Men and Child Care Committee Addresses Equity in Upcoming Conference
Lola M. Cornish, Chapter President
When it comes to Early Childhood Education, inequities abound. I am not referring to children who say, “That’s not fair!” Structural, systemic and societal inequities affect our practice without our even being aware of them. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can begin to make small, intentional changes by examining ourselves and our policies.
Think about the last preschool you visited or worked at. How many of the teachers were men? How many were non-binary or trans? What was the diversity of the staff? Did the preschool reflect the unique family cultures of those who call it their second home? It’s highly likely that these examples show that inequities exist in the program you thought of. What can we do to repair the situation?
In April 2019, The National Association for the Education of Young Children released its position statement on Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education. You can read the whole thing here: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/position-statements/equity. This position statement highlights many of the obvious inequities in our practice, but there is still more to explore. Let’s consider what’s happening in our own backyard:
To License or not to License:
California has different types of licensing as well as license exempt caregiving. The licenses have similar requirements, but there are fewer regulations to follow for family child care licenses. Licensed centers cost more to license also. And then some programs are exempt from licensure. They have no oversight at all. Do you see any inequities there?
Worthy Wages: Child care is extremely expensive, but no one is getting rich from providing it. Most programs operate on a shoestring. Typically 90% goes to paying the bills and the staff. What then is left over for professional development or purchasing new supplies?
Gender Equity: How many men are in the field? Are they allowed to change diapers or cuddle the children in care? Who decides that and why? Men have unique challenges to doing this work. For example, a colleague of mine employed a male teacher who had long hair. When the teacher decided to cut it off, the parents went crazy. They had just assumed that he was a woman all that time. Assumptions can lead to tragedy for children and their caregivers - including separating the child from a primary caregiver or restricting the care that is provided.
Educational Equity: 12 units isn’t much to teach you how to facilitate child development. There is a push for advanced degrees for preschool teachers, but minimal support to get them there. Wages are still so low, it hardly makes sense to invest in an education for a career that may not be able to support you.
Reinforcing social constructs of gender: This can be through play materials (trucks for boys, dolls for girls) and the way that we speak to and treat the children and adults around us. Girls get cuddles when they are upset while boys are told not to cry. Does your artwork and bookshelf show all genders in many roles beyond the traditional? Pronouns are important also. Do you know the preferred pronouns for all of your families and staff? The hardest thing about this type of inequity is that so many of us do it naturally. My infant granddaughter has been referred to as ‘princess’ since birth, and even though I consider myself pretty woke, it came naturally for me to do so. You woke too? I’d encourage you to set up a camera in the classroom. You’d be amazed at what’s been ingrained in us: using different tones when talking to different genders, saying ‘boys and girls’ instead of ‘children’, and addressing children whose race or cultures differs from yours.
Access: Unless you’re very rich or very poor, you’ll have a hard time paying for child care. And if you don’t have legal documentation to be in the US, you get no help at all.
And these are just a few examples. When we start really examining the multitude of inequities that we encounter just in our classrooms, it seems daunting – like you don’t know where to begin. Here are some suggestions:
- Begin by observing the physiological reactions you have to different people. A lot of the bias we're talking about is implicit, but we can reflect, become aware and challenge those biases.
- Read about anti-racism, Gender Identity and Expression, anti-bias curriculum.
- Be willing to discuss your biases – even with the children. Share that your world view was shaped by how you grew up, too. Be willing to discuss sensitive topics openly and with humility, at a level that is developmentally appropriate.
- Ask for guidance from others who you look up to. Ever feel like you stuck your foot in your mouth, but the foible wasn’t acknowledged so you think you got away with it? Maybe, but maybe you just harmed a relationship by not asking what you could have done better in the situation.
With all the unrest in the world today, we want our classrooms to be open and welcoming places where families feel respected and children are learning through play. The only way to tackle these inequities is head-on, with humility.
The Men and Child Care Committee of the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Association for the Education of Young Children is hosting a (probably) virtual conference that will cover many of these topics. The event is on October 17 and the Keynote will be Dan Hodgins, who wrote: “Boys: Change the Classroom, not the Child”. For more information, click here: https://www.facebook.com/SacramentoValleyChapter