experienced in my life. It was a school for children ages 3-8. There were no desks. There were no textbooks. There was no formal curriculum. It was a bilingual, bicultural school; classes were conducted in Hebrew and English, teaching Jewish culture as well as American culture. Many of the children were from Israel; many of them had parents who were rabbis. Others were children with parents who simply wanted their children to have this kind of education. It was a progressive school. The advisory board included people like William Heard Kilpatrick, who developed the Project Method back in 1914; Ruth Andrews; and Jessie Stanton. These were leaders in progressive education at the time. It also included people from the Board of Jewish Education, rabbis and Jewish educators…. I was supposed to sit, observe, and take notes on the children. Instead I was down on the floor interacting with the kids—until the end of the semester when suddenly I realized that I had all these observations that I’d have to write. So I went there for a solid week and wrote up my notes.
The professor in my class, Dr. Pearl Meissner, was also an advisor to the school. Toward the end of that semester, a psychiatrist contacted the school. He had a patient who was an autistic child. The psychiatrist thought that he was ready for a group experience with other kids. He asked if the school would enroll him. They said, “We would take him in on a trial basis for 2 weeks”—on the condition that the parents pay for somebody to be in the classroom with him just to keep an eye on him. I was asked to work with him for those 2 weeks. I did this, though I would miss my final examination in the Child Psych course. At that time, the rule at Brooklyn College was that the only students who could be excused from taking the final exam were people getting a straight “A” in a class. So I worked with the boy for 2 weeks and got an “A” for the class, which probably wasn’t deserved. At the end of 2 weeks, the school felt the boy was not ready to be in the classroom. But they asked me if I wanted to teach there next year as a preschool teacher.
JM: You didn’t have to be certified?
Dr. Spodek: There was an early childhood teaching certification in New York State. But private schools didn’t have to have all certified teachers. I said “No.” This was 1952—the height of the Korean War—and I was on a student deferment. I hadn’t even applied to graduate school because I figured I’d be drafted. Right after graduation, I get called up for my physical exam, which I didn’t pass because of my eyes. So there I was 4-F and no plans for the future. If you graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in those days, there was very little that you could do. The only job you could get was what they called a social investigator for the Department of Welfare, which I didn’t particularly think I would enjoy. So I called the Beth Hayeled school and asked, “Is the offer still there?” and they said, “Yes.”
So I got a job as a co-teacher of 4-year-olds. I decided I would take a class in early childhood education to learn what I’m supposed to be doing. So I signed up at Teachers College, Columbia University, and took one class the first semester. I enjoyed it and continued to complete a master’s degree leading to certification in early childhood education. I didn’t know that men weren’t supposed to be in the field. This school had two male teachers plus an assistant director who was a man. And I had never taken any undergraduate education courses.
I learned later that I wouldn’t have been admitted into the early childhood education program at Brooklyn College because I was a man. After 4 years of teaching at Beth Hayeled, I decided that the real challenges in education were in the public schools. I decided to go into the public schools. I made that decision too late to take the regular examination for teaching, so I took the substitute teacher examination. It was for teaching in the elementary school. I wasn’t eligible for the early childhood license.
JM: Because you were a man?
Dr. Spodek: There were two requirements I could not meet for the early childhood license. I was a man, and I couldn’t play the piano. You also had to pass a speech test, where examiners would sit in the back of the class, and you’d have to talk to them from the front—
JM: To project your voice?
Dr. Spodek: To project your voice but also to ensure that you did not have a Brooklyn accent. So for like 6 months I went to speech classes to learn to say “Long/Island” instead of “Lon-Guyland.” That speech pattern lasted till I took the exam, and then I went back speaking the way I always spoke.
JM: Those are a couple of things that have changed since, between then and now. You don’t have to play the piano now. They still do pay attention to people’s speech, but maybe not as much.
Dr. Spodek: When I decided to teach in the public schools, I had only a substitute license. That meant I had to go find my own job. I would have to go from school to school on the first day of school and see if they needed a teacher. A friend of mine said, “Go down to this school in Brownsville, Brooklyn; they always need teachers.”
