Teachers following children?: Heteronormative responses within a discourse of child-centredness and the emergent curriculum (free full-text available)

Nicola Surtees
University of Canterbury

This article highlights aspects of a qualitative research study in New Zealand focused on the operation of teacher discourses of sexuality within early childhood education. The study explored teacher talk and practice about and around sexuality and the subsequent regulation of sexualities in centres. Drawing from the study findings, this article positions teachers' talk and practice about and around sexuality within a framework of heteronormativity, child-centredness and the emergent curriculum. The article provides insight into how this framework licenses absences pertaining to sexualities matters and the ways the absences arise. The article argues such absences create barriers to and/or narrow options for teachers' talk and practice about and around sexuality; reduce opportunities for acknowledgement of difference and diversity; and make attainment of the inclusive ideals of Te Whāriki difficult. The article concludes by re-imagining the way ahead with a view to advancing sexualities matters in early childhood education.


Two decades of experience teaching, lecturing and researching in the early childhood education sector in New Zealand has shaped my view that sexuality is socially constructed, that children are sexualised beings, that early childhood centres are sexualised sites, and that teacher talk and practice about and around sexuality in these sites acts to police sexualities. As Sumara and Davis (1998) note, pedagogy is sexed—excavating and interpreting the ways it is 'explicitly heterosexed' (p. 199) has led me to ask questions that 'cause trouble' (Cannella, 1997, p. 173). Causing trouble was, then, both a central purpose of the study described in this article and an ongoing aim as I begin to disseminate the study findings. I do not cause trouble simply for trouble's sake—rather, I believe that questioning the regulation of sexualities will be beneficial for teachers and children, potentially creating opportunities for new ways of 'doing' sexualities together.

I have argued elsewhere that the national curriculum Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996b), applicable to all licensed, chartered early childhood services in New Zealand, reinforces the concept of heteronormativity (see, for example, Gunn et al., 2004; Gunn & Surtees, 2004; Surtees, 2003). Heteronormativity positions heterosexuality as an institutionalised, superior and privileged standard, the 'normal,' 'natural' and 'appropriate' sexuality. It ensures heterosexuality is the 'default' position. While Te Whāriki emphasises the holistic way children learn and develop, sociocultural context and the need for inclusive responses to varying aspects of difference and diversity, sexuality is omitted as one such facet, thus sparking my curiosity about whether this omission legitimates heterosexuality as that default position. Querying this omission, I asked:

Does it render sexuality invisible and hinder meaningful inclusion? Does the omission generate uncertainty about the relevance of sexuality to children and how best to teach to this? Does it limit opportunities for children's learning about sexuality and for the expression, honouring and celebration of sexualities?

Robinson (2000) suggests 'many young children may have to fumble through issues of sexuality with little knowledge or the language to comprehend and make sense of the contradictions that arise for them' (pp. 103-104). In order to learn about teacher beliefs about and responses to these issues, I conducted a qualitative study exploring teacher talk and practice specifically about sexuality and teacher talk and practice that skirted around (or avoided) sexuality.

Drawing from the study findings, this article provides insight into the ways heteronormativity, child-centredness and the emergent curriculum license absences pertinent to sexualities matters. The article suggests that absences occur in three ways and that they act as an obstacle to and/or diminish options for teachers' talk and practice about and around sexuality; lessen possibilities for recognition of difference and diversity; and make realisation of the inclusive ideals of Te Whāriki difficult—ideals made mandatory through the Revised Statement of Desirable Objectives and Practices (DOPs) for Chartered Early Childhood Services in New Zealand (Ministry of Education, 1996a). The article concludes by putting forward a case for 'being bad' and risk-taking for both the teacher in the early childhood centre and in pre-service teacher education in order to enable a way forward in relation to sexualities matters.

Framing the study

A number of concepts and discourses provided a framework for the study. The concepts of heteronormativity, power, surveillance and normalisation, and discourses related to both child-centredness and the emergent curriculum are of relevance to this article. The theoretical perspectives of social constructionism, poststructuralism and queer theory were also important to the framing of the study.


