Building a strong but flexible identity and learning to deal with diversity are two main educational goals for early childhood education. Because identity is replacing the older concept of race and is serving as the basis for a new form of segregation, it is necessary to redefine the terms "identity" and "cultural identity." Identity involves processes in continual flux, resulting in images of identity at a particular moment. Many children are able to deal with various identities, each with its own value system and own language. It is a mistake to confine identity to membership in a number of subcultures; rather, personal, communal, and universal elements fuse to form a unique identity. The concept of identity becomes dangerous when groups place one part of their identify so high in a hierarchy that other aspects are neglected. The Eriksonian concept of identity needs to be adapted to current society to help children build a personal, multiple self-image and sense of belonging to multiple groups. Early childhood educators can help children negotiate between different reference groups, because child care settings are where children are confronted--probably for the first time-- with society's diversity and complexity. The development of prejudice is also crucial to identity development. Although adults find it difficult to identify prejudice in young children, it is at this age that prejudice should be addressed. An active pedagogy on how to deal with diversity in the group is necessary to fulfill the socializing function of public early childhood education. By discussing forms of diversity, children gradually learn that people can have different views and still understand each other. (Contains 15 references.) (KB)
Paper presented at the European Conference on Quality in Early Childhood Education (EECERA) Conference (10th, London, England, August 29-September 1, 2000).