Until today, my posts have been about experiences with my older daughter. This is the first post specifically about my younger daughter. For years she has been by our side while I talk with my older daughter, but this is the first time the conversation was just the two of us. It may have helped that her older sister was gone for the morning.
My younger daughter celebrated her fifth birthday last weekend. One of her gifts was a small white plaster fairy. The gift came with paints and a paintbrush with instructions for personalizing the fairy. The illustration on the box was a fairy with fair skin, very similar to her skin tone. After setting up the fairy and paint on top of a paper bag with a cup of water I walked to the sink to wash dishes.
After five minutes I returned to her side to observe the progress of her masterpiece. I immediately noticed that the porcelain white arms of the fairy’s arms, legs and face had been painted black, the dress was blue and the mushrooms surrounding the fairy were a variety of colors with spots. Continue reading →
About a week ago, I was supervising my daughters as they played on a playground. This was a new playground for us. It was pretty typical. A ground cover of wood chips, slides, bars to climb across, walls to climb up, etc. They also had six swings, two for babies and toddlers, two traditional and, less common two adaptive swings. These swings are typically blue or red, look like an upright reclining chair, and have four chains connecting them to the cross bar; two in the front and two in the back. They are designed to support children who do not have the size, core strength or muscle tone to sit on the other swings. Also rare for playgrounds were the rubber walkway/ramps that wove through the wood chips. Each ramp lead to a piece of playground equipment. I took brief notice of these features, but I didn’t consider them something worth pointing out to the children. I was wrong.
It was mid-April. The speech pathologist, occupational therapist, school psychologist, family and I, the early childhood special educator, were gathered around a large round table two feet off the ground, all sitting in child-sized chairs for Jose’s kindergarten transition meeting. It was our fifth of seven kindergarten transition meetings that spring.
Twenty-minutes after the meeting had begun, it was over. Jose’s mother had walked out of the room crying. His father followed behind her. The transition team was silent for a few moments. Then, Edgar, the school psychologist, looked at the team and said, “It’s hard to complete a transition meeting if the family doesn’t see the reality of their child’s disability?”
Nearly all professionals in early childhood care and education (ECCE) are statistically identified as a woman. This information alone has set the stage and tone for many conversations regarding gender in the profession. That said, like everything else related to identity, gender in the profession of ECCE is complex.
What is Gender?
The breakdown of gender representation in ECCE is 97.7% women and 2.3% men. However, gender is not as binary as statistics communicate, society wants to believe and, frankly speaking, many are just beginning to wrap their head around.
As a man who identifies as a cisgender, I didn’t begin to consider, understand and talk about the complexities of gender until recent years. Even after years of building my awareness, I am consistently reminded of blind spots and ignorance. Many of the things I catch myself saying or doing are considered by advocates for justice and equity as microaggressions.
“Daddy, why are the white people so rude to Sylvia’s family?”
My initial thought was, “that’s an easy one. We’ve talked about racism and discrimination so many times. I can reference back to many of our previous conversations.” However, the answer that came out of my mouth was a little more nuanced than usual. “Because Sylvia’s family does not like what is normal for their school district.”
As I moved throughout the rest of my evening, and for several months to follow, I asked myself, “what is normal?” My goal was to advance Addi and my conversations about prejudice, discrimination and inclusion as well as develop a better understanding of the social world she/we live in?
What unfolded over time was the creation of the Cycle of Normal…and a daughter who is more aware of prejudice and discrimination.
As a teacher, father, and advocate, early childhood care and education has been central to who I am since 2003. Over the years, a handful of experiences have helped me understand what it truly means to be a man in the lives of young children. Some have been funny, others worth a casual nod. But far too many have been disconcerting. They lead me to feel like men don’t belong in early childhood care education (ECCE).
The term “stay woke” was originally coined by musician Erykah Badu in her 2008 song Master Teacher. In the song, Badu sings, “Baby sleepy time, to put her down and I’ll be standin’ round until sun down…I stay woke.” I was introduced to this song last March on an episode of the highly recommended podcast, Code Switch.
At the time, I was sitting on a bus riding through downtown Denver. My destination was a regional conference where I was scheduled to deliver a presentation titled: Facilitating a Developmentally Appropriate Conversation on Social Justice and Equity with Young Children. The presentation was built around my personal experiences growing up, talking with my daughter, Addi, and reflections from my twelve years as an early childhood educator. At the core of the conversation was how Addi and I work to stay woke. This second of the three blog series outlines three lessons I have learned. We must Engage! Because #OurKidsAreListening.