Gender-theory targets set on sexist preschoolers
Rebecca Urban, The Australian, 28 March 2017
Four-year-olds who exhibit sexist behaviour at preschool are the latest targets of the Victorian government’s crusade against family violence, with early childhood educators to be taught how to eradicate gendered norms and stereotypes from the classrooms.
The Victorian Education and Training Department will train 4000 early childhood educators during the next year to implement respectful relationships programs in preschools. It is seeking a supplier to develop and deliver a course that will increase educators’ knowledge of the role of “gender equality in preventing family violence”.
According to a tender document released last week, research has shown that children become aware of “gender expectations” and try to “fit within these gendered norms” by the time they are in preschool. “As young children learn about gender, they may also begin to enact sexist values, beliefs and attitudes that may contribute to disrespect and gender inequality,” the document says.
“Professional learning will increase the capacity of early childhood educators to understand and implement respectful relationships and gender equality into their program delivery.
“It will build the capacity of educators to use reflective practice to critically evaluate their work with children using anti-bias approaches specifically regarding gender bias.”
The push into preschools is the latest element of the Andrews Labor government’s $21.8 million Respectful Relationships package for schools, inspired by the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Unveiled late last year, the package attracted widespread criticism for pushing the concept of “male privilege” and “hegemonic masculinity” into classrooms, and for failing to consider the multiple, complex drivers of family violence, which also has an impact on men and boys.
Australian Catholic University senior research fellow Kevin Donnelly has been critical of the Victorian government’s interpretation of Respectful Relationships, which he believes is laden in gender and sexuality theory similar to the Safe Schools program. Dr Donnelly pointed out that the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework, which guides early childhood professionals in the state, already stressed the importance of encouraging respectful relationships in the preschool setting as well as avoiding practices that directly or indirectly contribute to gender inequality, prejudice and discrimination. “Why are we indoctrinating kids to believe that being a boy, or being a girl, is abnormal? It’s actually quite dangerous,” he said. “This is simply extending that gender and sexuality theory to preschool and kindergarten.”
The new program will cost taxpayers $3.4m. Existing materials aimed at the foundation level cautions teachers against phrases such as “boys will be boys’’and reinforcing stereotypical labelling “boys are strong, girls are gentle”.
Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos defended the early childhood program, saying it would be appropriately designed. “The early years are an important time to start helping children develop a secure sense of self and healthy, respectful relationships — this will help prevent family violence in the long-term,” Ms Mikakos said.
Liberal families spokesman Georgie Crozier said the government should “let kids be kids”.