Past references in this column to early childhood education’s unflinching acceptance of the shortage of male educators as a back burner issue were born out yet again at the 2004 National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) national conference in Anaheim, California.
Given the limited number of male attendees at the event, the proportionately small number of presentations on menÕs issues, and the occasional episodic occurrence of blatant gender bias, it is clear that the task of moving menÕs issues from the margins of early childhood education into the mainstream is going to take some stamina.
Against such odds, one might wonder just how much change a single individual can hope to inspire. Fortunately, many men and women in our ranks were busy modeling the kinds of behaviors that the rest of us should aspire to. Hats off to those who presented on male issues, organized the interest forums and diversity receptions, and especially to those who were recognized for their hard work on behalf of men and diversity issues in early childhood education. You are all champions!
Walking into a presentation on the topic of men in early childhood education was like sailing into a calm harbor on a stormy day. A healthy balance between masculine and feminine, individuality and collaboration, assertiveness and compromise, and self-control in the company of just a little unrestrained passion typified the men in early childhood education presentations. One colleague was overheard saying that in her experience the presentations on men’s issues contained some of the most substantive dialog of the conference.
The Men in Education Network (M.E.N.) and Diversity Receptions were awash with creative ideas, impassioned pleas, and rich dialogue, not to mention a whole lot of fun.
Those unable to attend such large-scale events need not wait for the movement to promote male involvement in the lives of young children to come to them. Not all actions need be for the masses. Some are much more personal, generated by the need for individuals to express autonomy, integrity, dignity, and self-respect.
Deliberate actions by anonymous persons have lit the fires for every organized civil rights movement in history. The goal of any and all of our efforts, whether by individual or group, must be to cultivate allies. It is important to keep in mind that the women most likely to publicly display gender biases are frequently the ones with the least amount of power in their relationships with men. They are many in number and are often the only real victims.
Nonetheless, what if, every time a gender unbalanced portrayal of a male child, father, father-figure, or male in the early childhood workforce surfaced in our profession, a barrage of concerned e-mails landed in the in-boxes of the responsible party or those with editorial authority?
How long do you suppose our profession would continue to overlook men’s issues? There is so very much that each and every one of us can do.
A carefully worded e-mail, letter, memo, letter-to-the-editor, verbal objection, or anonymous action is capable of altering someone’s future behavior. The more behavior’s that we challenge, the more our issues seep into the mainstream. The field of early childhood education is in a historically unique position to revolutionize the value that the next generation places on male nurturing behavior, provided we recognize that the foundation for such a movement lies in the convictions and actions of individuals.
Given our limited representation in the field of early childhood education, individual actions are the keys to the future of our cause.