Gender, it’s more complicated than we think

It’s Real World Wednesday again, and this week we get to learn from and with the awesome Meg Thomas!Slide1

Meg has an undergraduate degree in early childhood education and a masters in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College. She is a research geek who loves unearthing the stories that research has to tell us about our work with young children.  Based on this research and more than 30 years in the field, she feels passionately about providing the support that children need to learn how to live, learn and work in a diverse world where they are exposed to bias and stereotypes every day.  She has worked to teach adults how to do this in a variety of settings.  She is  the early childhood program manager for AMAZE and the lead author for the “Everyone Matters” and “We All Matter”  early childhood anti bias programs and the AMAZE persona doll guide.

This week, we asked Meg, “What do we know about gender in the lives of young children?

Here’s her insightful response:

Gender in early childhood.  It’s complicated.  Too complicated for a short blog post in fact.  But here’s a few things you should know.

Gender happens in lots of parts of us, in our genes, our hormones, our brains, who we know ourselves to be and how we want others to see us.  Even though many of us were taught that gender is a simple matter of boys and girls, human experience and increasingly, medical science, shows us much bigger and more complex picture.

Much like many of you, I was taught in biology that humans have either XX genes (female) or XY genes (male).  No-one ever mentioned any of the other possible gene combinations for gender like XXX or XXY, nor did they tell me that hormones have an enormous influence on how those genes express themselves.  In fact, hormones, rather than genes, determine so much of our gender that the International Olympic committee has found they can’t use genes to determine who gets to compete as a man or woman in Olympic events.  And when it comes to genes, xx and xy don’t tell the whole story.  New research shows that there are at least 50 different genetic strands that shape gender in mouse brains, probably more in human brains.

Science has shown us that gender impacts our brains, and as early childhood educators, we know this to be absolutely true.  Observations and research show us that boys tend to devote more brain power to spatial processing and girls tend to devote more brain power to verbal and emotional process.  The key here is the word tends. Recent research using brain scanning techniques found that while there are many traits which are more common in men or women, very few of us have brains with all female or all male traits.  More than 90% of us have some of both. On top of that, physical sex characteristics develop in baby’s bodies very early on – 6-12 weeks prenatally, while gender in the brain develops relatively late -somewhere between 20 and 40 weeks.  In that development, with gender and physical sex characteristics are impacted by hormones in the mother’s body and the prenatal environment, which means that the gender in our bodies may or may not match the gendered part of our brains. And that’s just the brain and biology part of all this. When you add in the way hormones impact our brains and bodies, cultural and social ideas about what gender is supposed to look like and all the other parts of how gender plays out in human societies –it’s no wonder that children spend a lot of time “playing” with gender to try and figure it all out.

Given the importance of gender in a person’s identity, we need to make sure that our early childhood classrooms are welcoming places for gender diversity.  We need learning environments that work well for all the ways of learning and being across a gender spectrum, and we need teaching practices that don’t label students according to what a boy or a girl should or shouldn’t do.   As educators, we have the freedom and the responsibility to interrupt assumptions about who a child is and who they are going to grow up to be based on gender, and we can let all children know that the gendered expectations they are picking up from the world around them do not control their future.  More than anything, we need to make sure – every day- that no child is ever bullied or left for the way they express their gender.

What I’ve shared here is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we’ve been learning about gender.  If you’d like to know more – come to “Gender- it’s more complicated than we think” which we’ll be presenting at the National Head Start conference, California AEYC, Minnesota AEYC, and hopefully at NAEYC PDI this year.

If you are wishing for concrete tools for discussing the complexities of gender with young children – AMAZE has spent the last year working with a broad coalition of people who understand gender to develop tools for doing this – feel free to e-mail me at megthomas@amazeworks.org if you’d like to know more.

Fantastic!  Thank you so much, Meg!

