Thursday, January 26, 2012

Men in early childhood education (again)

Men in ECE is once again hot in the media. A new introductory course for men in Wellington has prompted follow up stories with male teachers encouraging other men to get involved. Good stuff. Unfortunately some tired old cliche's got trotted out. I wrote about this very subject in an early post but will revisit it using Naima Browne's excellent 'Gender Equity in the Early Years' (2004) which provides a more detailed analysis of the arguments that more men are needed in ECE. Hopefully this synopsis provides you with enough knowledge to hold yr own!

Basically while we want more men involved it's because they are positive adults who have the skills/experience/knowledge/attributes to help children learn and grow. They're great teachers. It's not about their masculinity - we don't actually need more biological males in ECE, what we need is a clearer idea of masculinity and femininity, how children construct their gender identity, and how to engage in this process in a way that expresses these positions positively. Okay that's the answer – lets wind it back....

There are several arguments for seeking more men:

  • Boys are failing because women don't understand them.
    • This argument of boys as victims of a feminised education system is most often utilised by government and right-wing fuckwits because it's a cover up of the need for fundamental change – curriculum, school structure etc as well as social inequality. Boys have always failed school - it's just that now there are no jobs for unqualified males, hence the 'crisis'.
  • There are so many broken families that some boys do not even know a man. Male teachers can be a father figure and positive role model.
    • Yes, sadly that may be so, but how can you or I possibly assume the role of 'Father'? Such a simplistic argument is tragic in its assumptions.
  • Boys need that special male energy, that raw masculinity of physical 'rough and tumble', discipline and other 'male traits'.
    • How can we reduce masculinity to a few selective traits? What if a male teacher is horrified by the thought of gun play or endless rugby? This argument to be blokes is fuelled by our collective fear of child abuse – we get more macho as a defence against any potential accusations. A telling point in one recent media interview was a male teacher saying that 'once they all knew I was married with children it was fine'. WTF? So you're not a gay pedo then? Sweet. Here we have the Peter Ellis legacy hovering like a cloud over our heads – all the fucking time. (Google: Alison Jones 'The monster in the room' and read all about it – alternatively email me for a copy. Essential reading for men.)
    • Who would identify as purely masculine or feminine? Not me. How bizarre.
  • Boys and girls need to see men in nurturing and caring roles that help break traditional stereotypes. This anti-sexist argument is powerful within the ECE community and is a powerful opposing position to the 'mens-rights' hysteria. I can identify with this argument.

Just to add to the confusion a male teacher must face, is that some teachers/centres/parents expect men to be a traditional role model as well as challenge gender stereotypes. Oh and be a Father figure as well while you're at it. Busy!

A key phrase in these arguments is 'role model'. This is our door to demolishing them.

'Role models' is problematic in that we assume developing a gender identity is simply about showing/reinforcing what is 'correct' to be a boy or a girl. We teach them the rules. It takes an essentialist view of gender, that it is black and white, clearly defined, and that it is a fixed state of being. If it's as simple as teaching a child what to be – why does it often blow up in our faces? Clearly there is more to gender construction than merely accepting messages from parents, teachers, the media and wider society.

From Browne:
  • children receive multiple messages that are often conflicting
  • social and cultural factors play a huge part
  • children make decisions about which messages they are attracted to and will use
  • these decisions are not random
  • it is a process of negotiation
  • it is an on-going process.

This alternative view opens up a new role for teachers:
  • help make explicit what decisions are being made, by whom and for what reason
  • to help children understand themselves and others
  • discuss what they enjoy doing, share their feelings about been a girl or a boy
  • discuss different ways one can be male or female

If men and women can express positive masculine and feminine traits then it means that neither is better than the other provided they are sensitive to the needs of children and are aware of what is required to promote gender equality.

That's it. Simple. Now we can be better teachers knowing that it does not all hinge on our 'maleness'. What a relief.

Okay that's the theory. Now go to this post and read about the reality for men in centres. Survival beats gender politics...

Saturday, January 14, 2012


I'm continuing with this topic of curriculum because it worries me. It worries me that we as teachers are rapidly losing control of curriculum. Curriculum is a jigsaw of many parts: community needs, the natural environment, children's funds of knowledge, teachers pedagogy, and the more recognised framework of the written 'official' curriculum. Things are getting out of balance: a key aspect of teacher and community autonomy has been the descriptive nature of Te Whāriki (Aotearoa's early childhood curriculum) that allows for us to create a learning environment that both reflects and meets the needs of the diverse learning communities of Aotearoa. It is meant as a guide.

