Power play: Explorando y empujando fronteras en una escuela en Tejas through a multilingual play-based early learning curriculum

by Tim Kinard, Jesse Gainer, Mary Esther Soto Huerta, New York, Peter Lang, 2018, 242 pp. ISBN 978-1-4331-3415-9, $166 (hardback), ISBN 978-1-4331-3414-2, $44 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-4331-4521-6, $58 (eBook)

Book Review written by Julia Pfitzer

In Power Play: Explorando y empujando fronteras en una escuela en Tejas through a multilingual play-based early learning curriculum (2018), the authors make a compelling argument for learning through and within play. Each of the authors, Tim Kinard, Jesse Gainer, and Mary Esther Soto Huerta are educational activists and professors at Texas State University. Through a summer early learning program hosted in a public school in a Texas school district they explore and push the boundaries of curriculum, gender, language, race, and mainstream education. Through a narrative structure, this book explores the complex roles of play and power in learning and how power is embodied in different manners in play. They push against many mainstream educational discourses and describe what they consider a path to more “ethical schooling” (p. 107). “Ethical schooling” would consider the rights and experiences of all children and not place one language, culture or way of being higher than another. 

Published as the 4th volume in a peer-reviewed Peter Lang series on Childhood Studies, the writing is lively and vibrant. The authors seamlessly take turns holding the pen and incorporate their own childhood memories as examples of how they view learners. The narratives are laced with untranslated Spanish. This reminds readers that these authors, who view young children as capable humans, extend that view to the adults reading their book. The use of both languages also elaborates their contention that multilingualism can and should be more valued, honored, and expected in society. Each chapter includes a strong reference list that adds to the sense of commitment present in the writing. The authors believe in and can support what they are writing about. They have a different vision of children and education and want to share those visions with others.

Throughout the book a framework of socio-cultural critical theory is present. The authors explore power and who holds the power by examining the connections between the past and the present. Readers are exposed to the historical context that supported the rise of the current neocapitalist discourse of public education in which there are those who have and those who have not. The authors consider not only educational resources but allocation of community resources such as water rights and infrastructure spending. They consider themselves activists as they illuminate the connections and disconnections between identities, school systems, resources, and social networks. They write critically about existing practices while also providing alternatives. For example, the authors use the literary tool of interrupting narrator as an analogy for the idea that adults too often speak for children. In their storytelling, they include the voices of children in play, without interpretation or redirection from the adults.

The book begins with a striking exchange between two children threatening a war if they hear Spanish again. The authors bring readers along with them as they consider this threat in the context of play, the community, and the curriculum. They explore the history of languages in their community and the discourses that provide some with power and others with less. Finally, they share how the threat of a playground war over language was addressed within the program’s context of play. The story must be enjoyed in the authors’ voice but in short, much less adult direction or interpretation was given than typically occurs in educational settings. Kinard, Gainer, and Soto Huerta share with the reader their wonderings about the long-term impacts of play and sharing play with those who society tells us is other. They contend that play may not remove all boundaries but spaces within the borders are created. Play brought children, who saw themselves as others, together. The authors believe there is power in that togetherness to create new understandings and the role of educators should be to support that togetherness.

The examples of listening and observing children without interfering are inspirational and reinforce the authors view that children are competent beings. They share concrete descriptions of the children’s play without interpretation. This allows room for wonder in education rather than framing the adults as all-knowing and the children as subjects. They view learners as coming in with their own experiences and have a dynamic and interactive view of teaching and learning. They view children as “becoming” (p. 117). They advocate for the use of the term becoming when considering children, teachers and curriculum. They consider becoming to more accurately describe what children, teachers, curriculum, truly are. Humans are not static. They also push against the mainstream views of curriculum as linear and call for curriculum to be viewed as becoming. 

As a preschool special education teacher and current doctoral student studying leadership and equity, I am confronted daily by competing demands of the district, what I know about how children learn, and my role as a leader. Power Playoffers an example of how learning environments that honor the ways in which children learn and the contexts they bring with them can be created. The authors write that the summer program is a “realistic attempt to create pedagogies of hope within current realities” (p. 59). That is, the summer program is not what they imagine it could be given no boundaries but is as close as possible given the current discourses and expectations of education and allocation of resources. As a leader in my school district I can consider this example as I wonder about the boundaries I face. The authors are role models as I work to critically challenge normative discourses and create an additive classroom environment. Power Play, is a resource I could share with others who might question me or agree with me.

I recommend Power Play for community-based educational organizations that may be operating outside of the umbrella of a traditional school. Organizations of this type may have the ability to provide the open-ended type of space and materials described by Kinard, Gainer and Soto Huerta. It could also be used as a book study in a professional learning community in an elementary school or elementary schools, perhaps especially those that offer preschool. Seasoned educators could find inspiration in the reminders to watch and observe and then create opportunities for children to explore the boundaries in their everyday lives. Readers will find resources that support advocating for play within their curricula. Educators and advocates will find inspiration to push for more ethical schooling in their own spaces. 

About the author: Julia Pfitzer is early childhood special educator at the Boulder Valley School District, USA.

2 thoughts on “Power play: Explorando y empujando fronteras en una escuela en Tejas through a multilingual play-based early learning curriculum

  1. Thank you for the intersting book review.
    I am wondering what the authors mean by a

    “realistic attempt to create pedagogies of hope within current realities” (p. 59). That is, the summer program is not what they imagine it could be given no boundaries but is as close as possible given the current discourses and expectations of education and allocation of resources. ”

    What does realistic mean? Has this summer program been institutionalized, or is a one time effort?

  2. Hi Mike-

    Thank you for your question. I believe that the authors were using realistic here to refer to the idea that they implemented to program to the best of their abilities given the resources that were available to them. They implemented the program for two summers. To my knowledge it has not been institutionalized.

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