Don's Column: Expect Male Involvement

by Donald E. Piburn, M.S.Ed - MenTeach - Hawaii

[MenTeach: Don Piburn has be working in early education for years. He has been instrumental in recruiting and retaining men teachers through his work in Hawaii hosting MenTeach retreats, serving on the AEYC affiliate board and being a founding father of the World Forum Men in Early Childhood Education (MECE). These articles were written 10 years ago and are still relevant to our work today.]

"Expect Male Involvement" is the message on roughly 100 buttons that circulated at the 2004 NAEYC conference.

Expect that men's contributions matter in the lives of children.

Expect that many men want to be involved in children's lives.

Expect that men and women will share equally in nurturing, educating, and guiding young children's development.

Expect that male involvement is the future and that future is at hand.

The seed for the "Expect Male Involvement" message came from Dr. James Levine, in "Creating a Father-Friendly Environment" (Child Care Information Exchange, v.155.p. 58 - 61.).

Dr. Levine writes: "Expect men to be involved. As with so many things in life, you get what you expect: you won't get males involved unless you expect them to be involved. We convey our expectations in many ways - in what we say to parents and staff, in the notes we send (or don't send) home, even in our body language."

The scarcity of men in early childhood programs speaks volumes about the welcome that many feel, yet the message too often goes unheeded or triggers culturally pervasive and chauvinistic beliefs that men don't care or are somehow intrinsically unable to care for children.

By definition, developmentally appropriate practices apply equally notwithstanding the inherent qualities that differentiate gender, yet there is strong evidence that the majority of early childhood programs are biased toward feminine functioning.

The mono-gendered composition of the profession cultivates gender-distorted expectations for the growth and development of young children and institutionalizes biases toward socializing children into obsolete gender roles.

That men are rarely seen in early childhood classrooms reinforces gender stereotypes until they are self-perpetuating.

In her recent book "Time to Care," Dr. Joan Lombardi states that, "More and more males are sharing in the role of nurturer and caregiver" and that society "should embrace the ethic of care that does not unfairly burden women."

Men working in the field of education convey a sense of fairness: Men and women should share equally in caring for children.

Male teachers have been shown to inspire interest in children's education by helping fathers to feel welcome.

Increased father involvement in childrenÕs lives is directly associated with fewer behavior problems, greater sociability, and better school performance.

The full implications of raising an entire generation to experience both men and women sharing equally in the care and education of children are far-reaching.

Half of the children we serve will grow to be men. The other half will grow to be women and through relations with men will bear the next generation.

With so many fathers now embracing the role of "involved dad," the field of early childhood education is poised in a historically unique position to revolutionize the value that the next generation places on male nurturing behavior.

Only when our leadership collectively and categorically demands an end to the biases, scrutiny, and commonly held assumptions about men embedded in the societal psyche, will they at last be free to fully embrace their evolving roles in the lives of children.

In her January/February 2005 column on the power of expectations in building and training early childhood program staff, Ms. Bonnie Neugebauer, the editor of Child Care Information Exchange Magazine puts it this way: "We focus so fiercely on the importance of the early years in shaping who and how children will be as adults. But who will they be if they haven't experienced men as nurturers, men as role models, men as play partners? It's time for us to open our minds, our hearts, and our doors and let the men in."

January 2005