Dr Kylie Smith – a research fellow at Melbourne University and contributor to the Victorian education curriculum – has called for classrooms to open up “possibilities for children to imagine different futures that represent their identity performances”.
“We know that children by the age of three years have clear ideas about the ‘correct’ role that boys and girls should and can take up, what is ‘normal’ or ‘right’ ways to perform girlhood and boyhood and what it means to transgress this.”
“It is imperative that we draw on anti-bias principles in the classroom to challenge stereotypical beliefs about being ‘male’ and ‘female’,” Dr Smith wrote in a recent paper.
“Teach children about what is fair and unfair about how children include and exclude each other based on gender and sexuality related to themselves and their family.”
“For some educators their construction of childhood limits their ability to see outside the perception of the young child as innocent and in need of protection from the evil, adult world.
“This perception can be traced back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writing about nature and the child.
Rousseau staunchly believed that children are born into an originary natural state of essential goodness, but both their affiliation with Nature and the natural goodness and innocence associated with it are threatened by the corrupting influences of society, or what he scathingly referred to as the degenerative ‘hands of man’.”
“Because of this some educators continue to believe that children are too young and innocent to understand that they are speaking and acting in sexist or homophobic ways. In fact, many would argue that the child is not being sexist or homophobic because they do not understand what the words mean and the effects of the words.
To raise issues of sexism and homophbia would be to corrupt the child with ideas that they do not understand. Anti-bias writers would argue that children notice differences early on and that as children navigate their worlds they are influenced by society’s biases.”
The goal of antibias work is:
1. To free children from constraining, stereotypical definitions of gender roles so that no aspect of development will be closed off simply because of a child’s sex.
2. To foster children’s healthy gender identity by enabling them to gain clarity about the relationship between biological identity and gender roles.
3. To promote equity of development for both sexes [and I would argue that this needs to shift to include all sexes including transsexual people and push back against the notion that there are two sexes – male or female] by facilitating each child’s participation in activities necessary for physical, cognitive, emotional and social growth.
4. To develop children’s skills for challenging sexist stereotypes and behaviours
9 News reports, Dr Smith claims childhood educators should “push back on dominant discourses”, challenging inherent biases and opening up “possibilities for children to imagine different futures that represent their identity performances”.
“As a teacher working to achieve anti-bias goals I have to take risks and speak and act my politics in and outside of the classroom. So I will start to develop stories and dramatic play opportunities for children where the two princes and two princesses or the two mum and two dads meet, fall in love, get married and live happy ever after. I will not wait for our government to legislate for marriage equality (but demand it of them) and I will not wait for media co-orporations to develop marriage equality stories on the big screen or in picture books (about humans rather than animals),” wrote Dr Smith.
Do you think the key to acceptance is starting from a younger age?
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