The first concept providing a framework for the study was heteronormativity. As previously explained, heteronormativity positions heterosexuality as 'normal.' As the 'norm', heterosexuality is centred through and depends on the existence of the 'abnormal' to function—homosexuality. The structure and ranking within this binary is socially constructed, the terms marking particular positions. The first term is normative and the second a deviation.

Those marked by the first term are privileged. Drawing from Butler (1990), those in this group are signalling a 'proper' female or male 'performance'; they are embracing heterosexualised ways of 'performing' and 'doing' desire. Butler argues this is possible because sex (the physical body) produces gender (the female or male body), which in turn causes desire towards the opposite sex. In this way, sex, gender and desire are inextricably bound up with each other. Contrarily, those marked by the second term are marginalised, their performance 'improper'. Like the concept of heteronormativity, the heterosexual/homosexual binary and the sex, gender, desire link jeopardises the inclusionary intent of Te Whāriki.

The second concept framing the study was power. Foucault (1976) describes power as constituted in and through discourse. In his conceptualisation, power is something that acts on everyone—it is exercised, as opposed to being an actual object of possession located in particular agents or interests (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 1999). Disciplinary power, exercised 'through the constraint of a conformity that must be achieved' (Dahlberg et al., 1999, p. 29), is seen in disciplinary practices that invite self-discipline—and thus conformity. Such practices include surveillance and normalisation—the final concepts discussed here.

Surveillance ensures the routine functioning of power by making all visible while remaining invisible (Foucault, 1979). The all-seeing gaze ensures individuals self-consciously monitor and regulate their own behaviours, not knowing if they are actually being watched but knowing they could be at any moment. Applied to early childhood centres, teachers and children watch and are watched, their bodies visible and open to control. Perceived of as dangerous, the teacher/body and child/body therefore require and seek the protection of surveillance (Jones, 2001; Leavitt & Power, 1997).

Foucault (1979) saw the 'norm', like surveillance, as a significant instrument of power and control. The norm allows for shaping of the subject, preferably without their awareness, to a particular standard (Dahlberg et al., 1999). Those subjects failing and/or refusing to be shaped to this standard will experience the end result of normalisation—marginalisation. In relation to sexuality and in the context of early childhood education, the marginalisation, resistance towards, and silencing of sexuality go hand-in-hand.


As already noted, discourses framing the study included those related to both child-centredness and the emergent curriculum. With roots in developmental psychology, a discourse of child-centredness is legitimated through promotion of universal, stage-based growth as normal and best fostered in a child-orientated environment where each child is understood as an individual (Alloway, 1995). Within this discourse, child-centred pedagogy as the ideal vehicle for teaching children and play, is privileged, 'since it is ''natural'' for children to play, they are able to learn through play, without even knowing it' (Brooker, 2005, p. 120). The 'naturalness' of children's play and learning are cultural products that have gone largely unquestioned (Cannella, 1997).

Child-centred pedagogy and play are closely linked to Developmentally Appropriate Practice or DAP (Cannella, 1997). DAP is a series of position statements to guide appropriate practice and ensure quality teaching. DAP guides appropriate practice (and therefore quality teaching) by distinguishing between, and providing examples of, both appropriate and inappropriate practices based on knowledge of child development.

In promoting appropriate practice, DAP upholds such practices as applicable to all children—an assumption that has been criticised for some time (Blaise & Andrew, 2005; Cannella, 1997; MacNaughton, 1995; Swadena & Kessler, 1991). Despite critique, DAP continues to be a dominant and widely supported paradigm in early childhood education. Supporting a DAP position typically involves teachers following rather than leading children—as is suggested by the notion of the emergent curriculum.

When teachers follow rather than lead children, they are positioned outside of the educational exercise and children in control of it (Alloway, 1995). Teachers respond to children's interests through the emergent curriculum—an approach to planning based on extending those interests, typically identified through play, with a view to enhancing development and learning (Jones & Nimmo, 1994). Accordingly, any aspect of sexuality not evidenced through children's interests may be relegated as an inappropriate or irrelevant topic for teacher introduction.