I go into the school office, and I say, “I’m looking for a teaching job.” The clerk says, “Do you have a license?” And I say, “I’ve got a substitute license, and I have a state certificate in early childhood education.” She said, “Well, you can’t teach third grade or below. But we will give you a fifth-grade class where none of the kids read above first-grade level.” I accepted it. This was a school with 1800 kids, and 66 teachers, 42 of which were either first-year teachers or permanent substitutes like me.
JM: Not very good odds.
Dr. Spodek: No. It had been a girls’ junior high school that had been closed down. Because they built a low-income housing project in the neighborhood, they opened up the building. My class was considered a non-English-speaking class. Most of the kids were of Puerto Rican background. My qualification for teaching the non-English-speaking class was that I did not know Spanish. The theory was—this was 1956—if the teacher can’t speak Spanish, the children are forced to learn English. So here I was teaching fifth grade, which I’d never taught before. I walked into literally an empty classroom. I asked for books. The kids can’t read a fifth-grade textbook, so I asked for primary books. “You can’t get primary books or primary materials because you’re teaching fifth grade. So what we’ll do,” I was told, “we’ll give you one textbook of each set, and you can read it to the children.” This was a real disaster in so many ways.
But the year worked out, and at the end of the year, I was offered a job teaching in the early childhood center at Brooklyn College, back to the 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds. I decided that’s really where I wanted to be. So I took that job.… We were also married at the time, and I realized I’m not going to be able to support a family on a preschool teacher’s salary. I had really one of two options if I wanted to stay in the field: either move into administration or move into teacher education. To move into teacher education required a doctorate. That’s why I started studying for the doctorate.
Moving into Leadership
Dr. Spodek: Unfortunately I found when I finished my degree that there weren’t many places that prepared teachers of young children at that time. Most of the states did not support kindergartens. New York did.… Wisconsin did. A few others did. I ended up at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I spent 4 years there. During my fourth year, I received a telegram inviting me to a meeting in Washington, DC, about a new program of early childhood education that was being planned. I asked the dean for permission to go, and the dean wouldn’t let me go. (This was a planning meeting for Head Start, actually.) The dean said to me, “Early childhood education will never be important on this campus.”
So I left and went to the University of Illinois. There were other reasons for leaving too. But that was the last straw.
So, how do you become a leader in early childhood education? You enter the field when it’s very small, and they don’t have very many people there. And if you’re a man in the field of early childhood education, you get bumped up very quickly.
This is still true. A friend of mine did a study in England, looking at men in early childhood education there. The men who come into the field are automatically identified as possible head teachers and trained to be head teachers because there are so few of them.
JM: …But surely that’s not all that got you into leadership positions?
Dr. Spodek: I did not plan to be a leader. But there were a couple of things that happened. In Milwaukee, I became active in the early childhood community. At that time, there was the Milwaukee Association for Nursery Education—the national was NANE, not NAEYC [National Association for the Education of Young Children]. I did two things in that area that you might consider leadership activities. One, I worked with a committee from the Urban League to try to identify day care situations for kids in the Black community. They were just starting to feel the need. Interestingly, the other person on the committee was a woman named Margaret Hoban whose husband was the editor of the Milwaukee Journal. Margaret Hoban’s daughter is a woman named Polly Greenberg who was very involved in Head Start. But Margaret Hoban was also one of the early co-directors of the Walden School in New York, which is a very famous progressive school.…
Another thing we did was start an annual conference in early education. I was able to pull together people from the Milwaukee ANE, the Milwaukee ACEI [Association for Childhood Education], and the Milwaukee ASCD [Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development]. Each of the 3 years that we had the conference when I was there, we brought in a keynote from outside. The first one was my own advisor Kenneth Wann. We also had Barbara Biber and Lois Murphy come. We also had these breakaway sessions as part of the conference. Each organization contributed to the support of the conference, so that the conferences were self-sufficient. The cost was really minimal, primarily the cost of the outside keynoters. There was always a balance left in the budget. That balance would support another conference! I don’t know what happened to the conferences after I left, but during my time in Milwaukee, it was not only popular, but it was also very productive. It brought together preschool and public school kindergarten people, which was important. It also invigorated the intellectual climate in the early childhood community.
JM: I would think so. Was that one of the few of those conferences that was going on at the time, or were there others?
