Reggio Emilia: Its Visions and its Challenges For Educators in the United States
by Rebecca New

We are now at a critical turning point in the decade-long exchange of ideas between American educators and the community of Reggio Emilia. In this paper, I would like to share some of my thoughts regarding the challenges before us.

When I first became aware of the efforts of Reggio Emilia educators early in the 1980s, I was immersed in an ethnographic study of parental values, beliefs, and goals as they influenced patterns of infant care. Throughout my year-long research endeavor in a small working-class community in central Italy, I struggled to make distinctions among three aspects of parental behavior and child development: (1) those that were specific to the community, (2) those that reflected broader Italian norms and values, and (3) those that resonated with parents around the world. I gained much from my first cross-cultural investigation of child care and development. I was reinforced in my conviction that, while there is much that unites our humanness, there are also many dimensions of human experience that are a function of particular circumstances surrounding it, including not only the historical and geographic contexts, but the political, social, and ideological as well. Upon my return to the United States, I gradually began to appreciate another benefit of cross-culture research and comparative perspectives on child development. As a result of my struggles to understand how it is that people in one cultural setting make sense of and support children's development, my own understandings, beliefs, and values became more self-evident and susceptible to change.

This search for common ground and cultural variation in human interests and behavior has characterized my approach to understanding and sharing the work of Loris Malaguzzi and our other Reggio Emilia colleagues. This paper reflects this comparative orientation and is also influenced by my experiences with other early childhood professionals in the United States as we strive to determine the most ethical, equitable, and effective means of caring for the youngest citizens of our society.

What aspects of the work done in Reggio Emilia might assist us in this task? Even as Reggio Emilia faces changes in its political structure and the nature of its citizenship, all would agree that the efforts of the past three decades have taken place in a setting that is relatively wealthy, politically and demographically stable, and ideologically generous. How, then, can lessons learned in this community's early childhood program be transported to the various regions of America, with its political, racial, linguistic, and economic diversity? How can we expect American teachers to emulate what we see in Reggio Emilia? How can we ask teachers to collaborate with parents who are too busy to come to school meetings, to implement long-term projects in the face of growing curriculum demands, to acknowledge and respond to children's many symbolic languages in the face of pressures to emphasize formal academic skills, and to participate in ongoing professional development through the documentation and constant reexamination of their work with children when their contract says the workday ends at 3:15?

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