Theoretical perspectives

The theoretical perspectives of social constructionism and poststructuralism proved well-suited to my exploration of the ways subjective meaning is individually constructed. Social constructionism claims reality, and the meanings attached to reality are built and sustained by social processes in the course of everyday social life (Burr, 1996). This view rejects taken-for-granted knowledge and perceptions as resting on a pre-determined foundation, contending instead that these are historically and culturally specific and relative constructions (Burr, 1996). Central to both social constructionism and poststructuralism are the terms 'language' and 'discourse'.

Poststructuralism, as Davies (1994) explains it, enables us to see 'the multiple discourses in which we are each inevitably and contradictorily caught up' (p. 2). Discourse can be both a tool and an outcome of power: 'discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it' (Foucault, 1976, p. 101). In this article, I use discourse to refer to particular ways of talking about (or otherwise representing) particular understandings and events (Burr, 1996). These theories, alongside discourse analysis, allowed me to explore the ways teachers saw, represented and gave meaning to difference, diversity and sexualities matters in early childhood education and the ways they used these meanings to regulate difference, diversity and sexualities in the early childhood centre.

Queer theory also served as an analytic prop. In highlighting 'the impossibility of any "natural" sexuality' (Jagose, 1996, p. 3), queer theory acts to deconstruct sexual categorisation processes. This both highlights the incoherencies in the terms sex, gender, and sexuality and demonstrates the ways they function to license heterosexuality as normative (Jagose, 1996). Britzman (1998) suggests queer theory demands the use of methods requiring an 'impertinent performance' including thinking against 'conceptual foundations' and 'studying the skeletons of learning and teaching that haunt one's responses' (pp. 215-216). To think against 'conceptual foundations' and to study 'skeletons of learning and teaching', I have brought to light the concept of heteronormativity, a discourse of child-centredness and the emergent curriculum and the discursive binary distinctions within these in this article. In so doing, I have tried to create spaces that might enable teachers to explore and find new ways of doing sexualities.


Purposive sampling was used to choose participants for the study. As the study topic was sensitive, I wanted to ensure those participating would be interested in the topic and were skilled communicators. Using my professional networks, I approached two teachers in positions of responsibility in their early childhood centres who I believed would be able to share their beliefs openly. The teachers, who held nationally-recognised early childhood teaching diplomas and had 19 and 22 years teaching experience, agreed to participate and also presented my plans to their teaching teams in order to identify any additional teachers interested in participating. A third teacher, holding an equivalent qualification and with six years teaching experience, was subsequently selected.

The teachers were interviewed once individually and once as a group, using a semi-structured format. The individual interviews allowed for in-depth coverage of the topic. The group interview provided a forum for sharing emerging themes from my initial analysis of the individual interviews and gave the teachers the opportunity to respond to my thinking about these.

I applied Fairclough's (1992) three-dimensional model of critical discourse analysis to the data. This was a complex process requiring analysis of the text, in this case the description of talk and practice about and around sexuality in the transcripts; and analysis of discursive practice, in this case the use of this talk and practice in the production and consumption of other talk. It also required analysis of the wider, related social practices—in this case heteronormativity, power, surveillance and normalisation.

In my analysis, teachers and children and their changing positions within the texts were at the forefront. Over repeated, in-depth readings of the texts, broad themes emerged as I identified how the teachers used language. As I engaged with these themes, I worked to identify both the existing discourses the teachers drew on in terms of teacher/child positionings, and the ways these discourses drew from, reproduced or restructured other discourses. I also considered the ways the identified discourses empowered and disempowered both teachers and children and the consequences of this for social practice.

Findings and discussion

The study highlighted three key findings. The first of these suggests that children/bodies and sexuality are centred as normal by and through discourse, and is linked to one of the study themes, centred bodies. The second key finding suggests that the teachers' talk and practice, consciously or subconsciously, takes up, enacts and is governed by particular discourses as a form of regulation of sexuality and is linked to the theme managed bodies. Regulation of sexuality transpired through the practice of specific management strategies. A discourse of child-centredness and the emergent curriculum (as one of many management strategies explored) are the focus here. These two findings and themes are explored under the heading 'Child-centredness and the emergent curriculum: Children leading teachers'. The third finding draws attention to the endpoints of discourses that centre and manage – the marginalisation, resistance towards, and silencing of sexuality in early childhood education; and the marginalisation of children/bodies. These two endpoints gave expression to the theme margined bodies and highlight absences that make problematic both teachers' talk and practice focused on children's learning about sexuality, and the expression of, and honouring of, sexualities. This finding and theme is explored under the heading 'Absent: Teachers leading children'.