Dr. Spodek: Well, NANE, the National Association of Nursery Education, at that time had a biennial conference with maybe 300-400 attending. And then the local NANE groups would have local meetings.… Perhaps a director would come and do a workshop or something like that. Because of my involvement, the local ANE nominated me for secretary of NANE. By the time I was elected, it had become NAEYC [the National Association for the Education of Young Children].
From NANE to NAEYC
JM: Was that an easy transition or smooth transition from NANE to NAEYC; did people just say, “Let’s do it?”
Dr. Spodek: No. It was hard in many ways. NANE was a small organization, about 1400 members at the time, plus or minus 200. They had a small office in Chicago with a part-time secretary. But when it became NAEYC, it hired an executive director and a secretary. They rented a former dentist’s office with several rooms in a residential hotel.… The elected treasurer didn’t know what to do because now the bookkeeper's job was to write the checks, to pay the bills, to collect the dues and deposit it, and all that. The secretary had taken care of all the correspondence. This volunteer group had done everything. Once there was a paid staff, the officers weren’t sure of their roles. So that was hard.
The organization had received a grant to study the organizational structure. The study suggested changing the structure. Before that time, each local group was independent of the national group. When I started in the field, for example, I was a member of the Early Childhood Education Council of New York City but not a member of NANE.
JM: So you could join the national organization or the local organization separately.
Dr. Spodek: And most people joined just the local organization. The affiliate structure changed the organization. The other major change was the creation of Head Start. NAEYC helped with Head Start from the beginning.
The Influence of Head Start
Dr. Spodek: Indirectly, the beginning of Head Start also changed the kindergarten movement. Before 1965, fewer than half the 5-year-olds attended kindergarten, and many attended private kindergartens. After Head Start was established, middle-class parents in many of the cities in the South and the Midwest would say, “If our kids were poor, they would be in a program before grade one, and we don’t have such a program for our kids.”
So you began to see kindergartens being established and becoming part of public schools. The people who were running private kindergartens were very upset because, “They’re taking our livelihood away.” So the private kindergartens became nursery schools and the day care centers. In the 1970s, you saw the expansion of day care. From 1965 on, the field completely changed.
“What’s in a Name?”
JM: When you started, the field was small in numbers, and… I guess you could say, isolated or at least separate with kinds of groups operating—
Dr. Spodek: …They weren’t that separate. NANE was really a leadership group. The people in NANE, the national organization, were primarily administrators and university people. They knew one another, and they interacted with one another. The journal was the Journal of Nursery Education, by the way, which changed its name to Young Children. But there were problems. When it went from NANE to NAEYC, the name of the organization was the National Association for the Education of Young Children. A number of the affiliate groups did not want the word “education” in their name. So in some places you still find “The X Association for Young Children.”
…In New York, the places where early childhood teacher education was taught were in departments or colleges of education in places like Bank Street College, Teachers College Columbia University, and the City Colleges of New York. The Departments of Education taught early childhood education. I came to UIUC [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] in 1965 to start an early childhood education program in the college of education. I’d been in the Midwest for about 4 years, and I realized that in many of the universities, especially in the land grant universities, the early childhood programs were in the agriculture colleges.
JM: Like [the child development program] is in ACES [Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences] at University of Illinois.
Dr. Spodek: The colleges of agriculture [at the time] trained men to be farmers and women to be farmers’ wives. And what do farmers’ wives do? They cook, they sew, and they take care of, they raise, kids. So child development, often in home economics departments of Colleges of Agriculture, was where early childhood education was. At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, for example, the kindergarten and primary programs were in Education and the preschool program was in Child Development, which is separate. Coming out of this tradition of Child Development, some people in the field saw “education” as a bad word. Which is why Head Start is not in the Department of Education. The fear was that the Head Start classes would look like second grade, because that’s the only vision they had of what education is.
JM: So some people then were sure that “education” of young children was going to be inappropriate?
Dr. Spodek: Yeah.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC):
The Illinois Years
JM: …What are some things that have happened since you came to UIUC that you see as having been especially rewarding or meaningful?
