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Is DAP for everyone? A response.

In Peter Hoeg's novel Smilla's Sense of Snow, the narrator and central character observes that it is easier to believe a simple falsehood than a contradictory truth.

Likewise, I fear that when discussing developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) it is far more persuasive to maintain that clear and simple truths exist and can be named, than it is to make a compelling argument that meaning is something we construct, rather than find.

Much has been written in the last 25 years about how "the old functional, positivist, behavioral, totalizing approaches to the human disciplines [have been] giving way to a more pluralistic, interpretive, open-ended perspective" (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994, p. 9), so, in my first article, I have done little more than summarize ideas that have been widely discussed in the fields of social sciences and education. It seems to me that Rosalind Charlesworth garners traditional, positivist evidence to support her case, describing DAP and DIP as if they exist in nature. She assumes that researchers, evaluators and supervisors can objectively observe teachers and classrooms, and that behaviors and events are captured in research and evaluation categories. By extension, once "DIP" teachers are identified, they can and should be "trained" to become "DAP" teachers.

I have instead tried to make the case that we interpret what makes sense to us based on our previous experiences and the context in which we work. Teachers may interpret what they are doing differently than evaluators or researchers, and there may be many ways of understanding what is happening in a given situation. That is why I stress the importance of sustained conversations that include many voices and many perspectives, for everyone stands to learn when we become engaged in talking and working together over time. Thus, in our initial essays, Roz and I have not merely engaged in an "academic" debate. The world views we describe define the field of early childhood education in quite different ways.

Roz has made an impassioned case that "DAP is for everyone," while I have questioned that claim and tried to imagine a way of doing things that might be more attentive to difference and more responsive to the immediate needs of teachers and communities. First, Roz assumes that there is only one way of knowing, and it is unidimensional, rational and reductionist. There is something called developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) that is understood and enacted in observably similar ways by all caring and committed teachers. Classrooms can be labeled as DAP or DIP (developmentally inappropriate practice) and milestones for development map onto all children in a more or less unproblematic way. In my experience, by contrast, teachers actually interpret the guidelines and related issues quite differently. That is why I so strongly support an approach that allows for more talk and collaborative work. Teachers have a myriad of ways of teaching and often mix methods in the act of practice. I think that our dominant research methods fail to capture this diversity, however, because teaching is so often studied by observing behaviors (without talking with teachers) and by lumping teaching practices into broad categories.

Second, because Roz believes in DAP, she mounts impressive evidence for the conviction that "DAP is for everyone, whatever their socioeconomic status, culture, race, gender, age or special needs" (see p. 274). Roz expresses a strong concern that children be treated fairly and equitably and believes that ensuring that everyone has what is ostensibly the same thing will ensure that children will have equal opportunity. I, on the other hand, think we need to be very careful about assuming that there is one "correct" child rearing and education practice that can simply be modified slightly to suit every purpose. In sum, it seems to me that Roz supports the DAP guidelines in the way described in my initial article: as a written, general and universal text that applies more or less equally to everyone.

Before discussing these issues in a bit more depth, however, I want to make one point very clear. There is a tendency to assume that DAP is like a giant magnet that draws to itself everthing that is good and kind and pure. DIP, then, includes the residual: teachers out of Dickens who lecture, drill and have children do mindless worksheets day after day; teachers who do not value community, who mete out punishments and rewards, and allow isolated and rejected children to suffer. In this way of viewing the world, only a fool would argue against DAP. And that is precisely why it is important to step outside the terms of this debate and, instead, to reason that there is something wrong with the category system itself. If we are to have meaningful discussions that truly respect and take seriously a diversity of opinions, we need to dispense with rhetoric that presumes that people who hold other opinions are evil, "poorly educated" and/or ill-informed. In the remaining sections of this rejoinder, I will respond to Roz's article by addressing two questions: 1) Are categories, such as DAP and DIP, and developmental milestones or stages facts of nature or interpretations or perspectives on social processes? 2) Is DAP for all children regardless of "socioeconomic status, culture, race, gender, age or special needs"? (see p. 274).

