Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Representation of People of Color in Critical Early Childhood Spaces: Issues and Possibilities

by Michelle Salazar Pérez, Cinthya M. Saavedra, Felicia V. Black, Ysaaca Axelrod, Ranita Cheruvu, Elizabeth Rollins, Ayesha Rabadi-Raol & Angela Molloy Murphy — June 08, 2018

This commentary is a dialogue concerning the lack of representation and participation of people of color in professional critical organizations.

We came together for this dialogue concerned with the lack of representation and participation of people of color in our professional critical organizations such as the Critical Perspectives on Early Childhood Education (CPECE) AERA Special Interest Group and Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education (RECE). We each approached this issue from our personal experiences as scholars and educators in the field of early childhood studies. Ayesha Rabadi-Raol and Angela Molloy Murphy have questioned the epistemologies dominantly present in both critical and mainstream early childhood scholarship, with most coming from white, male, western/global north positionalities. Michelle Salazar Pérez, Cinthya Saavedra, and Felicia Black wondered why we, as academics and practitioners of color, have chosen to seek out spaces other than CPECE and RECE to present our work. Finally, Ysaaca Axelrod and Ranita Cheruvu are concerned with issues that impact our participation at various levels (practitioner to academic), such as the regulatory demands of edTPA and access. Elizabeth Rollins then provides a reaction to our dialogue, calling for a shift and transformation in the whitewashing of early childhood studies.



We join this conversation having written and spoken about in our recent work a need to shift the dominance of white/male theorizing in critical early childhood studies (Pérez & Saavedra, 2017). As friends and colegas who have been part of the CPECE and RECE organizations since beginning our graduate studies close to 15 years ago, we have felt fortunate to find a community in which we can share critical positionings. However, we have also been troubled by the ways in which theorizing in these spaces has been dominated by white/global north perspectives, or as we petitioned at RECE 2016, how the field of critical early childhood studies has been whitewashed. We think of how notions of embodied and lived experiences shape the work we do in terms of theory, methodology, and pedagogy. Drawing from Chicana and Black feminisms (see Anzaldúa, 1987, and Collins, 2008, among others), we believe that our bodies carry theory waiting to burst out into our projects and pedagogy if we allow it to. This is something that has been more carefully explored in different ways by women of color (WOC).

We’ve pondered, then, why there is an absence of important and necessary women of color perspectives in the CPECE and RECE organizations. While we believe that social justice is at the core of CPECE and RECE, the framing of these movements remains outside of the lived and corporeal knowings of people of color. What would it take to shift this dominance and in turn make central women and people of color’s onto-epistemologies in critical early childhood studies?




As a Black American woman practitioner-scholar, I acknowledge that I am descended from a lineage of Southern domestic workers who migrated to the Northern states. This has influenced my work as teacher-caregiver and scholar. I have been connected to critical perspectives organizations since my doctoral studies and I have noticed the absent/faint voice of the Black American woman intellectual within these groups. As other scholars have noted, I too have found that we are present in the critical work as subjects to be studied and discussed, but rarely as writers of the narrative (Dillard & Okplalaoka, 2011). Because of this, I and perhaps other scholars of color might choose to seek out organizations and outlets that allow for recognition of the multiplicity of experiences and positions of the Black/Brown diaspora in U.S. contexts.

My career in early childhood education and care is linked to my ancestors’ care of other people’s children and homes. So, as an educator, what I have noticed as I step out of the classroom and into the intellectual space is that I haven’t encountered these groups’ theorizing around the dichotomy of the Black American domestic worker/educator in early childhood education. I also find minimal scholarship from Black scholars in these critical groups who talk about the influence that the history of domestic work has on their scholarship. There is a substantial body of work that talks back to the impact of colonization and introduces decolonizing methodologies. However, my lived experiences come from a U.S. contextual history of enslavement and its after-effects, not international colonization. Therefore, I seek outlets where this work is being considered and deconstructed, particularly within the urban context. The work of our critical groups has successfully pushed against the patriarchal history of early childhood. However, I feel that my colleagues and I have a social responsibility to bring to light how Black women are squarely part of, impacted by, and perhaps silenced by that institution. So, the inclusion and participation of WOC could work to disrupt the racial, cultural, ethnic, gendered, social, and political favoring that could exist within these groups.



We are critical early childhood education scholars of color who take on issues of race, children’s agentic linguistic practices, identity, and teacher education. Over time and space, we have situated our work within the scholarly community of critical early childhood educators, but have also moved towards anchoring our work (Bhattacharya, 2016) within scholarly communities and organizations that focus on issues of race, culture, language, and teacher education. When we reflect on the social justice endeavors of these other scholarly communities in which we anchor our work, we notice that there are not only more scholars of color and but also more social justice scholarship that uses the onto-epistemologies of people of color. In addition, this critical scholarship balances theory and praxis with a sense of urgency, and actively asks what is the purpose of theorizing if it does not lead to transformation? For whom is this useful? How can we justify this criticality with no pragmatic change when the humanity and the lives of historically marginalized children and communities are at stake? It is this sense of urgency and practice that has pushed us to anchor our work in these communities. And yet at the same time, these spaces are not specifically dedicated to the lives of young children and their families. These spaces do not specifically seek to understand and honor the nuances and wonderment of how young children develop, learn, and form their identities across time, space, and place.