Dr. Spodek: As soon as I got to the UIUC in 1965—there was this expansion of early childhood education. I was able to get several federal grants to train and re-train teachers, and also to train teacher trainers. We had 8-week summer institutes, we had one-year programs, and we had 3-year doctoral programs to train teacher educators. The students were supported. Tuition and fees were paid, and money for stipends was available as well. This allowed us to build an early childhood program very quickly here.
JM: So federal grants helped—
Dr. Spodek: The federal grants and the support of the College of Education. The dean of the UIUC College of Education at that time very much wanted to have an early childhood program here even before there was an early childhood certificate available. Typically the College of Education focused on preparing people for certification at the undergraduate level. But Rupert Evans, the dean, was a visionary in many ways.
…We established the early childhood program here. We trained leaders; we trained teacher educators. We ran a doctoral program before we had an undergraduate program.
A new degree program at UIUC has to be approved by the Board of Trustees. The master’s and doctoral programs were in Education with different specializations. You could add a specialization without trustee permission. But it took us about 2-3 years to get the certificate program.
The first [Illinois] early childhood certificate came out for 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, excluding public school kindergarten, and that was used to certify teachers of preschool children with disabilities—because there were programs for children with disabilities below kindergarten but no certificate for their teachers. The kindergarten teachers in Illinois received the elementary certificate. Later, the early childhood certificate—birth through grade three—was put into place, and you had a legitimate early childhood certificate.…
When our program was getting approved, we proposed a course called “Play in Early Childhood Education.” The faculty on the educational policy committee of the University Senate, said, “This is not legitimate; it is not intellectual.” We changed the title to “The Theory and Process of Early Childhood Education,” and that was accepted.
JM: Same content?
Dr. Spodek: Yes!
JM: What are some…aspects of [your work at University of Illinois]…that you are really glad you were involved with…?
Dr. Spodek: I think the undergraduate program that we ran, at least in my day, was one that we were proud of. It was very practice oriented, but it also had some intellectual rigor, which isn’t always the case in early childhood teacher training. We were able to hire doctoral students with a teaching background as teaching assistants, which gave them also an internship in teacher education. And we engaged them in research about what they were doing in their teaching. This provided us with material we could present at national conferences…. So there was a nice synergy in the undergraduate/graduate programs.
JM: What did you do that brought more intellectual rigor to it than other programs had?
Dr. Spodek: Well, the University of Illinois is an elite university. It has fairly high academic admissions standards. Those who transfer from community colleges also meet these standards. Also, I think the classes themselves were rigorous. We also tried to find student teaching placements with teachers who were outstanding, but these became harder and harder to identify as time went on for all sorts of reasons.
JM: …What are some reasons you think that’s happened, that it’s getting harder and harder to find outstanding teachers?
Dr. Spodek: We would work with people who were really good cooperating teachers, and over time some of these teachers left. They retired or they moved on, and you lose your personal contacts. I’m sure there are good teachers now, but I don’t go into the schools anymore.
Beginning to Publish
JM: …Is there anything else you want to say about that part of your life, those years of your involvement, that we haven’t covered yet?
Dr. Spodek: A couple things that became important: one is that at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee we had a group of really outstanding young faculty members, really top flight, who supported and nurtured one another. People gave me an opportunity to write for publication early in my career and also to get involved in professional organizations. At that time, ASCD [Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development] was primarily composed of university people. We had an early childhood education committee that I chaired for a while. We had a publication that came out at one time. More opportunities like that happened. When I decided to leave Milwaukee, I realized that, “If I’m going to get a decent job, I’m going to have to be published.” When I came to Illinois for my interview, I had one book that I had co-authored that was coming out at about that time, as well as about half a dozen articles that were accepted and were coming out. So it looked like I was a very productive scholar, but it was really a matter of about 6 months or a year’s work. I had really hustled.
JM: That must have been quite a time. What was your first book then?
Dr. Spodek: It was called New Directions in the Kindergarten. It was done with a woman named Helen Robison.
JM: Was that with one of your colleagues at Milwaukee?
Dr. Spodek: No, it was with a former doctoral student with me, who also was director of a nursery school where my wife taught. It was a very popular book at the time.
JM: Your wife was in early childhood, also?
Dr. Spodek: Yeah. We actually met working at a children’s summer camp. She was still an undergraduate, and I was teaching at the lab school.… She taught in Urbana-Champaign at Playtime Nursery School—they have a new name now: “Campus Cooperative Preschool.” This was at the Wesley Methodist Church on campus. Then she taught in Unit 4 Schools [the public school district] in Champaign.