Welcoming gender non-conforming children

Happy Real World Wednesday! This week we get to hear from Sarah Meytin!!!Slide1

Sarah is an ordained rabbi with an MSW. She has been in early childhood education since 2009, currently serving as assistant director of a Jewish preschool in Washington, DC. In 2013 she earned a National Director’s Credential from the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. She has also completed the Jewish Early Childhood Leadership Institute (JECELI) In 2010, Sarah founded Rockville Open House, a safe space for LGBTQ Jewish teens and their friends/allies, which meets monthly at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.

We asked her: What can early educators to do make preschools welcoming for gender non-conforming children?

Here’s her insightful response:

A person’s gender or gender identity is their understanding that they are a boy, girl, man, woman, etc.. One’s gender identity is something known instinctively and may or may not “match” a person’s external genitalia, chromosomes, or what the doctor wrote down on their birth certificate. Children as young as 18months know their gender identity, and may understand their identity to be different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Gender expression is what we call the outward manifestation of gender, and is culturally determined. Gender expression includes the clothing, hair styles, personal preferences, and other “stereotypes” we associate with a particular gender identity.

The terms gender non-conformity or gender variance indicate that one’s gender expression does not match exactly, or at all, with the expected, or stereotypical, expression expected for one’s gender. In young children, this may include young girls who refuse to wear dresses or cut their hair very short, or boys who dislike sports and are more inclined to draw butterflies and rainbows than dinosaurs and trucks.

Creating Safe Spaces

To get you started creating safer and more welcoming early childhood programs for gender non-conforming young children, here are some tips:

  • Educate yourself about gender identity, gender development, and sexuality.
  • Allow each child to self-identify, including using their preferred pronouns, gender identification, and name preference
  • Help parents to understand that most gender variant young children will outgrow this identity by the time they reach puberty, but some won’t.
  • Expand assumptions of the gender-variant child and others: Remind them that they are “a different kind of boy (or girl)” and that there are “different ways to be a girl (or boy).” Be sure to educate other children, staff, and the parent community as well.
  • Provide social support, including with other staff, parents, and other kids in the class
  • Do this by emphasizing diversity and inclusiveness of all kinds, and with everyone in the community.
  • Have gender neutral bathrooms/changing rooms.
  • Avoid dividing children by gender – instead use birthday month, clothing color, letters of first/last name, etc.
  • Provide resources, including books, that show diversity of families as well as gender expressions

To learn more, we recommending checking out the resources below and consider attending Sarah’s session, You Belong Here: Welcoming gender non-conforming children, at this year’s NAEYC Annual Conference.

Important Reads

Resources for Classrooms

Same-sex parents

  • King & King by Linda de Haan
  • Two Dads: A book about adoption by Carolyn Robertson
  • Daddy, Papa and Me by Lesléa Newman
  • Mommy, Momma, and Me by Lesléa Newman
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
  • The Family Book by Todd Parr

Gender Variance

  • My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
  • The Different Dragon by Jennifer Bryan
  • Jacobs New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
  • It’s OK to be Different by Todd Parr
  • Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
  • Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr (for elementary school children)

Wow!  This is fantastic!  Thank you Sarah!

From fear, shame, and silence to courage, love, and voice

This week on our Facebook page we shared links to a number of videos and resources to inspire us to shift from fear, shame, and silence to courage, love, and voice.  Enjoy!

Sunday

“Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, ‘Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect — make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh.’ That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, ‘You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.’ That’s our job.”

Monday

“We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t”

Tuesday

“the moment I realized something was different about me was the exact same moment that I began conforming and hiding.”

Wednesday

For the full talk, click here.

Thursday

“The most important thing that you’ve got to do is remember the difference between the ‘what they did’ conversation and the ‘what they are’ conversation.”

Friday

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.”

from The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action (excerpt) by Audre Lorde

Saturday

“Each day, my Black skin feels a bit thicker and even more beautiful. I am growing more confident in using my words as a weapon to fight the fear that used to steal my voice on dark days. I am sharpening my tongue, as Black women have done for generations before me, because I refuse to be rendered voiceless in the face of state apparatuses that seek to destroy Black bodies and lives.”

from For Black Girls Who Are Trying To Find Their Voices by Maya S. Zeigler

Getting Involved in Social Change

Slide1Happy Real World Wednesday! This week we have the pleasure of featuring Susan Ochshorn!!!

