The Tension between Teacher Control and Children’s Freedom in a Child-centered Classroom: Resolving the Practical Dilemma through a Closer Look at the Related Theories

Abstract

This article explores the meaning of child-centeredness in Early Childhood Education (ECE), by shedding light on the nuanced tensions between teacher control and children’s freedom. While ECE professionals advocate the importance of children’s individual interests and needs in education, they diverge somewhat in their perspectives about the teacher’s role in education. This article manifests and tries to resolve this teaching dilemma through incorporating the related theories (Piaget, Vygotsky, Dewey, and Montessori) upholding and encompassing child-centeredness. The author contends that high teacher control and high children’s freedom are not exclusive of one another: children’s freedom is defined in an active way, as freedom to participate, rather than in a passive way, as freedom from any constrains. The paper concludes with a metaphor of “impressionist painting”, which may offer some insights helpful to those who have struggled with the tension between teacher control and children’s freedom in the context of progressive and critical pedagogy.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Backer B. (1998). Child-centered teaching, redemption, and educational identities: A history of the present. Educational Theory, 48(2), 155–175

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Berk L. E., Winsler A. (1995). Scaffolding children’s learning: Vygotsky and early childhood education (Rev. ed). Washington, DC: NAEYC

    Google Scholar 

  3. Buzzelli C.A., Johnston B. (2002). The moral dimensions of teaching: Language, power and culture in classroom interactions. New York: Routledge/Falmer Press

    Google Scholar 

  4. Chung, S., & Walsh, D. J. (2000). Unpacking a child-centeredness: A history of meanings. Curriculum Studies, 32(3), 215–234. Research strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press

    Google Scholar 

  5. Dewey J. (1998). Experience and education—the 60th anniversary edition. West Lafayette, IN: Kappa Delta Pi

    Google Scholar 

  6. Dockett S., Perry B. (1996). Young children’s construction of knowledge. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 21(4), 6–11

    Google Scholar 

  7. Dunn L., Kontos S. (1997). What have we learned about developmentally appropriate practice? Young Children, 52(5), 4–13

    Google Scholar 

  8. Elkind D. (1989). Developmentally appropriate practice: Philosophical and practical implications. Phi Delta Kappan, 71(2), 113–118

    Google Scholar 

  9. Fowell N., Lawton J. (1992). An alternative view of appropriate practice in early childhood education. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 7(3), 53–73

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Frede E., Barnett S. W. (1992). Developmentally appropriate public school preschool: A study of implementation of the High/Scope curriculum and its effects on disadvantaged children’s skills at first grade. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 74(4), 483–499

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Hirsh-Pasek K., Hyson M., Rescorla L. (1990). Academic environments in preschool: Do they pressure or challenge young children? Early Education and Development, 1(6), 401–423

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Kitchener R. F. (1996). The nature of the social for Piaget and Vygotsky. Human Development, 39(5), 243–249

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Kliebard H. M. (1995). The struggle for the American curriculum. New York: Routledge

    Google Scholar 

  14. Kostelnik M. (1992). Myths associated with developmentally appropriate programs. Young Children, 47(4), 17–23

    Google Scholar 

  15. Meade A. (2000). If you say it three times, is it three? Critical use of research in early childhood education. International Journal of Early Years Education, 8(1), 15–27

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Montessori M. (1995). The absorbent mind (Rev. ed.). New York: Owl Books

    Google Scholar 

  17. Wadsworth B. J. (1995). Piaget’s theory of cognitive and affective development. (Rev. ed.). New York: Longman

    Google Scholar 

  18. Weber E. (1984). Ideas influencing early childhood education—a theoretical analysis. New York: Teachers College Press

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pei Wen Tzuo.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Tzuo, P.W. The Tension between Teacher Control and Children’s Freedom in a Child-centered Classroom: Resolving the Practical Dilemma through a Closer Look at the Related Theories. Early Childhood Educ J 35, 33–39 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-007-0166-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • child-centeredness
  • Early Childhood Education
  • theories and practices
  • Piaget
  • Vygotsky
  • Montessori
  • Dewey
  • teacher control
  • teacher authority
  • children’s freedom
  • teacher–children interaction
  • progressive education
  • critical pedagogy
  • reconceptualization
  • dilemma of teaching
  • teacher’s belief and practice