Child-centredness and the emergent curriculum: Children leading teachers

Within a discourse of child-centredness, teachers are positioned 'as a "hovering-provider" to children's natural development' (Alloway, 1995, p. 56); teachers are led by children and respond to their interests. The theme, centred bodies, highlights the normalisation of the binary central to this discourse. As Alloway suggests, the child-centred learning component of the child-centred learning/teacher-directed learning binary is privileged.

Within a discourse of child-centredness, the emergent curriculum as the appropriate guide for planning reflects that which is sayable and doable about sexualities. As a management strategy, the emergent curriculum ensures that the talk and practice about and around sexuality of teachers aligned with this discourse will be dependent on child-initiated interest in the topic.

The teachers were asked what aspects of sexuality they considered appropriate to share with children. For each, things appropriate included discussion about bodily parts and processes. Such discussion was either initiated by the teachers or transpired as a result of children's interests gauged through their comments, questions and play. Children's interests provided direction for implementation of the emergent curriculum. For the topic of sexuality to range beyond the pragmatics of the body, the context of the emergent curriculum appeared to be a necessity. If this context wasn't present the topic became inappropriate, as this statement suggests:

If it [sexuality] doesn't emerge in children's play, then it doesn't ever get put on the agenda as something to ... that's really talked about as a focus of learning, yeah.

The importance of children's interests was highlighted by each of the teachers during their individual interviews. Examples of interviewer/teacher interactions that demonstrate this importance follow:

Example 1

Interviewer: What aspects of sexuality do you think are okay for teachers to talk about in centres?
Teacher: Just questions that they are asked.
Interviewer: Okay, so questions from children?
Teacher: Yeah.

Example 2

Interviewer: What aspects of sexuality do you think are acceptable for teachers to talk about?
Teacher: I think some of it's just about responding to where children are at and the types of things they are interested in. So I think it's led by the children, and I think teachers need to, yeah, just be open and honest and portray an attitude of being comfortable talking about it.

Example 3

Interviewer: What aspects of sexuality do you think are relevant in early childhood education?
Teacher: I think every moment is a teachable moment and children need information but they also need responses to their questions. So, I think one of the things practitioners need to be is open, very open to what the children bring and to talk about it with them.

Example 4

Interviewer: I was wondering if you can think of any situations where you have avoided the topic of sexuality in the centre altogether?
Teacher: Well, yes, I do, um, I don't talk about it with the children.
Interviewer: Basically you avoid it unless children ask?
Teacher: Yeah, yeah, definitely.
Interviewer: Can you tell me again, I think you probably have, a bit about why you do that?
Teacher: Because, like it would be like … I suddenly walk in and start talking about the moon or, um, and it has to be something of interest.

Example 5

Teacher: If it seems appropriate to talk about something [about sexuality] yeah. I'd do it.
Interviewer: So how do you decide if it's appropriate?
Teacher: Well, a lot of what you do is emergent curricula, and that might be emergent because it's something children are talking about or parents are talking about.

The teacher in this last interaction provided an example of her response to children's talk about marriage that highlights her expressed views around the need for such responsiveness:

Oh well, a conversation I'll tell you about, yeah, that I had the other day, we were doing some photocopying, two girls and myself … and we were talking as you do when you're doing a kind of repetitive job and they were telling me they were getting married and they were going to get married when they grew up and they were going to marry each other … I talked to them about marriage and how the law is at the moment and how that, um, it might not be possible for them to get married but they could have a civil union … So they asked me about a civil union, I said, well, and I was explaining, this got on to a long thing about laws and laws being like rules, and, you know, the conversation went on for about half an hour, and I was explaining where they made the laws, they were thinking about a civil union. So then they asked me what that was, and then we had this conversation and they decided they were going to have a civil union.