As we have traveled between these communities, we have created bridges for our work ourselves, nepantlas (Anzaldúa, 1999), moving in and out of worldviews and ways of being that sustain our work and commitments. In our individual and collective ruminations, we have often questioned why there are few scholars and educators of color in critical early childhood education spaces as compared to the other scholarly communities we are part of? Why is it the case when both spaces are shaped by commitments to social justice? In an attempt to unpack these questions, we wish to explore how social justice dialogues and work are taken up in critical early childhood education organizations. In doing so, we do not claim to have answers or reach any conclusions but wish to raise more questions for dialogue and potential transformation of our collective work and for the community we wish to nurture and sustain.

The scholarship of the CPECE SIG and RECE are predominantly framed from critical stances that question issues of representation, power, agency, and access for young children and their families around race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, religion/spirituality, and linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Although social justice is an underlying theme across these organizations, there remains an undercurrent of whiteness. While well intentioned, these efforts to tackle social injustices in early childhood education continue to use the theoretical, methodological and pragmatic tools of whiteness. In other words, while the intent of this scholarship is to deconstruct and disrupt oppressive and dehumanizing structures, discourses and practices, the onto-epistemologies that frame this work are steeped in the very structures, discourse, and practices that it seeks to disrupt. More simply put, “what if the moves towards correcting social injustices are only just breaking some walls in the master’s house, with the master’s tools, without dismantling the master’s house as described by Audre Lorde (1984)?” (Bhattacharya, 2016, p. 199). At the same time, while some scholars (Shallwani, 2010) attempt to disrupt and decenter whiteness, the focus is theoretical and lacks the pragmatic focus on what this might look like in the classrooms and communities that serve culturally and linguistically diverse children.


For us this raises some questions: what is/are the alternatives? Is it possible to truly decenter whiteness and center the onto-epistemologies of women of color in this scholarly community when the very field we are committed to is entrenched and rooted in the white, male worldview? How do we center social justice scholarship that is framed using onto-epistemologies of women of color without colonizing it? And, lastly, what might this work look like in practice? How can we teach future generations of teachers to teach young children in ways that sustain and honor their cultures, race, languages, and multiple identities using critical perspectives?



As experienced early childhood educators who entered graduate studies during recent years, Ysaaca Axelrod and Ranita Cheruvu have become increasingly concerned with the lack of teachers of color in the U.S. education system. While our former masters program has made great efforts to recruit and support teachers of color, the population of teachers entering the field of Early Childhood Education remains predominantly white (Banks, 1993). Faced with the decision of whether to become certified at the end of our former graduate program, both of us questioned the purpose, development, and implementation of the edTPA.

This performance-based assessment, though claiming to be an effective measure of teacher quality (AACTE, 2016), makes invisible teachers' authentic qualities. We have determined that this negation of individual identity -- including race/ethnicity and culture -- supports and maintains a homogeneous view of and expectation for teachers in the U.S. Further, teachers of color, the "global majority" (Croft, Roberts and Stenhouse, 2015, p. 87), are left voiceless in the discourses on education and are minoritized. Even when teachers of color are successfully recruited, the edTPA and such standardized assessments wash away any critical perspectives these teachers might bring to the field and in turn homogenize, impose and hegemonize the profession (Attick & Boyles, 2016). When the gateway to teaching in New York and 34 additional states (Greenblatt & O’Hara, 2015) filters out teachers' diverse backgrounds and the ways in which these influence their respective approaches to teaching/learning, many teachers consciously choose to forego this system. At a practical level, when the standard is set by White ideals of quality, an expansive range of teachers of color simply cannot gain access to a field that they should be highly valued in. We see an increasing rise in the number of children of color, performing below grade level in U.S. schools (Darling-Hammond and Young 2002), but continue to silence teachers who can help us better understand the cultural and linguistic resources these children bring to the classroom (Attick & Boyles, 2016; Brown, 2013; Dyson, 2016).

Achinstein and Ogawa (2011) posit that we are currently suffering from not just a demographic shortage of teachers of color, but also a democratic one. This democratic shortage is evident in research as well. Thinking about the accessibility and the hegemony of research, is it surprising then, that more teachers of color don’t feel welcome in a space traditionally reserved for White, male academics?



As a new CPECE and RECE member, I am deeply encouraged to know that folks are "shining a light" on an issue that usually remains in the shadows. Where are the people of color in ECE? In my doctoral program, the professors' main focus has been to help us examine the deeply flawed, whitewashed history of education and consider how we might contribute to its disruption. My cohort leader sent me "A call for onto-epistemological diversity in early childhood education and care: Centering global south conceptualizations of childhood/s," which offered me a language to describe the fundamental problems of perspective in ECE and how it might be rectified (centering perspectives of the global south.) As a white woman with over 20 years in ECE, this was the lifeline I needed to move from critic to activist in my scholarship and practice. How can we change the larger issue of a lack of participation and access for people of color in the field of early childhood education? I am not yet sure, but I am hanging on to my lifeline, eager to learn and ready to be a part of this long overdue and desperately needed shift.



