Red Dog, you're right to be bothered by my use of the phrase, "Them's fightin' words." It was a poor choice on my part, and I shouldn't have used it. But your description of early childhood educators did make me feel attacked, even if you didn't mean it that way. My reaction to your statement is owed in part to my sensitivity (Chpt. 6 in Quiet – I was able to get my hands on the book) but also in part to a pervasive assumption in our country that early childhood educators are not as intelligent or capable as educators of older children. According to indeed.com the average salary for a kindergarten teacher is $46,000, whereas the average salary for a preschool teacher is $29,000. Infant and toddler teachers get paid just $25,000 to $26,000. I share these figures not to complain but to argue that as a nation, we don't value the work being done by early childhood educators.
I think this is so because people don't really understand young children and the work of an early childhood educator. Many people unfamiliar with the field imagine glorified babysitting and lots of women in aprons using sing-songy voices. Not too long ago I was at an ivy league school's social function and a man asked me what I did for a living. When I said I was a preschool teacher, he snorted and replied, "Well, isn't that cute." If cuteness and babysitting are what comes to mind when people are given the choice to vote for or against increasing taxes that will support state subsidized pre-k or Head Start that's a very serious problem. If cuteness and babysitting are what come to mind when talented young people are deciding if they want to become early childhood educators, that's a very serious problem. And perhaps worst of all, if our current early childhood educators have internalized these stereotypes to the point that they don't believe themselves to be anything but babysitters of "cute kidz" that's a real tragedy.
When someone makes a statement that undermines the abilities of early childhood educators as a collective I react strongly because I think that kind of discourse does a disservice to the young children I work with. This is not to say that we shouldn't talk about bad teachers. Yes! Let's talk about bad teachers! But let's also be sure to talk about the cultural, political, and economic systems in which they work. Rather than ask, "Isn't it remarkable that teachers of young children think they are qualified to make such psychological diagnoses with such certainty and authority," let's instead ask,
- How can we educate teachers of young children to better document potential areas of concern?
- How do we strengthen communication between teachers, parents, and pediatricians so children are receiving appropriate and consistent care?
- How can we encourage reflexivity in the field of early childhood education?
- How can we change policy so that every early childhood educator earns a living wage?
So, did I take things too personally? Perhaps. But, getting back to Quiet, as a sensitive person I tend to take things personally. Some may see it as a weakness, but I choose to see it as a strength. I empathize strongly with my students and fellow teachers and I am outraged by the injustices I see in the field of education and early childhood education in particular. Taking things too personally does have it's downfalls (I get upset and say unproductive things about "fightin'"). But one's perception about whether or not an individual has taken something TOO personally as a lot to do with their position in relationship to power. Extroversion's hegemony over how and to what extent we are to express our emotions to others is precisely what Quiet strives to dismantle. In other words, as a sensitive preschool teacher living in a culture that strips power out of the hands of introverts and educators of young children (a field dominated overwhelmingly by women – an underpriviliged population), I am justified in taking remarks that belittle me personally. My professionalism is not compromised by my sensitivity. It is strengthened.
I realize the tone of this response could be interpretted as overly combative, but I hope that it is not read as such. My goal in writing this was to make explicit the reasons behind my prior reaction. I think these forums should be a space where we strive for better understanding and open communication especially when people’s opinions differ and emotions become involved. If the tone of anything I’ve said in this post or others has caused offense then I am sincerely sorry.