Whether or not these children's interest in a civil union (legal registration of same-sex and opposite-sex partnerships) evolved into play that was subsequently supported and extended by this teacher, as part of the emergent curriculum and alongside discussion about non-heterosexual sexualities, was not explored.

Within a discourse of child-centredness the child is shaped primarily by and through her interests. Child-centred learning is normalised and privileged both through this discourse and the emergent curriculum as a management strategy responsive to those interests. Teacher management of sexuality is thus simplified; sexuality need not be addressed with children unless first initiated through their interests and, at the same time, absences in relation to sexualities matters are licensed. I turn now to an exploration of these absences.

Absent: Teachers leading children

The marginalisation, resistance towards, and silencing of sexuality in early childhood education and the marginalisation of children/bodies as earlier noted, give expression to the theme margined bodies. Absences within this theme act to expose those things about sexualities that are made unsayable and undoable from within a discourse of child-centredness. My deciphering of the absences—the unsayable and undoable—appeared to reflect those aspects of sexuality that teachers, aligned with this discourse, might consider improper to address with children. I suggest absences can arise in three ways, and elaborate on each of these.

First, the emergent curriculum requires teacher observance of children's interest in sexuality, but this cannot be guaranteed. Teachers may simply not notice or recognise children's interests, thus rendering them absent. This possibility was highlighted in an example of teacher–teacher interaction during the group interview:

Teacher 1: If you look at emergent curriculum, and you look, you look at your community, then you celebrate what's happening in your community and also add information to the picture that the children bring.

Teacher 2: I think the problem with emergent curriculum though is that you only kind of notice what you notice and you're not necessarily picking up all the things that are happening and, depending on the people you are working with and depending on your own individual strengths and what you're into, you wouldn't necessarily pick up something that you weren't looking for.

Second, children's interest in sexuality may be noticed and recognised but rendered absent by a lack of support. It is likely that lack of support occurs where teachers consider particular interests to be inappropriate and/or where it provokes their discomfort, as was possibly the case in the following 'big dick' scenario:

We had a child who's gone to school now but he frequently, well, it became a habit, at like kai [food] time to stand up and say 'I've got a big dick'… and I thought, wow, you know, I don't want to shame him out, I don't want to say, 'Look, that's not okay', so I would go 'Pull your pants up and sit down'. I wouldn't sort of acknowledge, so that, that was quite difficult … like how do you respond to that? That was quite hard 'cos I thought, well you know, we're all kind of looking at each other, wondering what's the best response here because … but in actual fact I thought, well, it's sort of like saying it was a big arm or a hand, I don't know.

In this situation, the teacher concerned did not want to shame the boy ('I don't want to shame him out'). The teacher appeared aware that her lack of direct acknowledgement of his comments and actions might have carried a negative message—for example, that the boy's penis should remain hidden, that his actions were at fault and that he needed redirection if a semblance of the normal was to be maintained. She recognised the inconsistencies in this message in comparison to messages about other body parts ('but in actual fact I thought, well, it's sort of like saying it was a big arm or a hand') and seemed to struggle to find a satisfactory resolution ('what's the best response here … I don't know'). In due course, the teacher chose to enforce rules rather than to explore the interest in or meaning behind the recurrent habit. Phelan (1997) suggests that the 'apparatus of supervision allows the enforcement of rules (we don't display our genitalia in the lunch room) and, subsequently, the differentiation between what is deemed licit and illicit, permitted and forbidden' (p. 84). Similarly, masturbation and sex play were not supported (or conditions were placed on their support). This frequently resulted in prevention and/or re-direction as I have described elsewhere (Surtees, 2005).

The third and final way the emergent curriculum licenses absences is through reliance on children's knowledge about sexuality. Typically, however, children's knowledge about sexuality is limited. As Robinson (2005b) states, 'Children grow up with very little information, if any, about sex and sexuality' (p. 23). Because children's knowledge and/or access to knowledge about sexuality is narrow and restricted, they are unlikely to express interest in the topic. Jackson (1982) illustrates this in relation to sex, '… if a child has never seen an elephant s/he is unlikely to ask why it has a trunk—and children who have no idea about sex are just as unlikely to express curiosity about it' (p. 57). Without an expression of interest in sexuality by children, the absence of this topic from the curriculum is both licensed and reinforced.