Susan is the founder of the consulting firm ECE PolicyWorks and the author of Squandering America’s Future: Why ECE Policy Matters for Equality, Our Economy, and Our Children.  She has served in a number of advisory positions, including on the council of the Early Learning Initiative at the Education Commission of the States. A former journalist, Ochshorn has written for CNN Opinion, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, and other publications. She blogs at the Huffington Post and ECE Policy Matters, the go-to place for early childhood teachers, those who train them, and the decision makers who determine their professional course.

Given her background, we couldn’t wait to ask her: What are some ways that early childhood professionals can get involved in social change?

Here’s her inspirational response:

Hello! Thank you for hosting me. This is an awesome space. I’m talking not only about this interest forum, which has incredible potential. I’m thinking of all you early childhood professionals. You’re part of a renaissance of social activism.

Recent research by NAEYC has found that society’s perceptions are changing—more people have a positive image of those who work with young children and families. Hallelujah! But I don’t have to tell you that the workforce is struggling in real time. The vast majority of early childhood teachers are women, many of them under-educated and living on the margins. The pressures under current education reform policies, rooted in standards-based accountability, are unprecedented, and support, inadequate.

For early educators of color, the lift is heavier still. These teachers NAEYC discovered, were more likely than their white peers to perceive a range of obstacles in pursuing their careers. The litany is long, and familiar: finding a job with adequate pay and benefits; affording the cost and navigating the process of getting a college degree; and understanding the requirements for credentialing and certification. Add lack of training and mentoring, low compensation and herculean work schedules, and limited opportunities for climbing the ladder, and you’ve got a workforce on the short end of equity and social justice.

This profile mirrors that of families and children. Toxic stress and violence are proliferating, along with the growing number of homeless and hungry children. Parents live in a time when the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness butts up against a gap in income on part with that of El Salvador. Our child poverty levels—above 50 percent in Louisiana post-Katrina—put us to shame on the world’s social justice index.

The good news is that growing numbers of caregivers and educators across the nation are raising their voices in unison with other activists within and beyond the early childhood community. The issues of economic, racial, and social inequality, as well as educational inequity have gone main stream. Some of the seeds for collaboration are already taking root on this page (Child Care Fightfor15). Many more organizations, initiatives, and movements are sprouting like mushrooms all over the country, some with state affiliates. Here’s just a handful: EduColor, ColorofChange, Badass Teachers Association, Network for Public Education, Caring Economy Campaign, Economic Justice, United Opt Out, Outdoor Afro, Progressive Education Network.

But don’t for a minute underestimate the power of local advocacy and activism. You need to get into the policy and political weeds, working at the grassroots in your own particular ecosystems. Otherwise, those who know little about children, and are woefully inadequate to the task, end up making big decisions with dangerous repercussions.

Onward!

Posted by ECE PolicyWorks on Friday, December 18, 2015

Join our virtual book club!

The now classic book, Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards invites early childhood caregivers and educators to grapple with the question: What can we do to raise the next generation of young people who know and are proud of who they are, are able to be in equitable relationship with others, can recognize and name unfairness in the world around them, and are ready to take action to address it?

NAEYC’s Diversity & Equity Education for Adults (DEEA) Interest Forum would like to invite you to our virtual book club as we embark on an informal, 13-week exploration of this question together. Together, we will discuss critical issues in the field–including racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism–and build community. Join us!

Structure and Guidelines

Open discussion on our Facebook page will begin each week on Monday with a new chapter of the book and will continue throughout the scheduled week. Over the course of each week, the club’s facilitators will moderate the discussion, posting summaries of the chapter and posing open-ended questions to stimulate discussion. Participants are welcome to post their reactions, thoughts, questions or other topics of discussion. In short:

  • All levels of engagement are welcome!
  • Productive, respectful dissent is appropriate
  • Ask questions, post responses, share quotes to participate in discussion
  • Facilitators will post 1-2 questions each session, but other forum members are welcome to post as well.

