Rebecca Simpson-Dal Santo caught our Amplify editor’s eye earlier this month with a thought-provoking post on social media about marriage equality and how all families are presented in early education settings. Rebecca submitted this article which, by turning the issue upside down, provides everything you love about an Amplify provocation.
Instead of thinking ‘Who might be upset?”, why not think, ‘Who might be overjoyed to be included?’
Read to the end for a link to an excellent new resource from the Rainbow Families organisation in NSW.
In light of marriage equality finally becoming legal (yay!), I have been musing on what this could mean for early childhood educators, our curriculums and the families in our services.
I have always been committed to supporting family diversity within my work, but I have not always found this easy nor found the support from others to do so.
Some time ago, I was working as a room leader in a 3-5 year old room in long day care. After reading the story “King and King” (about two princes who get married) to my group I found that a parent (anonymously) complained to my director because “gay marriage isn’t legal and she’s teaching the children about illegal things”.
My director, without consulting with me about my pedagogical choices, decided that I could keep the book, but only if it was on a shelf inaccessible to the children and only read it if a child specifically brought up the topic of gay marriage.
I wrote a long, and angry, letter about “invisibility bias” (where removing a whole group of people from the curriculum is a form of bias) to my director and committee.
However my director would not present the letter to the committee and as the book was from the library, it got returned shortly after. For many reasons, including this, I left this service.
At my next service, a child with two mums started in the toddler room. Like every other family, they provided a family photo. I walked in on a conversation between the room leader and director on “what would the other parents think” if they displayed this photo.
Excuses for exclusion
Jumping forward a couple of years, I’m now working as a kinder teacher in long day care. I read the story “And Tango Makes Three” to my group. My colleague tells me she supports same-s-x families, but asks “what if the families wanted to talk to their children about this first?”
The same question would never be asked in response to reading a story with a heterosexual marriage and thus, we can see how invisibility bias operates if we exclude particular families based on perceived appropriateness.
In my most recent role, a child asked me if I know what gay meant, then told me it’s when two boys love each other. I tell him this is right and say that some of my friends are boys who love other boys.
A parent told me he asked her the same question while she was on ‘helper duty’ and said to me “I thought I should take the moral high ground, so I told him ‘gay means you’re very happy’.”
How confusing for this child who is trying to understand and categorise relationships to get mixed messages based on what is perceived to be appropriate for him.
While I have had some positive experiences from families, colleagues and employers in response to my work around supporting LGBTIQ families, as a result of the above experiences (and many more I haven’t detailed), I sometimes hesitate within my teaching and think “what if someone complains”.
I hate that this happens, especially as I know that visible inclusion is so important. I must also stop to think that as a heterosexual and cisgender educator, this censoring of my teaching is not personal to my own relationships.
For LGBTIQ educators, this censorship would be far more hurtful and damaging.
Our workplaces need to be inclusive and safe not only for families and children, but also for our colleagues.
The customer is always right?
I feel like recently early childhood education and care has been moving into the mindset of seeing the parent as a consumer, that the risk of ‘losing business’ is more threatening than heteronormative pedagogy and thus the “anonymous complaint” now holds more power than well-informed pedagogy.
However children have a right to knowledge and terminology about diverse sexualities.
Some of these children will, or maybe already do, identify as gay, lesbian, bi or queer. Their family or their friends might do too.
Empowering moment for education
I feel like marriage equality becoming legal could empower educators, including myself, in their work. And while I’m hesitant on using the law to empower equity (given that laws can also be racist and sexist), in this case it’s a law that works for social justice.
So maybe marriage equality becoming legal will help me stop thinking “what if someone gets offended” and start thinking “what if someone feels fantastic to see their family structure or structure of their friends’ family included” as my first thought instead.
Provocation questions for you
- How will marriage equality change your curriculum?
- How will it support you to use well-informed inclusive pedagogy in your teaching?
- How could it contribute to creating safe ECEC services for families, children and colleagues?
You can respond to Rebecca’s questions in the comments box below.
Resources for educators
Rainbow Families – a Guide for Educators.
Released in August 2017 by Rainbow Families NSW to support educators and families through the postal survey campaign period, this downloadable guide contains some enduring messages including:
Early childhood is a crucial time to instil in children a sense of pride in their family and identity, and an appreciation of diversity. By teaching children the importance of treating others equally and celebrating different families and cultures, educators can have a significant impact on how children’s attitudes mature and develop. You are important in nurturing acceptance, harmony and inclusion.
Simple things like using inclusive language in school messaging (think “parents and carers” instead of “mum and dad”) can go a long way in supporting rainbow families. Be open. It’s important not to avoid or ignore tricky questions or comments. You can share some of your own experiences to help students engage with the issues. You can encourage empathy by asking children, parents and other educators to consider how they would feel as the subjects of this discussion.
Be a role model.
Children learn most from our words and actions so it’s important to lead by example. Celebrate diversity. Introduce a “Family Wall” where children can share pictures of their family and where diversity is celebrated. Think about the language used at school and how to ensure representation of diverse families in any communication.
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Meet the author
Rebecca is a kindergarten teacher in Melbourne. She has worked in long day care and sessional kindergarten for the last 15 years. She recently completed a Master of Education (Research) around documentation within the EYLF and occasionally writes and presents around her research.