The Ethics of Exclusion.
A little hand is pressed into mine. Finger tips tickle my palm as they sing me ‘Round and Round the Garden’ and peals of laughter chime in celebration of me being tickled. Eyes light up as I take my turn to circle my finger on her palm, on her knee, on her belly. Later, I am sitting on the mat when she walks up behind me, slouches herself over my shoulders and slides the rest of her body down my back. She leans her head on my arm and slyly wipes her honey-sandwich-mouth on my sleeve. She makes me wish I had had a girl child. She was one of many I had in care.
She stopped coming when the laws changed. No Jab No Pay closed my business when most of my clientele couldn’t afford to attend anymore.
We almost lost our house.
I remember sobbing to a small group of women, how was I meant to feed my children? Get through my son’s birthday? My mother was sending me food through online delivery services, but I had utility bills and a mortgage I had no way of paying. The next day one woman from the circle brought me a box of food, nutrient powder and had put a sneaky twenty dollar note inside one of the packets. A few weeks later her friend sent me a care pack from her co-op. At the time I was so traumatised by the hardship and the disbelief that this was happening that I never said thank you. (But to those women- thank you. Thank you from the depths of my heart. Please know I have paid it forward.)
It didn’t make my old clientele vaccinate their children. Instead, they quit their jobs or founded childcare co-ops or simply joined underground day cares. Suddenly, there was a glut of early childcare workers looking for employment as numbers in centres dwindled and family day cares closed or minimised hours. My husband ended up leaving child care to work in Paint and Panel; I eventually found another job.
I see it happening again.
When No Jab No Play comes in, I will have to kiss goodbye the little fingers that trace the beginnings of letter names in the sand, the foreheads that crease in mindful meditation, the feet that skip from rock to rock. Eventually, like many other teachers in Australia, I must tell them they are no longer allowed to come, that it is illegal for them to even enrol.
They will hear that they are dirty. Unclean. Unworthy of education.
This is not so.
Throughout my career I have always been guided by the ethics of inclusion, working with families, caregivers and communities to support the biters that break skin, the hitters, the kickers, the punchers, the stabbers, the runners; to keep them enrolled and part of a wider community, where they can be exposed to other points of view, different ideologies, a larger skill set.
I’ve been slapped, screamed at, kicked, spat on, stabbed at and threatened with a machete by parents, to name but a few. And everyday I’ve had to open my doors, open my arms to their children, because my ethics tells me that every child deserves an education.
As an early childhood educator and teacher, this legislation affects my livelihood. It will affect my job, the hours that I might work, the income of my centre. It will affect my community, the ability to find work, to remain gainfully employed, places stress on elderly carers. It will affect the professionalism and safety of my industry, as more families without grandparent carers look to underground centres to fulfil their needs.
Inclusion has been the way of education for many years now, so why are we suddenly excluding? There are many other ways to increase vaccination rates. The research tells us this is not one of them.
It violates the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child and It contravenes the National Partnership Agreement signed by Commonwealth and the states and territories that “All children have access to affordable, quality early childhood education in the year beforeformal schooling”.
Until then, I sing all my children in to sit on my mat. We Acknowledge Country, we set missions for the day, we explore the language of learning. We support each other’s big feelings, we negotiate our space within our community, we love and laugh and cry.
I will comb their hair and find their hat and fill their water bottles. They will wrap their hands in mine and they will stroke my face or tickle my feet and ask me to sing a song, to tell them a story.
I will not look in the eyes of certain children in my care and tell them that they are undeserving. That they are less than.
I will not.