In addition, we will be hosting a Google Hangout each week so that participants can discuss the book face-to-face.

Schedule

Monday, Dec. 7th, 8am to Friday, Feb. 19th 2016 at 8pm

Week 1 (December 7-11): Introductions
Week 2 (December 14-18): What is anti-bias education?
Week 3 (December 21-25): Children’s identity development
Week 4 (December 28 – January 1): Becoming an anti-bias teacher
Week 5 (January 4-8): Creating an anti-bias learning community
Week 6 (January 11-15): Learning about culture, language and fairness
Week 7 (January 18-22): Learning about racial identity and fairness
Week 8 (January 25-29): Learning about gender identity and fairness
Week 9 (February 1-5): Learning about economic class and fairness
Week 10 (February 8-12): Learning about family structures and fairness
Week 11 (February 15-19): Learning about different abilities and fairness
Week 12 (February 22-26): Learning about holidays and fairness
Week 13 (February 29 – March 4): Closing

Registration

To register, click here.


 

To view and/or share the event flyer, click here.

Teaching Consent to Young Children

Happy Real World Wednesday!!! Our favorite day of the week! Today we have the tremendous pleasure of learning from and with Naima Taaj Ajmal Brown.Naima RWW

Naima is an irrevocable believer in the power and potential of early childhood education as a form of activism that can sustain and strengthen community. A first-year teacher in an Early Head Start toddler classroom in East Harlem, she is tirelessly committed to implementing a pedagogy of care in order to effectively support and build partnerships with all who enter her classroom.

Prior to her current position, Naima has worked with young children for over twelve years as a teaching assistant, a performing arts educator, and a one-to-one aide. She has a BA in Sociology & Anthropology and Black Studies from Swarthmore College, and an MA in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is also a member of QUIERE, a Teachers College based fellowship program for educators committed to providing high-quality education to learners with disabilities, especially those of immigrant backgrounds.

Given our ongoing conversation this week on the Forum, we are asking Naima to help us understand, “What is consent, and what are some ways we can teach it to young children?”

Here’s Naima’s thoughtful response:

I find the matter of teaching consent to young children to be of the utmost importance for one irreproachable reason: children, like adults, have the right to feel safe in their own bodies. Not only be safe, but feel safe. Caring for children is made up of countless measures that adults take to ensure children’s bodily safety. But what of the interconnectivity between bodily safety and emotional safety? In other words, what can we do to ensure that the children feel safe in their own bodies? How can we show them to use those feelings to not only keep their body safe, but engage with other people in ways that are meaningful and pleasurable?

This is where consent comes in.

Consent has a very simple definition by necessity, and I will specify it slightly for the sake of this conversation: consent is the explicit approval of physical contact with someone else. It is nothing more, and it is certainly nothing less. There are many ways in which I purposely cultivate and enforce a culture of consent in my classroom. As early childhood educators, we’re all intimately familiar with sociocultural pedagogical theory, or the idea that learning is fundamentally a social process; we also know that young learners need repetition and concretization in order to grasp and retain understanding of concepts. This is why I have found that a great time to teach consent is at dismissal. As my learners prepare to leave with their families, I verbally ask them if I may have a hug goodbye. Any number of things can happen at this point. Quite often, the child says yes, or smilingly jumps into my arms, and we share a pleasant hug. Lovely! Sometimes, I receive a flat, verbal “no”, the child hides behind the family member who has come to take them home, or the child physically shrinks away from me. Also lovely! They have effectively communicated to me that they do not give me consent to give them a hug. I then honor their decision by telling them–with the family member(s) looking on–that it’s okay if they don’t want a hug. I give a variety of options, from high-fives to waving. Even if they choose to completely ignore me afterwards, I honor that decision.