Now the National Government wants to review its implementation. They say the main problem is that teachers continue to misinterpret the documents theoretical position, but really it's about the 'Learning Outcomes', that contentious section that was added by the MOE after the document was completed and trialled. The authors were not impressed. Here we have pre-determined goals, other peoples ideas of worthwhile knowledge, the schoolification of the final bastion of authentic learning.... blah.

Curriculum is a social and political construction that reflects the needs of those who hold power. In New Zealand this was/is business and other conservative groups who work quietly behind the scenes to get their members into key positions where their interests can be served. While our education system had for many decades been under the influence of liberal ideas initiated in 1939 by Prime Minister Fraser and his dream of a socialist utopia, today it is firmly in the grip of neoliberal forces – and these are increasingly international with understandably international agendas. Thus a global elite are making decisions about what will and won’t be included in the curriculum. Some subjects are considered important and others not. Art is not. This is because children are being trained to think/be a certain way so that as adults they will behave the way they consider best. Things that are in the curriculum are there for a reason; also the things that have been left out have been purposely left out. It is important to remember that the curriculum isn’t just ‘the way it is,’ someone has put it into place with outcomes in mind. It is not neutral. The school curriculum best illustrates this ideological shift with the 1991 draft strongly aligned to new-right ideology with an emphasis on education for economic growth and international competitiveness with the curriculum organised around four core areas of english, mathematics, science and technology. The final version (1993) reached a compromise by acknowledging the recent changes in society and the economy but making strong statements about equal opportunities and success for all.

Te Whāriki is of course not so prescriptive – but its language and intent is strongly neoliberal. There is speculation (by Carol Mutch; 2001) that 'the 'hands-off' approach shown during Te Whāriki's development by the Business Roundtable and other new right lobby groups came from their lack of understanding of learning and teaching in relation to young children.' Why are things changing? What is the government up to? Not much really – it's almost out of their hands.

We can split the education sector into two critical areas of control – governance and mandate. We know that the education system was established primarily to fulfil national and economic goals: unifying the country (homogenised thinkers) and building the economy (stratifying the workforce in the interests of capitalism) as a fledgling New Zealand tottered on the edge of bankruptcy. This level of control however has being superseded by globalisation and the neoliberal agenda. This is what happened:

Governance: Reforms to governance were at the heart of the reforms to education in the 1980's and their impact is obvious with the explosion of the private sector (ECE centres and schools) with almost un-fetted access to public monies. This economic ethos is continued with all schools required to operate under a business model where they compete against each other for students. The result? Inequality, white-flight, ghetto schools, stigmatised children... globalisation in action.
On a more subtle level we have the OECD seeking to make educational systems in different countries the same through the PISA assessment which is a standardised test on competencies. This test has led to the reconstruction of education systems in some countries and replaces national aims with rigid predetermined transnational targets that primarily focus on economics and the maintenance of neoliberalism. This is the most potent example of how transnational organisations leverage control over national educational systems and its demands for a homogenised standard of knowledge are disastrous for communities as diverse as ours. National Standards anyone?
Mandate, or what education wants to achieve, is another area where the state has ceded power to transnational organisations in order to better achieve national goals. We rolled over essentially. So while the goals of citizenship and social cohesion etc remain of national concern, what dominates the construction and direction of curriculum is the economic potential of learners. This has seen the emergence of parallel discourses: NZ Curriculum Framework is an example where a strong national focus through culture sits alongside the rhetoric of neoliberalism with its focus on the 'global knowledge economy'. Who is winning here? How does a young Samoan from Otara find their place in such a world?

How is this happening? Through the global dominance of the 'economic growth model' of education where quality of life is weirdly linked to a nations economic wealth. Such an education system only needs to produce workers with basic skills in literacy and numeracy with some people to have more advanced skills in computer science and technology. Equal access is not important: a nation can grow economically while the poor essentially remain illiterate. Go capitalism!

There you have it: curriculum is a tool for shaping citizens to accept and follow our masters agenda and while the control room has shifted offshore – essentially nothing has really changed. Hang on for rough ride folks.