Part 2 of a series:
Throughout the history of humankind, differentiated gender roles have been assigned to men and women by their particular cultures. In almost every case, the role of caregiving has been assigned to women. This was true in pre-Columbian America and continues to be true today. In an effort to gain a better understanding of the historical context of the Men in ECE movement, I conducted a search of the literature. In doing so, it became evident that the Western cultural assignment of the caregiving role to women was apparently sufficiently self-evident that there is little research on the subject of gender and caregiving until 1970. Most of this early conversation targeted the caregiving role of the father, and did address the matter of non-familial care of young children by men.
In the 1990s, a nascent movement on gender equity as it related to men in child care can be identified. Beginning in Europe with initiatives sponsored by members of the European Union, men in ECE found themselves beneficiaries of a larger examination of and commitment to gender equity. While rare American advocates such as Bryan Nelson and Bruce Sheppard were writing on the topic by the early 1990s, it wasn’t until years later that the challenge of men in ECE gained traction in the professional journals among a limited number of American ECE professionals. The roots of this American movement appear to be found with male members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). However, it seems that real attention to the issue within the larger ECE community was not generated until the latter part of the 2000s. At about the same time as America, New Zealand began examining the issue in the professional journals.
The notion of using the internet as a way for men in ECE to stay in touch has its genesis in 1999, conceived as a listserv by participants at the national annual conference of NAEYC. Today, given the rare and far-flung nature of men in the ECE community, and the
growing use of social media by these men, the early recognition of the value of social media is significant.
Interest in the issue of men in the lives of young children in the United States focuses upon three distinguishable, but interconnected challenges.
• Father Involvement has become a focus of initiatives in Head Start as well as local community-based initiatives. These initiatives have included to varying degrees workshops for and by fathers and male role models, father and child activities, mentoring, and special events targeting father engagement.
• Men in early care and education has become a focus within the professional community. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the California Association for the Education of Young Children, and World Forum Foundation have all created forums for men to come together. Social networking opportunities have been established by NAEYC as well as a number of groups on Facebook.
• Outcomes for Children have received attention as well. Videos by PBS and Media Education Foundation, such as Tough Guise and Raising Cain examine the well-being of boys. A number of books for parents examine outcomes for children specific to gender. Nationally recognized speakers such as Pedro Noguera and Geoffrey Canada speak to the issue of gender and education.
The United States has been slow to both recognize and confront the challenge to increase the ranks of men among early care and education professionals, and the resulting disappointing plateau in the percentage of men in ECE reflects this. And while the European Union has identified the absence of men in ECE as part and parcel of a larger equity issue and has developed initiatives to address this challenge, the results have had limited success. Nevertheless, it is apparent that there has been greater progress toward a less gendered ECE workforce in the parts of the world that have established policies and/or initiatives to promote men entering into caregiving professions.
New Zealand is assigning resources to the challenge of male involvement in ECE. Most recently, New Zealand, through its national ECE network, Child Forum, has announced a program offering ten $4,500 scholarships for men entering its ECE teacher education program.
Germany has its 13 million euro “More Men in Early Childhood Education and Care” initiative – a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Family Affairs and the European Social Fund of which the “long-term aim (from men in early childhood education and care) is 20 percent” (ChildForum, 2012). The “Strong guys for strong kids” campaign in Stuttgart and “Variety, Man!” campaign in Hamburg are examples (ChildForum, 2012).
The evidence suggests that progress is possible, that it requires continued support through policy and initiatives, that it will be painfully slow, and that the United States is already late to the table. Innovative international initiatives, while ambitious, currently fall short of their targets, and it remains clear that the movement to promote men in the early care and education profession is still in its early stages.
As a point of information, my personal career in early care and education began in 1984. Over three decades, my work would take me from private preschool and infant/toddler care to school district preschool to child care resource and referral to Head Start to State Preschool. And during that same time, the number of men that I came in contact with remained consistently few. During those years, I came to realize that an alignment of a number of complex social factors must me addressed before even the most thoughtful initiatives can hope to succeed. These social factors include:
• A significant increase in our acceptance of men in caregiving roles,
• A commitment from the women in ECE to work collaboratively with men to address issues of gender-ism in ECE training, environments, assessments, best practices, recruitment, retention and development,
• A commitment from the larger ECE community to commit resources to the recruitment, retention and development of men in ECE,
• A commitment of resources from governmental, academic, local educational agencies, or community-development entities to support the recruitment, retention and development of men in ECE, and
• A greater participation from the men currently in ECE in roles and activities that will support, develop, promote, or mentor other men either struggling to remain in the field, entering the profession, or considering entering the profession.
Efforts and initiatives in isolation, that lack broader support from policymakers, or that impact only the more formal and institutional aspects of the challenge of men in ECE have not demonstrated success anywhere in the world. Our need to act in a coordinated manner is self evident – and is in part, the point of this series of essays.
ChildForum. 2012. Desperately seeking male childcare teachers in Germany. Retrieved from http://www.childforum.com/men-in-ece/campaign-for-men-in-ece-blog/820-desperately-seeking-male-childcare-teachers-in-germany-.html