JM: So you always had someone at home to talk with about your work in the field.
Dr. Spodek: Yeah.
Interests Outside of Early Childhood Education
JM: Outside of early childhood education, what have been some of your sustaining interests?
Dr. Spodek: They’ve changed over time. I’m not as physically active as I used to be. At one time I used to sail a boat. We also did a lot of camping as a family from the time my wife and I were married. Neither of which I do now.
We’re interested in attending performances now. We go to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana-Champaign and occasionally in Chicago. We’ve done some international and national travel for personal reasons besides the professional travel. We have used Elderhostel and Overseas Adventure Travel, traveling to different countries: Tanzania to photograph animals, the Galapagos, Machu Picchu in South America, the Greek Islands, France to study Impressionist painting, and the like. That’s what I started doing when I retired.
I continued to be professionally active at the international level. But once retired, if I go somewhere professionally, I go with my wife, and we usually spend some extra time. If we go to Thailand, for example, we spend a few days in Bangkok besides the conference to do cultural things. We’ve done a lot of travel in China and Japan.
JM: Has anything in particular led you to an interest in that area of the world?
Dr. Spodek: It probably comes because my wife is part Chinese and my father-in-law was born in China, and he had always hoped we would go. On our first trip to China, we spent our 25th wedding anniversary in Beijing, China. And we have sustained contacts with people in the region. One of my former students, Betty Chan, for example—who finished her doctorate elsewhere—is the director of the Yew Chung Educational Foundation; I’ve been going back and forth, consulting with them over the years. The foundation has schools in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere.
JM: I believe that’s the group that’s supporting a Chinese translation of Early Childhood Research & Practice. It’s a wonderful gift to the profession.
Dr. Spodek: She’s also developed a computer program for teaching Chinese to kids, which she just gave me access to. It’s on the Internet.
JM: Okay. Do you speak Chinese?
Dr. Spodek: Only about a dozen words, actually… “Thank you.” … “Help.”
Influential People and Ideas
JM: When a person looks at your list of publications, there are several threads that have held your attention for some time. I think open education was one. Play, language and literacy, kindergarten practices, teacher preparation, history of early childhood—a number of others, too. Of all those topics and ideas that you’ve investigated or written about, which ones continue to be compelling to you and what do you think makes them so?
Dr. Spodek: Open education was a modernization of progressive education focusing on activity learning, learning by doing, giving kids autonomy, giving kids freedom to try things, to explore, and the like. I think that continues to be compelling. And play is tied with that because play is how young children, I think, learn most easily, and what makes the most sense. The other thing I’ve been involved in right along is teacher education, because that’s always been part of my career.
JM: The open education seems to me to have a thread that goes back to your first experience.
Dr. Spodek: Exactly. The first school where I taught was a progressive school. I probably learned more in that school about teaching young children than in all the education courses I took, because I lived it. We had a director who was outstanding. We had meetings that dealt with key issues; we had advisory board meetings which brought some intellectual rigor to it.
JM: And that school is not still operating today?
Dr. Spodek: No, it closed many years ago.
JM:Some of your work on kindergarten and on play is what influenced me in the mid-1970s to go to graduate school in early childhood instead of journalism. Are there any individuals whose ideas or work—you’ve touched on some already—influenced either your path or your thinking about young children?
Dr. Spodek: …My dissertation was heavily influenced by a book called The Process of Education that Jerome Bruner had written back in the 60s, looking at the issue of content. One of the problems, from my point of view, with kindergarten and prekindergarten, is that it’s almost content-less education. You can’t develop an intellect without having kids think about something. The forms of organized knowledge, if you will, give kids a hook which helps them make sense of the world—a way to make sense of it that’s broader than themselves. In many places when they talk about teaching academics in the kindergarten, they mean reading, writing, and arithmetic. And it’s often done in a very formalistic, formulaic way. But even reading consists of thinking about symbols. So you want kids to develop ways of thinking, ways of knowing that enrich their lives. What the early childhood teacher teaches is general education. It is the same subjects that you get in high school or the first two years of college but taught in a way that’s appropriate to young children and usually in a way that’s integrated. So you don’t teach separate subjects, but you focus on topics; but what makes those topics meaningful is the knowledge that’s embedded in them, and that knowledge comes out of subject matter, out of scholarly disciplines, if you will.