When children's knowledge about sexuality is inadequate or lacking, expressions of interest remain wanting. Consequently, teachers may judge children 'not ready' for new knowledge (Alloway, 1995). Writing about the concept of 'readiness', Cannella (1997) states it 'focuses on the maturity and experience base that naturally determines when a child is prepared to learn' (p. 119). While waiting for this preparedness to learn, teacher silence acts to privilege the child-centred learning component of the child-centred learning/teacher-directed learning binary. But teachers themselves are also privileged and retain power through their surveillance of children; this is, as Canella suggests, a necessary gatekeeping mechanism of a readiness focus.

Sometimes (and whether 'ready' or not), teachers will proactively seek to readdress perceived gaps in children's learning. The following quote signals the importance of this:

About 90 per cent of our stuff is emergent … And I don't know that I actually think that; I think that there actually needs to be a better balance probably than that. It's really important that the curriculum is child-driven but I still think there are some things that are helpful for children to learn about and that we can weave that in.

At issue, however, is what exactly is 'helpful for children to learn about'. In the context of the study, bodily parts and processes are probably an example of what the teachers consider helpful to weave in to the emergent curriculum, given this is an aspect of sexuality they were willing to introduce, as noted earlier.

Beliefs about what might be beneficial to add to the emergent curriculum will vary. Jones Diaz and Robinson's (2000) 'hierarchy of tolerance' (p. 257) suggests some forms of difference and diversity are more readily responded to than others; sexuality is positioned in this hierarchy as of least importance in pre-service teacher education where the defence of sexualities matters exceeds the defence required for other topics (Jones Diaz & Robinson, 2000; Robinson & Ferfolja, 2001, 2002). At the early childhood centre level, this positioning may ensure sexuality is marginalised, resisted, silenced—erased as unnecessary to children's learning or as necessary only for some children's learning.

In the following quote the teacher concerned appears to accept that heterosexualised play is the domain of children parented by heterosexuals:

If you think that most of the children in your community are in, well, in this place at this time, are in, are seeing two parents usually in a heterosexual relationship and they're playing in, the children are playing to understand their world, they're playing what they see, so if they were in a different family, um, setting, their play would be different.

A common, heteronormative assumption is that children parented by heterosexuals do not need to learn about other forms of family structures, such as those headed by same-sex couples, because they are not believed to be of direct relevance to them. This assumption does not account for the waysheterosexuality depends on homosexuality to operate as a norm, as earlier outlined. Sedgwick (1990) argues the heterosexual/homosexual binary impacts on, and is therefore relevant to, the full range of sexuality identities. Referring to this as a universalising view, Sedgwick states the binary can be seen 'as an issue of continuing, determinative importance in the lives of people across the spectrum of sexualities' (p. 1), rather than as an issue of importance for a fixed homosexual minority only. Deconstructing the binary can enable understanding of the restrictions, limits and policing that occurs across the spectrum (Robinson & Ferfolja, 2002).

Teacher resistance and silence around sexualities matters, or selective silences about such matters, arguably endorses existing inequities while limiting opportunities to make connections between difference and diversity, power relations, structural inequalities and discrimination. Jones Diaz and Robinson (2000) found teachers rarely made such connections with each other, children and families, despite the relevance and importance of sexualities matters to children's lives.

Canella (1997) states that 'child-centeredness constructs the illusion that children in educational environments have choice when actually the "will" is imprisoned through the pretense of freedom' (p. 135). As one aspect of a discourse of child-centredness, the emergent curriculum contributes to the illusion of choice. The emergent curriculum's licensing of absences through teacher talk and practice about and around sexuality primarily dependent on child-initiated interest in the topic exposes the endpoints—the marginalisation, resistance towards, and silencing of sexuality in early childhood education, and the marginalisation of children/bodies. Failing to notice or recognise children's interest in sexuality, and recognising but not supporting children's interests, are acts of marginalisation, resistance and silence. Assuming that children's limited knowledge about the topic equates to a lack of readiness to learn about it and/or that it is of limited relevance, is also marginalising in effect. As Bickmore (1999) suggests, children gain protection through learning to evaluate knowledge, rather than by being denied this.


