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Addressing trauma and racialized inequities in a D.C. Head Start through responsive dramatic play pedagogy.

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Between 1970 and 2009, the United States’ prison industrial complex’ population grew by more than 700%. The incarcerated population, due largely to issues of structural inequity is disproportionately comprised of African American males (ACLU, 2014). As a result, working class black children are statistically more likely to have family members experience incarceration. In a time of increasingly visible racism and violence against black men and women through incarceration, how do preschool teachers who teach working class black children help them make sense of these injustices?
Here we share our analysis of data from multivocal video-cued focus groups in which Head Start teachers in four distinct communities viewed a scene of African American boys “arresting” and incarcerating their teachers in “jail” during dramatic play. This is drawn from a larger study investigating Head Start teacher’s cultural approaches to Head Start curriculum in four racially and culturally homogenous contexts (Author, 2018). We used a version of video-cued multivocal ethnographic method (Tobin et al, 2009). Interviews with 52 Head Start teachers were conducted, recorded, transcribed, and later analyzed using a constant comparison method (Glaser & Strauss, 2017).

Theoretically we employ racial socialization theory in analyzing these transcripts which is an interconnected approach in which caregivers of African-American children engage in protective activities in part to combat racialized discrimination (McAdoo, 2002). These activities have been shown to teach ideologies and values including racial equality and freedom, long-term goals such as physically and emotionally healthy and resilient adults, and most importantly for our purpose, short-term goals for young children that support children’s understanding of the significance of being Black in U.S. (Suizzo, Robinson & Pahlke, 2008).
Results indicate that micro sociocultural location of teachers, specifically geography, race, and class significantly influences their interpretation of this scene and their responses to the children through play. Our analysis reveals these particular African-American teachers highlighted the political significance of jail play for the poor and working class African-American kids in their school, in ways completely unrecognized by white, Latinx, and Samoan educators. Disaggregation of our data also indicated middle class African-American teachers were less likely to support jail play, than were teachers who had grown up in similar communities (race and class), and who viewed of jail play as a child centered therapeutic approach to play (Landreth, 2012) as well as a pedagogical space in which racial socialization could and should be employed.
Significantly, our study shows that teachers who come from the same racial, cultural, and class background as their students to be uniquely positioned to respond to their students (Adair, 2011), in this case, to address the structurally induced trauma and racialized inequities present in some of their students’ lives. It also has implications for Head Start programs nationally, which has found that with increased education requirements for teachers a less culturally diverse work force. As our study shows, this can impact the ways in which teachers will respond and diminishes their chances of helping children make sense of racism in their lives.


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