by Don Piburn - Hawaii, USA

The Aha Punanaleo Hawaiian language-nest early childhood programs are modeled after he Kohanga Reo Maori “language-nest” programs in New Zealand also have similar numbers of male staff in their early childhood programs and offer another exemplary model of male involvement in early childhood education (ECE). In the Hawaiian language-nest early childhood programs I frequent, there are sometimes as many male teachers as female, male involvement in school activities far surpasses what is typical for elsewhere in the field of ECE, and the number of men and women who take an active role in school governance is more gender-balanced than in the vast majority of their western societal equivalents.

Another cultural paradox arises in response to discussions we have had at our Hawaii Association for the Education of Young Children (HAEYC) Men in Education Network (M.E.N.) retreats regarding “no touch” policies. Prohibitions against touching children are commonly imposed on men who work with young children from the moment we enter the field of ECE. There are regular institutional reminders throughout our professional preparations, unofficial mentoring from supervisors, scary stories, and recurring off-hand reminders from parents and colleagues promoting no-touch policies purportedly in a man’s “own best interests” (Sargent, 2001; Nelson, 2002).

Children need touch for optimum emotional, physical, and cognitive development and health (Carlson, 2006). Touch, embrace, and physical closeness are nearly universal values in Hawaiian culture. The very idea that members of the ohana (meaning “family” in the broadest sense) should not touch one another, let alone not touch the children, could be viewed as a cultural affront bordering on madness. Their example to rest of us is humbling.