MEN IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
How the government fosters bigotry in the early year's environment
Most of the discourse today when it comes to gender discrimination, is focussed towards the plight of women in the workplace. While there is validity in women-centric discourse, this focus often overlooks men who work within female-dominated sectors.
This is something I've experienced first hand having worked within the Early Childhood sector for just over a decade now. It was my first work at the just-finished-high-school-need-a-job stage, and has remained my main employment as I've pursued further education and other projects. I don't note my length of experience as statistically anything special, but rather as something that has allowed me to witness many changes and episodes over that length of time. I personally have substantial issues with the content and curriculum that governments dictate to educators but I won't focus too much on that here. Instead my focus will be on being a male in a field that has been seen as, and I guess continues to be seen as in much of the public's eyes, as 'women's work'.
The spark for this article, came when I heard that there were certain parents in my workplace, who outright didn't want males working there. Apart from our catering team, I'd been the only male on staff for a long time at my workplace. While I was away on annual leave, my centre hired two new male educators. Within the first week or two of working, one of these educators got into a heated row with one of the parents, who expressed disgust with men working in this field. As far as I am aware, this disgust happened in front of said male educator, who then engaged the parent on the issue.
The issue was to do with men having physical contact with their child. This primarily concerns changing nappies, but also extends to physical comfort as is necessary with infant aged children and toddlers. Part of the fear with men having contact with children likely stems on the reports of paedophilia. This unfortunately often turns out to be a few isolated cases that are sensationalised by the media. However in this instance, the reason given by these parents for not wanting men in contact with their children was 'religious reasons'. Other parents have also given 'preference' and 'cultural beliefs' as reasons. On a personal level, I believe that these are essentially non-excuses and poor reasons. However, in principle, I believe in allowing parents to have whatever preferences they choose, so long as they do not impose them on private institutions and individuals. This is precisely where the issue arises.
The issues begin when we look at the national curriculum. In the Early Year's Framework publication 'Being, Belonging and Becoming', principle four of the framework relates to 'Respect for diversity'. It begins:
There are many ways of living, being and of knowing. Children are born belonging to a culture, which is not only influenced by traditional practices, heritage and ancestral knowledge, but also by the experiences, values and beliefs of individual families and communities.
This little segment of text in fact describes why bigotry is unavoidable in an educational setting that has to follow government dictates. There are indeed 'many ways of living', and rarely are they fully compatible with one another. Diversity can be a great thing... forced diversity, not so much. Whether we like it or not, when you have a large number of cultural beliefs and ways of doing things, there are bound to be disagreements and clashes. Even in a small nuclear family where members grow up in the same environment there are usually fireworks (not the good kind). The likelihood is that someone will have to yield. In this case it seems to be that it is the men working in the industry who are involuntarily forced to yield.
The passage continues on:
Respecting diversity means within the curriculum valuing and reflecting the practices, values and beliefs of families. Educators honour the histories, cultures, languages, traditions, child-rearing practices and lifestyle choices of families.
This may be all good and well, but perhaps residing in the domain of naive idealism. Maybe there's nothing wrong with idealism as a guide to strive for something higher, but this doesn't seem like the productive kind. It instead seems like the misguided and foolish kind. Perhaps the argument that proponents of this philosophy will give is that, 'well, it isn't about the educators... it's about the children and families'. There's some truth in that statement, but surely it doesn't encapsulate the entire educational picture. You can't have a student without a teacher - education is about both sides of the partnership. And even if it is 'all about the children and families', then at some level, by tolerating bigotry under the guise of 'cultural preference', you are exposing other families and children to beliefs and practices they may not believe in. Attempt to cater to everyone and you end up catering to no one.
If we allow parents to dictate and demand in an environment where people have voluntarily gathered then we might be heading down a slippery slope. What then, are the educators and educational centres for? Should they stand for basically nothing and allow families to run riot with demands based on whatever culture or preferences they espouse? Again it really comes back to the truth that as humans we simply cannot please everyone. But under the National Education Framework, we are legislated to have to try. Even if it means discriminating unfairly against your own employees.
In fact on attempting to procure advice on the matter from the Department of Education, they could only give us the comment, 'We can't advise you as it is a non-child matter'. Is this not beyond a joke? Are their guidelines so ambiguous because they are worried of getting sued and taken to court?
What I'm advocating here again, is not that these parents have to give up their beliefs and preferences. Instead I'm advocating that the government does not force educational centres to stand for every little hosh-posh that parents try to impose at the cost of centre principles. Parents should find centres that line up with their beliefs because at the end of the day, schools and formal places of learning are a collection of people. And collectively they have to stand for something.
Forced inclusion is nothing to celebrate. Forced inclusion isn't embracing different cultures. It's having to accommodate people who might eat at the core of what you stand for. It's having to shut up so you don't offend anyone.
What sort of world would we have anyway where legislation forced us to tolerate aggressively intolerant beliefs and preferences in the name of inclusion?