Advocating for Children Through Academic Work

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Two Mercy professors are gaining international attention for their work in early childhood education. What drives them is not the acclaim but a desire to advocate for children.

Dr. Elena Nitecki and Dr. Helge Wasmuth both teach in the Department of Early Childhood and Childhood Education at the Mercy College School of Education. Dr. Nitecki worked as a social worker and preschool teacher before earning her doctorate in urban education. Originally from Germany, Dr. Wasmuth developed and delivered training programs for kindergarten teachers for many years before moving to the United States in 2010.

When asked to serve as editors for one of the 2017 editions of Global Education Review—a journal published by the Mercy College School of Education—Nitecki and Wasmuth chose to focus on a topic they both believe is undermining early childhood education: the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). There was so much interest from scholars across the globe about contributing to the edition that they published two separate issues. Rooted in economic and political thinking, GERM is an agenda that advocates for the standardization of curriculum and instruction, measurable learning outcomes, high-stakes accountability, and the privatization of education. The result is that children are often required to master skills before they are truly ready. For example, children in the United States are generally expected to read and write by age 5 or 6, whereas children in most developed countries focus on academics later in childhood. Nitecki and Wasmuth believe that the risk of such stringent expectations on young children is that they are not learning “more” or “better” and that there are also implications for well-being and other areas of development.

Nitecki and Wasmuth realized that the terms scholars use can influence their understanding of education. For example, Germans use the term Bildung to refer to the process children go through to construct their understanding of the world and themselves. An equivalent term does not exist in English, and Germans use a different term to refer to education. Bildung reflects the German ideal that children drive their own learning and that learning involves much more than meeting prescribed outcomes. Nitecki and Wasmuth presented these ideas at the 25th annual Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE) conference in Toronto, where the international audience appreciated their analysis of the limitations of using one language—English—to discuss global education issues.

More than anything, Dr. Nitecki and Dr. Wasmuth see their work as advocating for children. They are driven by the belief that children need plenty of time to move, play, explore, and experiment in order to learn about themselves and the world. Great schools adapt their schedules and activities to incorporate these elements, but GERM policies make it difficult to do so. In fact, Nitecki and Wasmuth assert that many GERM policies actually contradict research and “what we know about how children learn, how schools work, and how to achieve the goals of providing good education for all children.” As they continue their work, they hope to educate people about important issues in early childhood education, develop a public dialogue with policymakers, and rally parents and teachers to demand education that is good for children.

To learn more, please read the following work by Dr. Nitecki and Dr. Wasmuth:

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