Categories and Stages

Roz argues that the name is the thing entire. Thus, there are two kinds of practice, developmentally appropriate and developmentally inappropriate, right and wrong. I instead suggest that it is not what we see, but rather how we look. We need to consider how language itself constructs a particular kind of reality. Categories, by their nature, are general. Like large laundry hampers, they allow us to sort into piles things that appear similar, but there is danger in doing so, for it makes the world seem far less complicated than is warranted.

Consider, for example, the current catch-all term "at risk." Children "at risk" of school failure, children likely to drop out of school, are widely defined (e.g., by state departments of education) as African American or Latino males from poor, single-parent homes with a history of poor achievement and/or limited English proficiency. Females, it is presumed, drop out because of pregnancy. Yet most students with these characteristics do not drop out, and most dropouts are not "at risk" individuals. According to a government report, "60% have C averages or better, . . . 66% were White; 86% had an English language home background; 68% came from two-parent families . . . 80% had neither children nor spouses, and 71% had never repeated a grade" (Frase, 1989, p. 47). The point is that the "at risk" category obscures as much as it informs. Moreover, the naming itself has consequences, for children may get needed services, but they may also be labeled (and stereotyped) in the process.

Categories are also commonly paired. Much of the DAP rhetoric, for example, pivots on a series of oppositions, what Derrida (1982) calls "binary oppositions," that serve to deeply structure how we think and talk. As Derrida explains, the very placement of the terms subordinate one to the other. Early in the guidelines, Bredekamp and Copple (1997) explain that it is necessary to have guidelines for a child-centered, play-based approach to counter a growing trend toward direct instruction. Roz and her colleagues presume that the world of teaching divides neatly into DAP and DIP classrooms and that children in the former are not stressed, while children in the latter are (Burts, Hart, Charlesworth, Fleege, Mosley & Thomasson, 1992). The recent report on NAEYC accreditation as a strategy for improving child care quality (National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force, 1997) distinguishes between teachers who are "skilled" and "unskilled" based on a half-hour observation. And, in many districts throughout the nation, people who espouse early childhood values see themselves pitted against public school teachers and administrators. Our language draws a line in the sand between good and evil.

For my part, I am always a bit wary of categories, seeing them as social constructions rather than enduring truths. Not long ago I attended a meeting of Head Start teachers who had been given the option of visiting one another's classrooms. They were excitedly discussing what they had been learning, when the director suddenly made a "jump" to another, ongoing issue: "And after we learn how to learn from one another, we need to start visiting those kindergartens, so we can figure out how to talk with them, too." The incident reminded me of an idea Madelaine Grumet (1988) expresses in her book, Bitter Milk. In the book, teachers, most of whom are women, are trapped in systems not of their making. I suspect that many a battle might be avoided if we laid down our arms and started a conversation, or even started working together.

Like categories, developmental stages have a way of slicing the world of experience into neatly bounded units. And therein lies their great value - and their potential harm. While having some idea of what children at a particular age can do can certainly be useful, there are at least three ways in which the idea of a stage or a milestone can turn back on itself. First, precisely because so many teachers are in isolated classrooms and rarely have the opportunity to speak with other teachers, it becomes easier to believe that a single interpretation is the "correct" one. A teacher once told me that 4-year-olds cannot learn the alphabet, and I have heard teachers claim that DAP classrooms should not incorporate writing centers because they are "academic." This is not to blame the teachers, but rather to suggest that we do not currently have many ways to think about such things, to observe alternative ways, or engage in unfamiliar activities that might challenge our views of what children - and teachers - can do.

Second, stages and milestones have a way of defining the upper and lower limits of children's capabilities. The "normal" is defined by norms, and expectations recreate the familiar. Recently, however, I observed Mary Hohmann of High/Scope sharing her slides of Greek teachers who have children working with art materials from an early age. In her slides, it was possible to see children who were 3, 4 and 5 making elaborately conceived puppets, stage sets and costumes. Similarly, in Reggio, we see evidence of children doing symbolic work seemingly beyond their years (e.g., Hendricks, 1997). This is not to advocate that we "push" children, but it does suggest that our current consensus may be limiting our vision of what they are capable of and that our very constructions of development may be constructing a constricted reality.