JM: Jerome Bruner was one of your influences, then.
Dr. Spodek:To begin with. And my advisor, Kenneth Wann, who wrote a book called Fostering Intellectual Development in Young Children. When I started, it was he and I and 60 women in the first classes that I took. But I learned that you could be legitimate in early childhood education as a man.
JM: You mentioned Jerome Bruner and your advisor. Any other leading ideas, or leading people?
Dr. Spodek: There was a guy in curriculum named James B. MacDonald who was at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with me who was a great influence, I think. A lot of what I’ve been working on seems to be consistent with the work of Vygotsky, but I was doing it before I knew about Vygotsky’s work.
JM: When did you first become aware of Vygotsky then?
Dr. Spodek: Probably in the 80s.
JM: But a lot of what he was thinking was similar to your experience.
Dr. Spodek: Yes. But you know, his work was suppressed by the Stalinists and didn’t become available till much later.
Men in Early Childhood Education
Dr. Spodek: …When I started teaching I was 20 and single. When I went to a party, people often asked “What do you do?” “I teach nursery school.” “You know, I want you to meet my friend the ballet dancer.” There were stereotypes in there.
JM: You met these other men who were doing things that most men don’t do…
Dr. Spodek: Right. And therefore you must be gay. That was underlying all of this.
JM: Do you see any of that having changed much—the ideas about men in early childhood?
Dr. Spodek: Yes and no. It’s more often seen as legitimate to be a man in early childhood now. But there are dangers now for men working with young kids that didn’t exist then. The issue of child sexual abuse by teachers…. Maybe it was there, but it wasn’t an issue for me when I was teaching. Now I would be much more careful about things I would do with young kids….
Unfortunately, sometimes we’ve had undergraduates in early childhood education who are men who feel that they can get away with stuff just by being a man in a kindergarten. The cooperating teachers treat them differently, too, sometimes. They love to have a man in the kindergarten class, but the man is supposed to be “a father figure” or a friend. They don’t quite see him as a teacher.
JM: Do you think there’s a resolution,…anything on the horizon that’s going to change ideas about men in early childhood?
Dr. Spodek: I think the culture still has to change. You know, it’s tied to gender and role.
JM: Do you find differences in male involvement in other countries in early childhood education different from [in the U.S.]?
Dr. Spodek: Years ago when I was lecturing in Israel, I tried to explain to the kindergarten teachers that I had once been a kindergarten teacher. And there’s no word for male kindergarten teacher in Hebrew; kindergarten teacher is ganenet, the female for gardener or Ganan, the male. So if I say, “Paam hayeti ganan”—it means, “Once I was a gardener.” So I said, “I was involved in early childhood education”: Hayiti b’chinuch gil harach. It’s a convoluted way of saying it because there’s nothing in the language indicating a male kindergarten teacher. If you look at child-rearing practices in China, you find men more involved—fathers and grandfathers with the kids—than most other places. In Japan, there’s almost no involvement of men with kids, and male kindergarten teachers are rare.… Years ago, Kelvin Seifert did a study of men in early childhood education in Canada. He asked the teachers, “Where do you see yourself 10-20 years from now?” The women teachers saw themselves in the classroom, and the men teachers saw themselves as administrators or teacher educators.
JM: So people even come into early childhood education with different ideas about career paths, according to gender?
Dr. Spodek: Yes.
Changes and Ongoing Issues in the Field
JM: What would you say have been the most significant changes overall in the field of early childhood since you first entered it, and how do you account for the changes?
Dr. Spodek: As I said earlier, Head Start was probably the biggest influence that we had in the field. That came from outside the field rather than inside in terms of public policy. The problem that I think we’ve had in the field is that we didn’t try to strengthen the quality of Head Start as a field. The CDA [Child Development Associate credential], for example, was instituted early, and it made sense as a way of getting teachers when there were no teachers available and when we wanted to involve members of the community. But to continue to maintain CDA without all the underpinnings that good teachers and good teacher education have, I think keeps the field back. NAEYC does a great job in expanding and reaching out to many early childhood practitioners. In its own way, it has also helped dumb down the field of early childhood education.
