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...


Anonymous said...

Brilliant post. Thanks!

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ako said...


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