Third and perhaps most important, the idea of stages does not orient us to think in any but normative terms about children whose developmental trajectory might differ (see Bowman & Stott, 1994; New, 1994, for discussions of culture and development). There is a horrifying history of children being labeled as deficient or defective because they do not adhere to White and Western norms (Howard & Scott, 1981), and so we need to be especially vigilant that our efforts to treat children the same do not have unintended consequences.

Is DAP for All Children?

It is perhaps inevitable that our musings should, in the end, whittle down to one essential question: Is DAP for all children? I have failed in this exercise if it is not by now apparent that I find the question to be the wrong one. I would instead ask whether large, landry hamper terms like DAP and DIP even begin to capture the nuances, ambiguities and complexities of teaching young children in a wide diversity of communities. We can, of course, use categories in this way, like placing cups over coins to see which is where, but I do not believe that such an exercise, in the end, will really help anyone to become a better teacher.

It is one thing to assume that children deserve equitable treatment and quite another to assume that one way of rearing them is "best," particularly when advocates for that approach wield the weight of professional consensus. Curriculum is a "many fitting thing," a contested site where there are many stakeholders (Peshkin, 1993). And cultural values can run deep in classrooms, as, for example, Vogt, Jordan and Tharp (1993) have shown in their comparisons of culturally compatible classrooms for Hawaiian and Navajo children, respectively. They illustrate how modifications needed to be made, not only to instructional practice, but also to classroom organization and motivation management in adapting the Hawaiian model to Navajo children. This is not to say that this is the only way to address cultural issues, but it does suggest the depth and sensitivity that true cultural work requires.

The peoples of the world now mix and mingle in U.S. society and in nations throughout the world - Christians and Muslims; Poles and Vietnamese; French and Punjabi; poverty and wealth. We do not have boxes big enough to contain such crashing complexities, no simple answers, no tried and true schemes. We must learn to question our own thinking - and to listen well.


Bowman, B., & Stott, F. (1994). Understanding development in a cultural context: The challenge for teachers. In B. Mallory & R. New (Eds.), Diversity and developmentally appropriate practices: Challenges for early childhood education (pp. 119-134). New York: Teachers College Press.

Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (Eds.). (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs (rev. ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Burts, D., Hart, C., Charlesworth, R., Fleege, P., Mosley, J., & Thomasson, R. (1992). Observed activities and stress behaviors of children in developmentally appropriate and inappropriate kindergarten classrooms. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 5, 407-423.

Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (1994). Introduction. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 1-17). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Derrida, J. (1982). Margins of philosophy. Chicago: Harvester Press.

Frase, M. (1989). Dropout rates in the United States: 1998. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Grumet, M. (1988). Bitter milk: Women and teaching. Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press.

Hendricks, J. (Ed.). (1997). First steps toward teaching the Reggio way. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Hoeg, P. (1993). Smilla's sense of snow. New York: Dell.

Howard, A., & Scott, R. (1981). The study of minority groups in complex society. In R. Munroe, R. Munroe, & B. Whiting (Eds.), Handbook of cross-cultural human development (pp. 115-154). New York: Garland.

National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force. (1997). NAEYC accreditation as a strategy for improving child care quality: An assessment by the National Center for the Early Childhood Workforce. Washington, DC: Author.

New, R. (1994). Culture, child development, and developmentally appropriate practices: Teachers as collaborative researchers. In B. Mallory & R. New (Eds.), Diversity and developmentally appropriate practices: Challenges for early childhood education (pp. 65-83). New York: Teachers College Press.

Peshkin, A. (1993). Culture and curriculum: A many fitting thing. In P. Jackson (Ed.), The handbook of research on teaching (pp. 248-267). New York: Macmillan.

Vogt, L., Jordan, C., & Tharp, R. (1993). Explaining school failure, producing school success: Two cases. In E. Jacob & C. Jordan (Eds.), Minority education: Anthropological perspectives (pp. 53-65). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
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Title Annotation:response to Rosalind Charlesworth, in this issue p. 293; developmentally appropriate practice
Author:Lubeck, Sally
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Aug 6, 1998
Previous Article:Response to Sally Lubeck's "Is Developmentally Appropriate Practice for Everyone?" (in this issue, p. 283)
Next Article:The future of inclusive educational practice: constructive tension and the potential for reflective reform.

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