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EARLY CHILDHOOD AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY Yolanda Corona

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EARLY CHILDHOOD AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY Yolanda Corona
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  EARLY CHILDHOOD AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY An ethnographic narrative from Mexico and Bali 1   Yolanda Corona Caraveo 2   “ Children are the depository of the teachings of  yesterday, the improvement of the dreams of today and the embodiment of the aspirations for tomorrow. ”  Maori saying Abstract: The article presents an ethnographical narrative about children participation in the cultural and ceremonial life in Mexico and Bali in order to examine commonalities and differences among the two cultures. The importance of considering cultural diversity in early childhood education and to include cultural values in the activities for the children is stressed, as well as the need for these programs to be rooted in family and community. These aspects are related with the need to allow children to develop a clear personal identity, to value cultural diversity, and to solve problems related with differences between them. Key words: Cultural diversity, ethnography, children participation, ceremonial life, Introduction: Amartya Sen (1999), Nobel prize winner in economics, talks about the importance of investing in children and poses the question of the “ direct effect ”  quality of childhood has on the life and skills of people when they have reach adulthood. He argues that the ability to live with others, to participate in social activities and even to avoid social disasters are  based on the skills that we acquire when we are small children. As several authors have stated (Bonfil Batalla 1977; Helfrich, 1999, Colangelo, 2005; Corona 2003) the way that child development is conceptualized and beliefs about the best 1  Published in: Problemy Wczesnej Edukacji, Childood in cultures and with cultures, Issues in Early Education, Rok VIII 2012, Numer 3 (18), Poland 2   Professor and researcher at the Autonomous Metropolitan University, Mexico.  education for them, depend entirely on the values and specific cultural expressions of the communities they belong to. Trevarthen (1995) pointed out that culture is a natural function, and to participate in it is one of the most important needs that we have. Children are immersed in an ocean of cultural beliefs and values that are specific to the community they belong to, which will teach them how to see the world, relate to it, and also give them the specific codes they must use to establish relationships with others. Certainly, the influence of culture is crucial in relation to what is expected from children, but in addition to this, we have to consider that children also give personal meaning to the content that is transmitted to them. In terms of the development of identity in early childhood, it has been found that children have a very active role in selecting or rejecting the practices in which they routinely engage, and that they can also negotiate multiple and changing identities, especially when they are growing up in multicultural contexts. People in charge of the education of little children often forgot the importance of their cultural background, and consider cultural diversity, not as a problem, but as the richness of human heritage. I have analyzed (2003) how scientific demands in the previous century determined that Psychology and Pedagogy studied childhood development in a fragmented way, leaving the cultural aspects related to children for the anthropologist to analyze. In spite of the fact that we, psychologists and educators, have advanced a lot in the incorporation of units of analysis that can explain the relation between children and culture, it is important to realize that we must do our best to understand the importance of maintaining cultural awareness in our work and to share the chil d’s  respectful attitude towards cultural diversity. In this article I will raise the issue of cultural diversity linked to early childhood, presenting some ethnographical data from the research I have had the opportunity to carry out for many years in an indigenous town of Central Mexico 3 . One of the aims of ethnography as a qualitative method of research is to describe and understand the meaning of cultural significant activities, as they are experienced and interpreted by the people studied; another 3  I used different techniques in order to found the differences and commonalities of understandings between the people I studied: these included repeated observations of the same activity for at least 4 years, individual and group interviews with adults and children, videotaping, historical research, video and document analysis. See: Corona (2008)  is to see if the findings can be applied to other cultures. Recently I have had the opportunity to continue my research in Bali, Indonesia, and find some similarities about how adults integrate children into the activities of their communities, and specifically, how children participate in ceremonial life. There are three purposes on the reflection that I present here: One of them is to examine commonalities and differences among the culture related with children in Bali and Mexico, the second one is to address the importance that has for educators to take into consideration the cultural frameworks of children life, which usually display outside the school, and the third one is to emphasize the need to cultivate a culture of respect cultural diversity in children. Children and culture in Tepoztlán, México Mexico is a country with great cultural diversity. There are more than 50 ethnic groups that still preserve their language and share between them certain elements of their cosmovision,  but also have specific cultural characteristics and differences. Twenty years ago, I started to focus my research on finding the ways in which different groups strengthen the links  between their culture and new generations, as well as the way in which they organize social settings so that the children can participate in community life. The work I have carried out in the town of Tepoztlán, a village of indigenous (nahua) tradition in Central Mexico, has been mainly to investigate the place children have in the activities of the community, especially in those that are culturally more significant. Also, I have been interested in trying to understand which kinds of bonds the community establishes with girls and boys in order for the children to acquire their traditions and cultural referents. I have found (Corona and Perez, 2007) that ceremonial life and religious festivals are very important cultural and social scenarios that offer a very wide range of opportunities for the children to enjoy the richness of their traditions. The relationships that all the members of the community have in these social settings are very intense and complex: including physical, affective and moral aspects, through which   babies and toddlers incorporate the most relevant cultural meanings. Adults are always available to children and offer them a series of cultural resources that allows them to acquire increasing and more elaborate abilities. I have observed that there is intention and dedication in integrating children into collective activities, while respecting the voluntary nature of participation and also giving them great freedom to integrate at their own pace. With very small children especially, there is a very subtle initiation in order that they might appreciate and enjoy rituals and festivals. Mothers bring children in their arms to the festivals, so that they can listen to the music and see other children dancing or performing activities. Once children can walk, their mothers  allow them to stand behind the children that are dancing. Small children naturally begin to move with the music imitating other children and start to learn some aspects of the dance. Certainly, adults open up spaces for children to participate, but the process has a  bidirectional character because children, from a very early age, have a very active role, informing adults what they want, what kind of help they need to join in the activity, and the level at which they can participate. One of the most relevant activities in which children participate is the dance offering they dedicated to “Saint Little Peter” (San Pedrito). Two groups of girls and boys dance intercaladamente durante 9 hours at day without any interruptions, during three days. The following testimonies give us an idea of the way they were initiated into the dances and what it means for them. "The first time I danced I was three years old, and I started to dance but I could not finish because I was very shy. Later, I enjoyed myself because I  saw my cousins, and they were so happy!! So I told my mom that I wanted to go with them and to dance." (Girl, 8 years old) “Yes, I dance to San Pedrito, he likes us children to come to his party. I have been coming here since I was a little boy and I really like to wear my  skirt because it is the dress of little angels. ” (Boy, 6 years old)   It is also important to consider the impact that the participation of children in the cultural life of the town has and the transformation of the activities into which they are integrated. An example of this can be seen in a town I have been working with, where there has been the addition of another day in the Carnival celebration. In this event, people use a special costume called "Chinelos" and dance all together in unison in what is called "The jump". When the children began to participate, several people said that it was better to add a special day for them in order to protect them from any harm. Now the Carnival begins with "the jump of the little chinelos” , a day when only children are allowed to dance.
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