Does the issue of male engagement as a matter of gender equity in ECE merit consideration for affirmative action?:

part 5 in a series of essays

“…men who do “women’s” work may be at “ground zero” of a potential chain reaction of change in the gender order, and the consequence of their presence may produce artifacts that we can read and thus gain insights into gender that were previously hidden from us.” – Paul Sargent, 2001

“… (the ECE) gendered work assumes a female workforce and therefore constantly reproduces its own patterns in recruitment and training.” – Jan Peeters, 2007

Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards, (2010), list as part of their vision, a world where “children and adults know how to respectfully and easily live, learn, and work together in diverse and inclusive environments.” Certainly it is inconceivable that a program can attain a truly diverse and inclusive environment absent male teachers and father involvement. Likewise, such a program can not claim that its children have access to a diverse and inclusive set of adults.

Even programs that currently employ male teachers cannot claim that its adults work respectfully and easily together if there are different sets of rules for men than for women. Many male ECE professionals have told me that they are not allowed to take children to the bathroom, not allowed to change their clothes or their diapers, and not allowed to let them sit on their laps during circle time. These same men are often called upon to take out the trash, dispose of expired classroom pets and/or pests, pump up the balls, fix the trikes, plant the trees, board up the window broken by the 3-year-old child, set up the computer, haul loads of paper (construction, butcher, copy, toilet), and move the television to and from the resource/media room.

Furthermore, from the point of view of children in general and boys in particular who are children in programs at which every detail is described and determined by women teachers and administrators, can it be said that they have access to a diverse and inclusive environment absent the input of men?
There are those that will say (and it is a reasonable assertion) that a good teacher is a good teacher and gender does not matter. Nevertheless, would these same people say those same things with equal conviction if a K-8 curriculum on civil rights was designed only by highly educated White people, or if a unit on women’s suffrage were written exclusively by learned men? Who better to inform curriculum for boys than men? After all, only men have lived through and survived their boyhoods.

Children are developing concepts about gender just as they are developing concepts about race. Just as with race, class, religion, language/accents, family form and sexual orientation – they may be full of misinformation, stereotypes or fears about men. Perhaps their parents are in a conflict-laden relationship. Perhaps they regularly hear negative things about their father or about men in general. Perhaps there are no responsible men in their lives at all. Children developing concepts about what it is to be male through media sources may likewise be very misinformed. They may view men as mean, demanding, unforgiving, aggressive, threatening, intimidating, inaccessible, disinterested, or violent. Cameron, et al, 1999, describes the self-sustaining nature of the gendered ECE profession this way: “it has had an impact on the historical and pedagogical understandings of why childcare exists, how it is conducted and organized, and what is gender appropriate have evolved through practice and policy over time.”

Eric Hoffman, in an interview for Laureate Education, states, “Children coming into my classroom are fascinated by both similarities and differences in the classroom.” He emphasizes that young children build their understanding about diversity best through “really concrete examples” (Cheung and Hoffman, n.d.). I believe that this crucial observation points out the need to include male engagement as a critical component of gender equity in our early education programs. For how else, can all children construct the concept of a man as a caring, nurturing, involved member of family and community without the presence of such real life examples?

Gender informs our profession across Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems levels. On a large scale, our society struggles with the nature of gender. Today, the assets and liabilities associated with gender are increasingly fluid. When considering an overview of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory as presented by Lepuschitz, 2011, one is faced with confronting the vast and diverse influence of gender upon systems. As gender and wage disparity vanishes, as gender and academic attainment swings in a new direction – society wide we are faced with redefining gender relationships. And while women gain an ever-increasing foothold in once male-dominated professions, men have not adapted. For the most part, men have not re-evaluated their generalized gender roles for the purpose of identifying opportunities to remake what it means to be male.

As a result, while society-wide, gender equity rapidly approaches in matters of sports, economics, and academia – college ECE classrooms, parent associations and ECE professional associations remain starkly gendered. In such a world, affirmative action would provide valuable relief in arguably the most gendered workplace in modern America.


Cameron, C; Moss, P; & Owen, C. (1999). Men in the nursery: gender and caring work. London Paul Chapman Ltd.

Cheung, L. & Hoffman, E. (n.d.). Learning about fairness: culture, language, and economic class program transcript. Laureate Education.

Derman-Sparks, L. & Edwards, J. O. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Washington, DC

Lepuschitz, J. K. (2011). Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory. Laureate Education Inc.,
Baltimore, MD.

Peeters, J. (2007). Including men in early childhood education: insights from the European experience. NZ Research in Early Childhood Education, Vol. 10, 2007.

Sargent, P. (2001). Real men or real teachers? Men’s Studies Press. Harriman, Tennessee.


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