Advocacy: Taking Action Beyond Concern
“Babies are the future of this country and they should be cared for even in the mothers womb. The care for the mother as well as she plays a very vital role in the development of the child. I believe every child deserves the best care. . . . It was very useful [assignment] it open my eyes and my knowledge to understand the importance to be a voice that acts! As well as something so simple as signing a pledge can make a huge difference.” –Student Y.O.
“I signed the For Our Babies pledge because everything that was represented on the site is congruant to my feelings and beliefs about what is good for them. . . . Now I can spread the word and make the campaign stronger.” –Student S.B.
These are students from my summer course Child, Family & Community responding to an assignment I’ve often used to teach students the importance of advocacy. In the past, I used to lecture and define advocacy and describe what advocates do. But this approach has changed and the advocacy assignment has evolved along with my own personal commitment to being an advocate for babies and their families.
Although I’ve been teaching child development for over ten years, it is just recently that I come to recognize class assignments and the real world can – and should – be one and the same. In early care and education, we teach that hands-on, real world experiences are the best way for young children to learn. Well, it’s not any different for adults. Having a hands-on, real world experience of ‘being an advocate’ is the best way to learn about advocacy. Having a hands-on real world experience, as an advocate is the best way to increase the chances of students continuing as advocates beyond their course work and into their professional careers – whatever that may be. I teach that advocacy is simply “taking action beyond concern”. This assignment has become my ‘action’.
The advocacy assignment starts by having students think about what issues they may be concerned over. Then I have them share with one another what they ‘did’ with their feelings and thoughts of concern. What action came from their concern? In what ways did it have an effect on changing the issue? Often student’s respond that, well, they ‘did’ nothing – they were just concerned. Others, who share their action efforts, I clearly recognize them as being advocates whether they knew it or not. This is the pivotal point in my lesson – that when people take action from their feelings and thoughts of concern – going beyond concern to action – then they are advocates. Being a voice for those who are not being heard, uniting together with others to make that voice stronger and recognizing power dynamics that play out in your issue of concern are also aspects of advocacy we talk about. We read together about different kinds of advocacy, such as personal advocacy, public policy advocacy and private sector advocacy. We talk about different levels which advocacy can take, such as leaders, advisors, researchers, contributors and friends (Robinson & Stark, 2005). We talk about the role of individual passion for an issue that is often needed to move individuals from general concern to advocacy action. Advocacy is a proactive step in seeing change happen (Kieff, 2009). Then, before I send them off to go do an action of advocacy for whatever issue they are passionate about, I share with them an example of my passion and advocacy effort. For this class, it was the For Our Babies Campaign.
Students were encouraged to choose any issue that represented their individual passion and area of concern. For this class, students’ issues included concerns such as parents’ right to get help for their adult children with mental illness, the importance of deworming for children in rural areas, childhood obesity, and the CA State Budget cuts to Cal Works parents and child care, to name a few examples. Some students also chose to join the pledge in the For Our Babies Campaign. In their final papers, students were asked to reflect on the meaning the advocacy assignment had to their learning. Below are some of their reflections. I hope by reading this story of my advocacy assignment it has inspired you to take action beyond concern and be a voice for babies in any way you can.
“I’m a mom and I underwent some difficulties like lack of support during pregnancy. I’m so glad to see all the advocacies listed in the website address all the concerns I had before. That’s why I would definitely sign the pledge.” –Student M.W.
“Advocating for babies brings attention to important and startling issues, like the high infant mortality rate. Why are so many babies dying in the U.S.? . . . Shining a spotlight on problems like infant mortality puts public pressure on politicians, the medical community and the state to investigate and address this shocking problem. I signed [the For Our Babies Pledge] because I was shocked to read so many babies die in the U.S. It’s appalling.” –Student K.D.
“As an educator or caregiver, we understand the development stages of babies better than the public. What we do for the babies will change the life from the beginning and make huge difference for the future. That’s why we have to try our best to let our voice be heard by the public.” –Student M.W.
“It is very useful because this assignment opens a window for me. I have been here in America only for 6 years and I’ve never thought about advocacy due to lack of information. Though this class, I know lots of information about various organizations and I know lots of people have the same concern with me, which really encourages me to take actions beyond concern! . . . I’m so proud of myself because I tried my best to do something that will benefit our children!” –Student M.W.
- Robinson, A. & Stark, D. R. (2005) Advocates in Action: Making a Difference For Young Children, Revised edition, National Association for the Education of Young Children.
- Kieff, Judith. (2009) Informed Advocacy in Early Childhood Care and Education: Making a Difference for Young Children and Families, Pearson.
Chris works as an instructor of Child Development for Foothill College and Pacific Oaks College and is a certified trainer with West Ed’s Program for Infant Toddler Care. Chris is a doctoral student in the Leadership Program in Early Childhood (LPEC) at The Mills College School of Education and enjoys working as a volunteer intern with the For Our Babies Campaign.
Chris sincerely thanks the students of Foothill College CHLD 88 Summer 2012 for agreeing to share their written reflections in this guest blog.