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Palimpsest of Critique for Possible Futures

Part of the palimpsest action of critical theory is to position and value the central developmental moment that early childhood provides to children, families, and societies. The current dominant view is that early childhood is a vital stage for the child and family and that the parents should push themselves to do whatever is in their power to direct resources and activities to the brain, language, social, and motor development of young children. But unlike Pollyanna, we are not doing this so that children can reach for rainbows. There is an undertow of fear and blame that is gripping these parents related to the meritocracy: this trajectory of resources is a form of extraction based on the need to see children as candidates for exceptional and demanding school programs that are measured by achievement in high-stakes testing. The phenomenon that Rhee (2013, p. 570) addresses is described as “generational decline” from which the “tiger mother” flees. From the first fetal heartbeat, there can be the expectation of that acceptance letter to an Ivy League College that might guarantee success in life.

While this rationale may be good for few and an achievement of free democratic societies, this approach of treating young children as guided missiles can limit the investment of social resources and the aspirations of communities (Lightfoot, 2006). If we consider the logic of return on human-capital investments as an acceleration of extraction, the palimpsest may show us both adherence and dissolution. One path is to take more resources away from communities and public programs, since the rich will be able to afford their nannies, preschools, and tutors and to form the young child as a nascent “entrepreneur of oneself” while casting blame against families and children who cannot afford or have the energy to do so (Doherty, 2009; Peters, 2009, p. xxxvi). Discourse as an instrument of blame in the process of governmentality may go like this: you know how important this moment of early childhood is for your children and their future; what did you do to maximize their potential; what did you do to gain merit to position yourself to provide for your child; what does this mean for who you are?

We may also see early childhood as aspiration for adulthood and need to reflect upon the question as to when does early childhood begin. A simple answer may be at the moment of birth. But if we look deeper and more multidimensionally, we may consider the developing parenthood of the children and when in the life course do their values and viewpoints emerge that would enable them to raise and support children. In a public health life-course perspective we could consider that early childhood may also begin in the teenage years of the young men and women who begin families and support the development of children. We would need to examine the repertoires of cultural practice that address creating and supporting families, the resources that are needed, and the stake of community participation in the care and feeding of young families and their children. Gutierrez and her colleagues envision a positive ecosocial future (Gutierrez & Vossoughi, 2010; Gutierrez et al., 2011) and describe in detail how they are designing learning ecologies in the university an the community organized around a coherent set of principles of learning and development and multiple forms of mediation across both settings, of significance, these learning ecologies are co-created and grounded in the cultural historical practices of the communities involved. (Gutierrez & Vossoughi, 2010, p. 100)

Work and caregiving need to be examined considering what future directions work-life balance may take. Considering dimensionality we should also look at the work that is needed to address and interrupt the impact of generations of trauma and racism in the form of adverse childhood experiences (Centers for Disease Control of Prevention, 2014). The stakes for us as authors in this volume are to use social theory to show the contradictions and limitations of current dominant discourses on early childhood and to present elegant or messy viewpoints of what we are seeing and what we have found. Lyotard states, “Another result is that there are two different kinds of ‘progress’ in knowledge: one corresponds to a new move (a new argument) within the established rules; the other to the invention of new rules, a change to a new game” (1984, p. 43). Our work is grounded in the approach that examining the palimpsest of discourse on early childhood will enable us to create arguments continuing our dialogue to promote social justice through human-capital development.

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