The problem with the current direction of the discourse
By Janis McMath, Editor-in-Chief
“As an elementary school teacher myself, I was certainly always conscious of keeping the classroom door open at all times and never ever being alone with a student.”
In Canada, men account for 16 percent of all elementary teachers; the US, similarly, has men only count for 11 percent. As the Vancouver Sun reports, in BC male teacher enrolments are going down. There is a lot of very heated debate around the topic of the low number of male early education teachers. Are male students suffering from a lack of same-sex role models? Do young boys learn better from men? Are women shortchanging boys in education due to alleged gender differences in learning? And many of the articles one will find argue vehemently for either side. Some argue that boys don’t need same-sex role models to succeed in education, others argue that boys do better with male teachers. Some argue that the “feminization” of education is a prevalent issue, others say there is no such issue within the profession.
The discussions around the few male elementary teachers is consistently focused on how beneficial the presence of men in elementary school teaching exactly is—yet the focus should start simply and look at why men are not entering the field. Productive discourse should centre on how the waning interest is caused by problematic misandrist assumptions that need to be publicly challenged.
Multiple studies and interviews with men in early learning consistently show that men are fearful of the assumptions they face as males working with children. Men must deal with the societal assumption that they are poor caretakers, and this assumption leads people to also view men in early education as strange or suspicious. Society goes so far as to assume male teachers to be paedophiles.
In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, BC Teachers Federation (BCTF) former President Glen Hansman attested to the hardship of being stereotyped as a sexual predator: “As an elementary school teacher myself, I was certainly always conscious of keeping the classroom door open at all times and never ever being alone with a student.” A paper called “Let’s hear it from the males: Issues facing male primary school teachers” brings up the point that in New Zealand, ethics codes for teachers call for all teachers to not touch children—yet it is observed that female teachers break these rules while male teachers strictly adhere to them. All the males in the aforementioned study expressed stress regarding the perceptions of their physical contact with students. Another study in Northern Ontario called “The perils of being a male primary/junior teacher” which interviewed 11 male students who were previously or currently in an education program in different organizations, found that every single participant expressed concerns over false accusations of sexual misconduct. In an article for ABC News, Massachusetts psychologist Michael Thompson spoke of his experience working with male elementary teachers. He explained that male teachers tell him that moms (of the students) view them as sexual predators—“[the male educators] only have to look in the mom’s face to know what they are thinking.”
Now all of this is not to say that we should tamper with the natural gendered balance of interest in the profession. Merit-based hiring should always be the standard; priority should never be given to filling a quota. The system clearly already works well with a majority of female teachers, but if our collective goal is to create a sexism-free society, we should certainly be just as concerned with the sexism impacting men in female-dominated professions as we are with women in male-dominated professions like computer sciences. The assumption that women are bad at math and engineering is being actively combatted—as it should be—and the stereotype that men are poor caretakers is a similar sexist ideal needing abolishment.
The problem is the fact that our society has sexist assumptions that are preventing many males from entering a career they could love and scaring those who have already entered the profession. The central issue concerns combatting sexism, and it does not fare well for us to get distracted in arguments that are tangential at best.