Art in early childhood : the discourse of 'proper' teaching

McArdle, Felicity (2001) Art in early childhood : the discourse of 'proper' teaching. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

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This thesis is a problematisation of the teaching of art to young children. To problematise a domain of social endeavour, is, in Michel Foucault's terms, to ask how we come to believe that "something ... can and must be thought" (Foucault, 1985:7). The aim is to document what counts (i.e., what is sayable, thinkable, feelable) as proper art teaching in Queensland at this point ofhistorical time. In this sense, the thesis is a departure from more recognisable research on 'more effective' teaching, including critical studies of art teaching and early childhood teaching. It treats 'good teaching' as an effect of moral training made possible through disciplinary discourses organised around certain epistemic rules at a particular place and time.

There are four key tasks accomplished within the thesis. The first is to describe an event which is not easily resolved by means of orthodox theories or explanations, either liberal-humanist or critical ones. The second is to indicate how poststructuralist understandings of the self and social practice enable fresh engagements with uneasy pedagogical moments. What follows this discussion is the documentation of an empirical investigation that was made into texts generated by early childhood teachers, artists and parents about what constitutes 'good practice' in art teaching. Twenty-two participants produced text to tell and re-tell the meaning of 'proper' art education, from different subject positions. Rather than attempting to capture 'typical' representations of art education in the early years, a pool of 'exemplary' teachers, artists and parents were chosen, using "purposeful sampling", and from this pool, three videos were filmed and later discussed by the audience of participants.

The fourth aspect of the thesis involves developing a means of analysing these texts in such a way as to allow a 're-description' of the field of art teaching by attempting to foreground the epistemic rules through which such teacher-generated texts come to count as true ie, as propriety in art pedagogy. This analysis drew on Donna Haraway's (1995) understanding of 'ironic' categorisation to hold the tensions within the propositions inside the categories of analysis rather than setting these up as discursive oppositions. The analysis is therefore ironic in the sense that Richard Rorty (1989) understands the term to apply to social scientific research.

Three 'ironic' categories were argued to inform the discursive construction of 'proper' art teaching. It is argued that a teacher should (a) Teach without teaching; (b) Manufacture the natural; and (c) Train for creativity. These ironic categories work to undo modernist assumptions about theory/practice gaps and finding a 'balance' between oppositional binary terms. They were produced through a discourse theoretical reading of the texts generated by the participants in the study, texts that these same individuals use as a means of discipline and self-training as they work to teach properly.

In arguing the usefulness of such approaches to empirical data analysis, the thesis challenges early childhood research in arts education, in relation to its capacity to deal with ambiguity and to acknowledge contradiction in the work of teachers and in their explanations for what they do. It works as a challenge at a range of levels - at the level of theorising, of method and of analysis. In opening up thinking about normalised categories, and questioning traditional Western philosophy and the grand narratives of early childhood art pedagogy, it makes a space for re-thinking art pedagogy as "a game oftruth and error" (Foucault, 1985). In doing so, it opens up a space for thinking how art education might be otherwise.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 36658
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Grieshaber, Susan J.
Additional Information: Presented to the Centre for Applied Studies in Early Childhood, School of Early Childhood, Queensland University of Technology.
Keywords: Art Study and teaching (Early childhood), multivocal ethnography, ironic category, propriety, contingency, child, art, pedagogy, art eductaion, competing and conflicting discourses, thesis, doctoral
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Felicity McArdle
Deposited On: 22 Sep 2010 13:05
Last Modified: 14 Mar 2016 23:58

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