Teaching consent in this way has a number of repercussions. It affirms the child’s bodily autonomy, particularly in the face of authority; in other words, it shows them that it is okay to say “no” to undesirable touch, even (and especially) to adults. It honors their feelings and allows them to form the boundary that they want and need to feel safe. It models for them and their families that refusing a hug is not a matter of noncompliance, but rather a perfectly reasonable response that should be actively respected. One of my brightest moments this academic year was watching one of my learners go from classmate to classmate asking them if they wanted a hug, and reacting appropriately when she was given a “yes” or “no”. Success!

Consent can and should be taught, because consent is for everyone!


For additional information on this topic, see:

Microaggressions in Early Childhood

This Real World Wednesday, we have the honor of learning from and with Elena Jaime!Elena RWW

Elena has taught in early childhood and early elementary settings for the past thirteen years. She is passionate about her mission to develop “angelic troublemakers” in the school communities in which she works. Elena’s work is grounded in the belief that young children are capable of developing a critical lens and can engage in reflection and action around anti-bias work. Elena has presented at a number of local and national conferences, and has partnered with teachers across New York City as they work to examine the ways in which they can fully integrate equity work into early childhood curriculums. Elena also co-founded the CARLE Institute for White educators, an institute designed to provide white faculty members with the necessary historical framework, interpersonal skills, and curriculum development strategies they need to teach a diverse student body. Elena teaches second grade at the Chapin School in New York City. Elena received her B.A. in psychology from Wesleyan University and her M.S.Ed in early childhood general and special education from Bank Street College of Education.

Elena wrote this powerful piece about how she used storytelling in the face of a microaggression that happened in her classroom: https://tobreatheispolitical.wordpress.com/tag/education/

Given her experience and expertise, we wanted to ask, “What are microaggressions and why do they matter in early childhood care and education?”

Here’s Elena’s thoughtful response:

As an early childhood educator, I have always valued the importance of creating safe spaces for my students, spaces in which children feel invited to bring their full selves each morning. The Responsive Classroom approach to teaching is an approach that is based on the premise that social-emotional growth and academic success are interdependent. Embedded in this understanding of education is the idea that children learn best when they feel a sense of belonging in a community. This sense of belonging, however, is undermined when a community does not think critically about the ways in which each member’s identity is embraced or marginalized.

Children notice difference. They are hardwired to observe patterns in their world, and as they develop, they begin to ascribe meaning to those differences. They do so by tapping into the messages that are communicated about the ways in which our society values or devalues different identities across race, gender, sexual identity, class, ability, etc. These messages, unless interrupted, become part of the lens they use to understand and interpret their world. As a result, the interactions that the students have with each other and with the adults in their schools and learning communities are infused with those messages. A kindergarten child being told that their skin looks dirty because it is black, a first grader telling her classmate that it is impossible for her to have two moms, or a teacher consistently confusing the two Asian students in her class are examples of moments in which a piece of a person’s identity is marginalized. These acts of marginalization based on a person’s identity have come to be known as microaggressions.

Microaggressions are often described as “small paper cuts” that represent all of the times that someone says or does something that further marginalize you because of your identity. As a queer, Christian, able-bodied, traditionally educated, English-speaking cisgender, woman of color in the United States, I will experience privileges that come with being a member of groups which wield power (political, social, economic, etc.), and I will also experience the marginalization that comes from being a member of groups that do not wield power in my American context.

If, as early childhood educators, we believe in the importance of creating safe learning spaces, where children can take risks, and if this necessitates that each child feels that they belong, then we have a responsibility to interrupt microaggressions that we witness and perpetuate in our learning environments. When we name those experiences for young children, we are helping them develop a lens with which they begin to see identify those moments of marginalization, and in turn, interrupt them. An important piece of this work belongs to the adults who must model what it means to bring their full selves into the classroom. When we do this, we are explicitly sending the message to students that each piece of who they are is valuable and belongs, and that the classroom would not be complete without every last piece.

Thank you, Elena, for this eloquent response and for all of the important work you do every day working with young children and their families.  They are so lucky to have you in their lives!  As are we!


Here are some additional reading on microaggressions: