Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s annual conference where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
From her earliest days, teaching has been part of Carol Brunson Day’s life. And since those first lessons through her time in the classroom and as NAEYC Past President, she has been a relentless, powerful activist for equity, access, and high-quality education for children.
Chris Riback: Carol, welcome to the studio.
Carol Brunson Day: Thank you Chris. I’m happy to be here.
Chris Riback: So many topics to talk with you about: cultural influences on development, anti-bias and equity work… But I want to start with a concept of yours that I came across, which is the idea understanding that “teaching is a creative art.” What a wonderful phrase. Why is teaching a creative art?
Carol Brunson Day: I say creative because there’s a lot of curriculum that teachers somehow are led to believe that they should copy what they’ve seen other people do with the curriculum. And that’s not in my opinion, the kind of teaching we want for young children.
Chris Riback: We have curriculum, we have foundational skills, but what I’m hearing from you is every child, of course is different. Every situation is different and sure one relies on skills, teaching learning that we have, but you got to be able to improvise. You’ve got to be able to apply it appropriately to the specific situation.
Carol Brunson Day: Exactly. That’s your job as a teacher to do that. That’s what I want teachers to embrace. The fact that, that’s what teaching is. Teaching is not repeating or imitating what other people do. It is creating, it’s an act of creativity.
Chris Riback: But now the challenge or at least one of the challenges in researching for this conversation, I also came across a video of you from 2011, where you stated all children do not have equal access to high quality school-based experiences. At this 2019 NAEYC Conference. Equity is still a key issue. Have we made progress since your 2011 statement? If we have made progress, my bet is it’s not enough. Why haven’t we made enough?
Carol Brunson Day: Have we made progress? Yes. I like to believe that we are always making progress even though I may not know exactly where it is and what it is about. When we look at data that can document growth, I believe that we have seen growth, but we have not seen enough. So in certain communities, we’ve seen kids are doing better. Overall, we still have a long way to go because we want every child everywhere across time to benefit from the knowledge and resources we have to foster their full and complete development. And that we have not achieved.
Chris Riback: Perhaps related to that institutional class, race and cultural bias.
Carol Brunson Day: Yes.
Chris Riback: A lot of different areas trying to make an impact on that. You mentioned health, the healthcare sector has tried to make an impact in that area. Other activists and areas of activism trying to make an impact in those areas. Is early childhood education a sector that should be making an impact? Should it be a leader in making an impact in those areas?
Carol Brunson Day: Early childhood education practitioners should be in leadership roles around social change in areas that impact families with young children and we NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children as an organization has just taken that position by virtue of their newly issued equity statement.
Chris Riback: Yes.
Carol Brunson Day: Now, NAEYC has a long history in providing resources for people in this area and fostering discussions in these areas and so forth. And looking at teacher preparation and encouraging that we help prepare early childhood education.
Chris Riback: You were president of NAEYC…
Carol Brunson Day: Yes, yes. And I’ve been a member for many, many, many, many years and, NAEYC has always done a variety of things, but now there’s a concrete tool that can be used. They’ve put themselves in a position to say, all right, we believe that across our field, across our profession that we have a very important role and that we can do things that will level the playing field, if you will. That will foster equity in the institutions in which children are and families are engaged. That means that early childhood educators, I’m not just responsible for what happens in their classroom or in their program. They’re responsible for playing a role in what happens in the communities where families live. In the institutions that they are engaged in and that they have a role to monitor in some ways, monitor the activities of those organizations to understand how those … The policies and practices of those organizations have an impact on their ability as early childhood educators to foster children’s complete development. The context in which children and families operate.
Chris Riback: Is that a responsibility to be an activist?
Carol Brunson Day: Absolutely, and this equity statement essentially is a proposition that that should happen, that we as early childhood educators are-
Chris Riback: It sets the bar.
Carol Brunson Day: Must embrace that role.
Chris Riback: Yes. One of the few things that my kids have come to believe me on is that apples don’t fall far from trees. Your mother was a teacher, kindergarten and first grade, I believe. Yes?
Carol Brunson Day: Yes.
Chris Riback: Did she want you to go into education?
Carol Brunson Day: My mother wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do and she supported that. That she was in education was very important when I began to choose a career, but because I had done so much in the classroom with her growing up, I helped her put up bulletin boards. I helped her correct children’s papers and so forth. I had decided I don’t want to be an educator, but once I really stumbled into a very high quality early childhood teacher preparation program at Erikson Institute in Chicago. I realized that I really did want to be an educator and my mother was very proud of that and I was very proud that I carry this tradition in my family. My mother’s mother was also a teacher, so I was a third generation educator and yes, I’m very proud of it.
Chris Riback: You clearly are. Did you understand her better once you went into the profession?
Carol Brunson Day: I probably through the years, begin to understand her way of embracing her role as a teacher. As I learned more about education and practice. My mother was one who believed in firsthand experiences for kids. Many, many years ago. And I knew that, but I didn’t recognize the impact that it had on them until I had contact with some of her students as they became adults. They would always call her and come by and visit. But once they were adults and had young children who were in school, they really recognized the impact of the experiences that they had had in first grade.
Carol Brunson Day: And they told many stories about how that impacted them. And I began to understand how forward thinking, if you will, my mother was in her practice. And through that, yes, I began to understand her more and really embrace the gift of her being my mother.
Chris Riback: Well, you are proud of all of that.
Carol Brunson Day: All of that.
Chris Riback: And I can only imagine the pride that she felt as well. Thank you. Thank you for what you’ve done. Thank you for coming by the studio.
Carol Brunson Day: You’re welcome. I’m happy to be here.