JM: Do you want to say more about that?
Dr. Spodek: Essentially, it’s become a mass organization. When Young Children started, it always had a research component and a practice component. It’s continued with just the practice component. The research was pushed out. If you look at the conference, the research gets pushed into a corner where nobody has to play attention to it. DAP, developmentally appropriate practice, is a way of dumbing down the field in terms of finding standards everybody could believe in, even though nobody knew what they meant. The organization came out with a list of good practices and list of bad practices, but you can only judge a practice in terms of its context. Things that make sense, that are good for some contexts, may not be good in others.
Starting the Pacific Early Childhood Education Research Association
JM: We were talking about the Pacific Early Childhood Education Research Association [PECERA, http://www.pecera.org], and you were saying that you have been president and you have resigned that post this year. You have some artifacts from that organization.
JM: What would you like for people who don’t know about it, to know about PECERA and its mission?
Dr. Spodek: The idea for the association started when I retired. I had a number of former doctoral students from the Asia Pacific region—Korea, China, Japan, and such. And we were talking about, “How come you never see them at AERA or NAEYC conferences?” They’re doing work, and it’s not getting reported. They said, “It’s too far and too expensive to attend. It costs $2000 just for airfare, a ticket.” So we talked about, “Why don’t we try to start an association in the Asia Pacific region?” I first talked to early childhood educators in Korea who were very excited about the idea. They were supportive of the Association from the beginning. We tried to have our first conference in Seoul in 1999. The economic situation was bad in Korea then, and we had to drop it. So the first conference was held in Kobe, Japan, in 2000. We had about 200 people there from the region. We’ve had conferences each year in Australia, New Zealand, Korea, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand. The Philippines is coming up in 2009, followed by China, Japan, and Singapore. We have a conference once a year. We have anywhere from 250-650 people show up. That’s how we’ve begun. At first we were a virtual organization—an organization in name only, but we’re now registered as a not-for-profit organization in Hong Kong. We have a bank account in Hong Kong.
A couple of years ago, some faculty members in Korea met with a publishing house there called Book Café that wanted to get into educational publishing. They made a deal with us to provide 300 copies of two issues a year free for the first 3 years. So that’s how the journal started (Asia-Pacific Journal of Research in Early Childhood Education). Some of the papers come from the conference itself, and some people submit. The journal is a multidisciplinary publication; it serves educators and other professionals concerned with the education and care of young children. It focuses primarily on research activities in the Pacific Rim area, though research reports from other areas are not excluded. The journal includes research articles related to children from birth to age 8, and to related topics; this includes empirical research, reports of research, reviews of research, critiques of research, and articles related to the application of research to practice. It’s published in hard copy now. We’ve been working to get it also published on the Internet…because increasingly universities are subscribing to journals on the Internet, even though these journals are published by major publishers.
Retirement and Ongoing Work
JM: So you’re not involved in the Pacific Early Childhood Educational Research Association now—
Dr. Spodek: I resigned as president, but I do keep in touch. I’ve been involved with the Association for about 10 years, trying to get it started. Now it’s passed on to the Asia Pacific people themselves, which is what should happen.
JM: Sometimes it takes just that extra energy to get it off the ground so others can pick it up and carry it. So you’re backing off from your involvement in that—
Dr. Spodek: I’m backing off from my involvement in the field. I retired from the University of Illinois in January 1997; it’s over 12 years now.
JM: So now you’re really retiring.
Dr. Spodek: I’m still doing publications, working on books and articles with Olivia Saracho…. When I retired from the University, I also began a book series published by Information Age Publishers, which Olivia Saracho edits with me. Each volume contains a series of reviews of research on various topics in early childhood education. The newest one on language and literacy will be issued in 2009.
JM: Yes. The Contemporary Perspectives in Early Childhood Education series is pretty well known.… What’s the next one that you’re working on?
Dr. Spodek: The one we're working on now is on language and literacy education. We had one on language policy before.
