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Commentary :: Education
Love & Schools: We should value love first and foremost
09 Feb 2004
Caring institutions must be explicit and intentional about the role of love as their guiding principle, without apology. There can be no greater justification for providing good care and education for our children than the value of love. The basis and ultimate justification for early childhood education must be, first and foremost, love - without apology.
The core value of all childcare and early childhood education must be love. I believe that there can be no greater justification for providing good care for our children than our love for the children of our community.

To be clear, I am not an early childhood educator because my work will produce children into adults who can grow an economy. I am not a teacher because schools cost less than jails. I don’t provide childcare because it keeps kids off the streets.

Yes, good early education is good for the economy, does cost less than jails (and keeps people out of them) and provides the support and internal skills that kids need to survive. But while a loving parent will work to provide for their child, or will provide the discipline and support that the child needs to do well in the future, these wishes come first from the parent’s love for the child - the love is first. And I think the same ought to be true for caring institutions, which, by their very nature, must be explicit and intentional about the role of love as our guiding principle, without apology.

Paulo Friere writes about the value of love in the context of liberation education. He contrasts liberation education with “banking” education, where students are viewed as mere vessels for the dominant teacher’s ideas and valued skills. In banking education, the teacher puts ideas into the student’s head, leaving little for the student to control. In contrast, liberation education is based on dialogue, a conversation between the student and the teacher, and is based on love and truthfulness.

But Friere does not think that the role of the teacher disappears in this dialogue, since the teacher serves a role in mediating the discussion, sharing ideas and skills that the teacher values and thinks will be of value to the student. In Friere’s model, the teacher is necessary for liberation, because the teacher helps students move beyond undisciplined and unintentional development. So while there is a dialogue, and there is not an information deposit, education is still directed towards desired aims. The aim of education remains to create change in the learner, based on the belief that this change is in the learner's interest. Because this is an intrusive act, the reason for educational action matters.

This is why love must be central to liberation education, to provide justification for the intrusive act of education. There must be love between teacher and student, and this love must guide the relationship and dialogue between the two. And love is especially central when teaching young children, who are most vulnerable to the influences of the teacher. We must be certain that our work as teachers is based on love for each child with whom we work.

While love must be the first and foremost value of early childhood education, putting love first does not simplify the gritty realities of life. Childcare and education are also about survival. Parents need to work in order to survive; childcare is therefore essential for many families to survive. Poor families, indeed all families, have a right to quality childcare.All children also have a right to quality education, and to be provided the riches of their culture and the power that comes from literacy, knowledge and disciplined ways of thinking. And because childcare and education are requirements for survival, and are basic human rights, early childhood education must not only be loving, but must also respect the values and the cultures of the child's family. There can be no trading of dignity and power from families in poverty to receive these basic rights.

Finally, since young children are among the most vulnerable and dependent persons within the community, dialogue between student and teacher must extend to a dialogue between parent, child and teacher. While teaching starts with the value of love, and requires truthfulness, it does not end here. And it is from a dialogue between the entire family and the teacher that other values can be expressed. This is how liberating education occurs.

My aim as an educator is to help communities make this dialogue a reality, to make childcare and early education an expression of love, and to make my work as a teacher a force in the struggle for economic human rights and for an end to poverty.
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