Achinstein, B., & Ogawa, R.T. (2011). Change(d) agents: New teachers of color in urban schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE). (2016, May). About edTPA. Retrieved from http://edtpa.aacte.org/about-edtpa.

Anzaldúa, G. (1999). Borderlands / la frontera: The new mestiza (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.

Attick, D., & Boyles, D. (2016, Spring-Summer). Pearson learning and the ongoing corporatization of public education. Journal of Thought, 5–19.

Banks, J. A. (1993). The canon debate, knowledge construction, and multicultural education. Educational Researcher, 22(5), 4–14.

Bhattacharya, K. (2016). Dropping my anchor here: A post-oppositional approach to social justice work in education. Critical Questions in Education, 7(3), 197–214.

Brown, K. D. (2013). Teaching in color: A critical race theory in education analysis of the literature on preservice teachers of color and teacher education in the US. Race Ethnicity and Education, 17(3), 326–345.

Collins, P. H. (2008). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of Empowerment (3rd edition). New York, NY: Routledge.

Croft, S. J., Roberts, M., & Stenhouse, V. L. (2015). The perfect storm of education reform: High-stakes testing and teacher evaluation. Social Justice, 42(1), 70–92.

Dillard C. B., Okpalaoka C. (2011). The sacred and spiritual nature of endarkened transnational feminist praxis in qualitative research. In Denzin N. K. & Lincoln Y. S. (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research (pp. 147–162). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Dyson, A. H. (2016). Child cultures, schooling, and literacy: Global perspectives on composing unique lives. New York, NY: Routledge.

Greenblatt, D., & O'Hara, K. (2015, Summer). Buyer Beware: Lessons Learned from edTPA Implementation in New York State. The NEA Higher Education Journal, 57–68.

Pérez, M. S. & Saavedra, C. M. (2017). A call for onto-epistemological diversity in early childhood education and care: Centering global south conceptualizations of childhood/s. Review of Research in Education, 41(1), 1–29.

Shallwani, S. (2010). Racism and imperialism in the child development discourse: Deconstructing developmentally appropriate practice. In G. S. Cannella & L. D. Soto (Eds.), Childhoods: A handbook (pp. 231–244). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 08, 2018
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22405, Date Accessed: 8/16/2018 9:38:38 PM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Michelle Salazar Pérez
    New Mexico State University
    E-mail Author
    MICHELLE SALAZAR PÉREZ is associate professor of Early Childhood Education at New Mexico State University. She uses critical qualitative methodologies and Black feminist thought to examine dominant constructions of childhood/s, particularly how they influence public policy and subjugate the lived experiences of marginalized people/s and communities. Her work has been published in the journals Equity & Excellence in Education, Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Global Studies of Childhood, and Qualitative Inquiry.
  • Cinthya Saavedra
    University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
    E-mail Author
    CINTHYA M. SAAVEDRA is an associate professor and Academic Director of the Mexican American Studies Program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Her research centers Chicana/Latina feminist epistemology in the investigation of emergent bilingual, immigrant and borderland experiences in education. Dr. Saavedra’s work is published in Equity & Excellence in Education, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Language Arts, and TESOL Quarterly.
  • Felicia Black
    Long Island University
    E-mail Author
    FELICIA V. BLACK is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Urban Education at Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus. Dr. Black’s research interests include preschool education, teacher professionalism and professional development, practitioner inquiry methods, and applications of feminism and post-structural perspectives in early childhood education.
  • Ysaaca Axelrod
    University of Massachusetts Amherst
    E-mail Author
    YSAACA AXELROD is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research interests are in Early Childhood language and literacy development, in particular focusing on emergent bilingual and multilingual children and the intersections between language and identity development in young Latinxs.
  • Ranita Cheruvu
    William Paterson University
    E-mail Author
    RANITA CHERUVU is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at the College of Education at William Paterson University of New Jersey. Her scholarly and teaching interests focus on multiculturally relevant teacher education practices and the preparation of teachers of Color, as well as anti-racist and culturally sustaining pedagogies for young learners.
  • Elizabeth Rollins
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH ROLLINS is an early childhood educator, doctoral student, research assistant, and instructor in the Curriculum and Teaching department at Teachers College. Her research focuses on young children's agentive learning through language and literacy practices. As she incorporates her experiences within Reggio Emilia-inspired programs and the frameworks of several early childhood language and literacy specialists, she looks critically into child-adult power relations and seeks to join other educators in efforts to find ways for minoritized children to author early childhood curricula.
  • Ayesha Rabadi-Raol
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    AYESHA RABADI-RAOL, M.A. in Early Childhood Education - General and Special Education, is an Ed.D. student in the department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. Her research focuses on justice and equity issues in early childhood education and teacher education; with a focus on how students and teachers of color, as well as other marginalized populations have been positioned in and by educational institutions.
  • Angela Molloy Murphy
    Portland State University
    E-mail Author
    ANGELA MOLLOY MURPHY is a doctoral student at Portland State University.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue