Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Once they knew I was married with kids, it was sweet...

So this article about teacher Michael Clark came out a couple of weeks ago and it caught my eye for all its annoying discrepancies about the role of male teachers in ECEC. I mentioned it in an earlier post on this subject.

However this bit really freaked me out:

“Once teachers and parents knew he was married and had young children of his own, they became more comfortable with him as a kindergarten teacher, he said.”

I thought that this was incredibly telling of just how entrenched within society that we men are a threat to children. As a teacher it scares and saddens me.

Here is a comment by a reader of this article:

coryllus  #2   01:36 pm Jan 24 2012
“Michael Clark is perhaps too young to remember why there are no male kindy teachers - or indeed why there is a shortage of male primary teachers. What he claims is perfectly true. Kids do need male role models. Just as they need cuddles and comfort and don't get these either from males these days - even from their own fathers, because of the hysteria about sexual abuse. Having worked in this area myself, I saw more harm come from the hysteria and from false accusations than from the actual abuse itself - and that's saying something! I was never able to decide whether I felt more anger at the true abusers who cause the trouble in the first place, or the panic stricken mothers who interpreted the most normal behaviour as abuse and caused mayhem as a result. The destruction of lives was and is horrendous. I believe the hysteria is abating - but it will be a long time before men will feel safe working with children.”

From here I want to move on to an interview by Peter Reynolds of the Early Childhood Council given a week later. He talks about how early childhood teaching is one of the most gender-segregated professions in the country, with men making up less than 2 per cent of teacher numbers in the sector. In his opinion the reason for this scarcity was the paedophile hysteria of the early 1990's in New Zealand. Specifically the Peter Ellis case which saw an innocent man jailed for 7 years based solely on pre-school age children's testimonies about secret ritual chambers under the centre, with Ellis flying about and eating children. There is a link at the bottom of the side bar to a website that details the case.

Here are some comments by some of the readers of this article:

“Being a male ECE teacher myself, I find the job very sensitive especially when you have a feeling that everyone have their eyes on you for certain reasons whatsoever for example kids would always want to sit on my lap and as such I try to make it point clear to them that they need to sit on the chair just because I am worried what a potential self-hating slanderizing personality might cook up.”

“I WAS a pre school swim teacher. Never, never, never again. To all males - forget it and DON'T do it.”

“Peter Ellis .... It is obvious that we need a Royal inquiry here, it seems that this man is truly innocent. This problem we have now will not go away until this has been done and the truth is out there.... If not it will not change.... “

Now I now want to move onto a rebuttal to these concerns from Dr Sarah Farquhar of Childforum which is an early childhood research organisation based here in Aotearoa. Farquhar was also the lead author in a number of reports including A Few Good Men (1997), and Men At Work: sexism in early childhood education (2006) that have closely analysed the lack of men in ECEC. Farquhar is considered (by some) to be a leader in her field.

Farquhar says the issue of men working in childcare being associated with sex abuse was put to rest within the sector a long time ago and the Early Childhood Council’s comments are not helpful.

“The Early Childhood Council, while saying it does not agree with the idea, has nevertheless been keen to remind the public of the historically ugly 1990's argument that men in childcare are associated with sex abuse which may backfire and engender bias against the new generation of male teachers,” Dr Farquhar says.

That society has moved on from such generalisations is a familiar theme from Farquhar: at the 2010 Men in Early Childhood Summit she reported that the issue was passé within NZ society and with numbers now approaching a massive 2%, the sector is embracing men once again. What do the people say?

Comments that followed this particular article:

“The harm the Peter Ellis travesty has had on ECE is still with us. The risk is too great. Try working in an environment where one needs to ensure that every action is monitored to provide a level of safety.

“It's not hysteria from the past, it's here and now. I wouldn't go anywhere near any sort of educational establishment for a job, solely out of fear.

Now I don't fault Farquhar's optimism, we need cheerleaders for more male involvement. I do however have serious doubts about numbers increasing significantly after reading comments like those above. I also have fears for the safety of male workers if these ideas/fears remain so firmly entrenched. So what's going on at the coal face of ECE that flies in the face of such optimism? Well Alison Jones (University of Auckland) refers to 'the monster in the room' - the structurally embedded paranoia about child abuse that has transformed early childhood centres into living spectres of potential abuse. The article is online here. Jones (2003) discusses how policies and practice have enabled the “monster-spectre to come permanently into the early childhood room in New Zealand, changing the ways ECE teacher were to be understood.” We, as a sector and individually, are now defined by what we fear.

Before Ellis was even sentenced, four 'official' booklets were produced which (wrongly, we now know) identified sexual abuse as a problem in ECE centres and set in place guidelines for policy and practice to keep children safe. Teachers must be supervised, always visible and any touch must be appropriate. Today, this is what safety looks like: A1 sized posters on the wall about 'safe' touch, areas with corners closed off, half doors, glass doors, internal windows, teachers having to inform other staff of their movements, men not allowed to change children or engage in physical play, children never to be naked - whether it is being changes or running under a hose, no more secret garden spaces, no more exhilaration or pleasure in being with children... “with the rooms the way they are I would not hire a male in this centre. It's not open enough.” (quoted in Jones, 2003).

Male teachers declaring their marital status and number of children as proof of their trustworthiness.

This openness, supposedly, banishes the possibility of the spectre. Step away from the children everyone: molesters are the only people who enjoy touching and being touched by children, yet in the name of safety we can practically see into the toilets from the front door.

Things are messed up. What are they talking about this year at the men's conference? Knot tying and vehicle play.

Moving right along.

1 comment:

Hugo van Stratum said...

I came into ECE from primary teaching and had to start taking children on my lap. Cuddling them and holding children to comfort them in deep embrace. I acted as I would with my own children when little. I had to be myself genuine.
Children come to you because they trust you. Relationships with children are physical as can be there is no private personal space with child contact. I was freed from the disasters that were the 1990s. Such is working with babies and toddlers.
Hugo van Stratum.