The publisher is the son and grandson of educational publishers, so the tradition for him goes way back. He knows the field. He gets people involved. We do that series, and we edited the new edition of the Handbook of Research on the Education of Young Children with a separate publisher…. Editing those are major tasks. If they come out every 10 years, it’s about right. I don’t think I’ll be involved in the next one.
JM: Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you would like to say something about?
Dr. Spodek: You now know more about me than almost anybody I know.
This list includes work by authors whom Bernard Spodek mentions in this interview, as well as work of his own to which he refers. For a more complete list of Dr. Spodek’s publications, see his Web page: http://faculty.education.illinois.edu/b-spodek/.
Bruner, Jerome S. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Macdonald, James B. (1966). Language, meaning and motivation: An introduction. In James B. Macdonald & Robert R. Leeper (Eds.), Language and meaning (pp. 1-7). Washington, DC: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Macdonald, James B. (1982). How literal is curriculum theory? Theory into Practice, 21(1), 55-61.
Macdonald, James B., & Purpel, David E. (1988). Curriculum and planning: Visions and metaphors. In James R. Gress (Ed.), Curriculum: An introduction to the field (pp. 305-321). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.
Saracho, Olivia N., & Spodek, Bernard (Eds.). (2002). Contemporary perspectives in literacy in early childhood education. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Saracho, Olivia N., & Spodek, Bernard (Eds.). (2002). Contemporary perspectives on curriculum in early childhood education. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Saracho, Olivia N., & Spodek, Bernard. (2002). Introduction: Contemporary theories of literacy. In Olivia N. Saracho & Bernard Spodek (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives in literacy in early childhood curriculum (pp. ix-xv). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Saracho, Olivia N., & Spodek, Bernard (Eds.). (2003). Contemporary perspectives on play in early childhood education. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Saracho, Olivia N., & Spodek, Bernard. (2003). Understanding play and its theories. In Olivia N. Saracho & Bernard Spodek (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives on play in early childhood (pp. 1-19). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Saracho, Olivia N., & Spodek, Bernard (Eds.). (2004). Contemporary perspectives on language policy and literacy instruction in early childhood education. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Saracho, Olivia N., & Spodek, Bernard. (2004). Historical perspectives in language policy and literacy reform. In Olivia N. Saracho & Bernard Spodek (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives on language policy and literacy instruction in early childhood education. (pp. 1-9). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Saracho, Olivia N., & Spodek, Bernard. (2004). Perspectives on language policy and literacy instruction. In Olivia N. Saracho & Bernard Spodek (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives on language policy and literacy instruction in early childhood education. (pp. 281-288). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Saracho, Olivia N., & Spodek, Bernard (Eds.). (2008). Contemporary perspectives on mathematics in early childhood education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Seifert, Kelvin. (1985, April). Gender differences in early childhood careers. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago.
Seifert, Kelvin. (1988). Men in early education. In Bernard Spodek, Olivia N. Saracho, & Donald L. Peters (Eds.), Professionalism and the early childhood practitioner. New York: Teachers College Press.
Spodek, Bernard (Ed.). (1993). Handbook of research on the education of young children. New York: Macmillan.
Spodek, Bernard, & Clark Brown, Patricia. (1993). Curriculum alternatives in early childhood education: An historical perspective. In Bernard Spodek (Ed.), Handbook of research on the education of young children. New York: Macmillan.
Spodek, Bernard, & Robison, Helen F. (1965). New directions in the kindergarten. New York: Teachers College Press.
Spodek, Bernard, & Saracho, Olivia N. (1982). The preparation and credentialing of early childhood personnel. In Bernard Spodek (Ed.), Handbook of research in early childhood education. New York: Free Press.
Spodek, Bernard, & Saracho, Olivia N. (2003). Early childhood educational play. In Olivia N. Saracho & Bernard Spodek (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives on play in early childhood (pp. 171-179). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.
Spodek, Bernard, & Saracho, Olivia N. (Eds.). (2006). Handbook of research on the education of young children (2nd ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes (Michael Cole, Vera John-Steiner, Sylvia Scribner, & Ellen Souberman, Eds. & Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language (Alex Kozulin, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wann, Kenneth D.; Dorn, Miriam Selchen; & Liddle, Elizabeth Ann. (1962). Fostering intellectual development in young children. New York: Teachers College Press.