Men In Child Care
This is the first in a series of essays on the involvement of men in the lives of young children. The genesis of this series of essays comes from a paper that I wrote for a course towards my Master’s Degree. The paper was not well-received by the professor, but I was driven to continue putting my thoughts into writing. Perhaps it will find a more receptive audience here.
Before we begin, it is crucial to recognize that men are active participants in their absence from the lives of children. Whether due to expectations from society, from family, from peers, from their own parents; whether due to job responsibilities, realities of life; due to actions taken by their mentors, counselors, teachers and professors that steered them into more traditional career choices; or due to the absence of invitation to participate in their child’s life from co-parents, teachers, directors and principles…men have chosen to accept their absence from the lives of children.
Even among those of us that have braved the social stigma and embarked upon a career in Early Care and Education (ECE), there has been an involvement in our own marginalization. When we abide by policies that prevent us from touching children, comforting them, participating in important nurturing activities such as diapering – we “participate in the reproduction of the myth of stoic, distant men…in (our) own marginalization. While stoicism and inexpressiveness are considered to be generalized attributes of men, these are clearly deviant behaviors in the world of teaching young children” (Sargent, 2001).
A dear colleague of mine, Alan Guttman reminds us of this, saying: “…Affirmative Action “capital A, capital A” – was enacted to address the intentional, systemic, historical and institutionalized pattern of Discrimination “capital D” that exists in our society. While (this essay) may cite some of the subtle and not so subtle discriminatory ways that men in the ECE field are regarded – it is predominantly discrimination of the “small d” variety. While such “small d” discrimination is real and may deter men from entering the field of ECE – the main reason there are only 2%-5% men (of all races) in the profession…they CHOOSE not to enter the profession for the many reasons (this paper) will cite, including lack of respect, remuneration, etc. Essentially, we Men are discriminating and not going into the field.”
Yet there is something to be said of the lack of will expressed by the early care and education profession as a whole to address the absence of men in even the best of our ECE environments. Admittedly taken a bit out of context from the book, Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards (2010), the following observation more than applies to the gender gap in ECE:
“One major dynamic of advantage and disadvantage that especially affects early childhood practice is that of the “visibility” or “invisibility” of certain kinds of people and cultures in a program.”
Teachers, assistants, office and nutrition staff, engineering and housekeeping staff, and parents areall among the classroom’s “people” and contributors to the classroom culture. What does an examination of your program’s resources say about the visibility of men as resources at your program? Does the obvious absence of men in early care and education programs not demand affirmative action (small “a”, small “a”) on our part?
In Western early education coursework, the value of diversity and family engagement is universally recognized, yet, as advocates, we clearly have room for improvement when it comes to the gendered profession in which we work. While the absence of men in early education is a global challenge, some countries have demonstrated the will to confront the issue with policy objectives. Norway, for example, “has set a target of 20% male workers in early childhood services” (Moss, 2000).
And there you have it. It is the hope of the collaborators in this series of essays that the following words may serve not simply as a statement of grievances, but as a call to action for men and those that advocate for them. It is our hope that in the following submissions, we will have not only provoked questions, but have provided the tools, strategies and resources that will support real progress in male engagement efforts in your family, in your program, and in your community.