The study findings, in troubling notions of sexuality and accepted pedagogical practices in early childhood education, raise questions about the implications of discourses that are productive of marginalising endpoints and absences. In this section of the article a case is put forward for 'being bad' and risk-taking for both the teacher in the early childhood centre, and in pre-service teacher education, in order to create new possibilities for inclusion and enable a way forward in relation to sexualities matters.

The implications of discourses productive of marginalising endpoints and absences: 'Being bad',risk-taking and the way ahead

I have chosen to address three implications arising through over-reliance on discourses productive of marginalising endpoints and absences. The first implication is that the scope for understanding difference and diversity, as it pertains to sexuality and related perspectives on exclusion and inclusion, is immediately limited. Largely homogenising in effect, a discourse of child-centredness, for example, is exclusionary and leaves little room for teachers to welcome different or diverse expressions of sexuality beyond those ideas fixed within it, and/or to explore sexualities matters with children where they have not first shown interest in this.

The second and related implication is that this and other exclusionary discourses act as barriers to exploration of sexualities matters and make it difficult for teachers to meet their inclusionary responsibilities. That is, the fulfilment of the inclusive philosophy of Te Whāriki and the inclusive mandate of DOPs.

The third implication relates to pre-service teacher education. Research on exclusion and inclusion in early childhood settings would suggest pre-service teacher education is failing to sufficiently prepare teachers to fulfil these responsibilities (Davis, Gunn, Purdue & Smith, 2007; Gunn et al., 2004; Gunn & Surtees, 2004). Presumably, over-reliance on discourses that generate marginalising endpoints and absences within pre-service teacher education is a contributing factor to some teachers' lack of preparedness.

The way forward—towards inclusivity—necessitates being bad and risk-taking. Blaise and Andrew (2005) suggest being bad is synonymous with risk-taking. While risk-taking often leads to discomfort, it can, as Robinson (2005a) suggests, contribute to professional (and personal) opportunities and the creation of different future possibilities. I believe being bad and risk-taking requires the uptake of two processes both in pre-service teacher education and for the teacher in the early childhood centre: the critique and deconstruction of exclusionary discourses and the accessing of alternative, inclusionary discourses.

Critique and deconstruction of exclusionary discourses and the taken-for-granted assumptions within them demands an 'impertinent performance' (Britzman, 1998)—a thinking against their conceptual foundations. Such a performance will necessitate regular, ongoing opportunities for teacher engagement in critical thinking and reflection about individual positioning within these discourses, individual subjectivity and the impact of power relations, structural inequalities and discrimination. Part of this work will include challenging categorical thinking in order to deconstruct binaries.

Creating new possibilities for inclusion will require teacher adoption of new ways of thinking, talking and practising about and around sexuality. As alternative perspectives begin to impact on practices, Yelland and Kilderry (2005) suggest teachers will need to 'look beyond the boundaries of the field' (p. 6). Accessing alternative, inclusionary discourses through the tools of social constructionism, poststructuralism and queer theory is one way to achieve this end. In enabling the opening of discursive spaces that increase possibilities for broader representations of children/bodies and sexuality, the inclusive requirements in early childhood education can be redressed. This will impact positively on children and teachers. Children will experience empowerment as they gain in opportunities for learning about aspects of sexuality previously overlooked and denied. New goals for their learning can emerge; goals relating to the development of sexuality and the ways in which it is constructed under the strand of 'Well-being—Mana Atua', in Te Whāriki, and for the expressing, honouring and celebrating of sexual diversity and embodied desires under 'Belonging—Mana Whenua' (Surtees, 2003). Teachers, on the other hand, will likely experience an increase in comfort, and a greater measure of appreciation for the significance of sexualities matters, as well as some ideas about possible ways to embrace these. In so doing, they may well find their worlds, and the worlds of the children they teach, will become more complex and interesting spaces.


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Australian Journal of Early Childhood – Volume 33 No 3 September 2008, pp. 10–17.

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Vol. 33 No. 3 September 2008
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