The Gender Gap

by Yasmini Vinci - Letter to the Editor - Boston Globe

DERRICK Z. JACKSON'S column on male teachers casts a light on the frequently overlooked issue of gender inequity among those who teach young children ("The value of the male schoolteacher," Op-ed, April 22). This imbalance is even more glaring in the early care and education field, with women constituting 97 percent of teachers of children under 5.

As a woman who has worked in that field for 29 years in various practitioner, policy, and advocacy roles, I am painfully aware of both the importance of men to children, families, and programs, and of the many barriers to the recruitment and retention of men in the profession.

Conferences such as the recent one organized by the Schott Fellowship in Early Care and Education and mentioned in the piece are an important strategy for improving awareness of the complex issues and for opening the doors to structural and attitudinal changes that need to occur before men are able to more fully share nurturing and educational roles to the benefit of us all.

As one of the Schott Fellows aptly pointed out at the conference: "If a woman can drive a tank in Baghdad, why can't a man change a diaper in Boston?"

April 26, 2008

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Are men in ECE really so special?

Reading the Op-ed piece, "The Value of the Male Schoolteacher" and the accopanying letter to the editor sparked a personal philsophical discussion for me. When we quote the dismal statistics about how many men are in early childhood and elementary education, are we encouraging the idea that those men who ARE teaching young children, are unusual and/or special? When this concept is paired with praise and respect, doesn't this perpetuate the idea that only the rare man can work with children?

At first glance this would not seem to be a roadblock to increasing the numbers of men in early childhood and elementary education. If 3% of the workforce of people who work with children are men, aren't there at least another 3% who could and should be encouraged to have this career?

I have learned that it is not always valid that the opposite of some fact is true, but I want to take a look at this for a minute. If 97% of the workforce who work with children are women, does this mean there isn't anything special about the women who choose this line of work. I think underlying all of what I have just laid out is the assumption that caring for and educating children is easy and natural for women and not so for men. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Over the past 25 years, as I have witnessed changes in our approach to supporting men in the ECE field and in encouraging the recruitment of more men, it feels like we are now at a tipping point. I feel it is no longer acceptable for anyone to consider men in the field unusual or special if it means it is not easy or natural for men to be with children. I have personally witnessed this attitude for a long time but it feels like it is about to change.

As a man who has worked in ECE for over 27 years and worked with fathers for the last 20 years, I have come to the conclusion that most men have it in them to do a good job with children, just as most women do. The numbers of men in the profession are not low because only a few men could really do a good job. This is a myth that has got to go.

Granted there are plenty of other barriers out there, but this isn't one of them - unless you include this attitude by people in power.

I am planning to be at the NAEYC National Conference in Dallas in November after a seven year hiatus. I can still remember the comments I heard from some of the women at the conference. In an attempt to be supportive they would tell me how important and special I was to make a career in the ECE field. As nice as it sounded there was something in those comments that just didn't seem right.

This year if someone starts in on this line of comment I think I will tell them that I am really not very special at all. I will tell them that most men could do a good job working with children. I will tell them we are doing our children a disservice when we do not provide them an opportunity to learn from and be nurtured by a man.

Bruce S. Sheppard, M.T.S
EI/ECSE Specialist
Oregon Department of Education