Sexuality [?] and Anti-Homophobia Education in the Early Elementary School

Sam and I have been friends for over 20 years. I am also her MEd advisor, and in her project proposal, she shared the following story from her classroom of six to nine year olds:

One day last fall while the children in my room were cleaning up after a writing workshop, I noticed a child walking around the room with a picture she’d drawn.  She was being very secretive as she showed it to several individual children, and obviously didn’t want me to see what she was doing.  The verbal reactions she was getting went something like this: “ewww!” “gross!”  “yuck!” and “don’t”—as the viewers pushed the picture away.  I was intrigued of course.  When I asked the child to bring me the picture, she looked sheepish as she reluctantly handed it to me. I opened the folded page to find a picture of two female characters kissing, with a heart drawn above where their lips met.

The body language and emotional responses of this child and of those to whom she had shown her picture were very telling.  They confirmed for me that: “sexuality is already present in the lives” of the children in my class and that it is “outdated” to suppose that they are sexually unaware (Hanlon, 2009, p. 35); “children are constantly exposed to sexuality in public and private spaces (through media, family, friends, etc.)” (Hanlon, p. 35); many elementary age children today, like those in my classroom, are also “aware of homosexuality,” but are unfortunately left to “generate their own ideas” about what it means to be gay or lesbian (Hanlon, p. 35).  Understandably, these ideas are most frequently misconceptions.  Left unchecked these misconceptions can lead to denigrating comments in the early grades and to potentially abusive and dangerous situations in middle and high school.  Indeed the price in terms of students’ safety and well-being as a consequence of homophobic and gender-based bullying has been well documented in a recent Egale (LGBTQ human rights organization) national survey conducted by local researchers (Taylor, C. & Peter, T., with McMinn, T.L., Schachter, K., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., & Paquin, S., 2011).  (Sam, personal communication, March 2013)

As a teacher educator I completely embrace Sam’s anti-oppressive educational commitments.  I too am always trying to learn more about and to teach from a pro-diversity, equity, social justice, and human rights stance.  But, as a professor in early years education, Sam’s use of the word “sexual” in relation to six to nine year olds’ lives set off my “spidey sense”.

To learn more about this scenario, including the author’s own response, please attend the Intersections of Diverse Teachers and Diverse Learners at CSSE 2013, or stay tuned to the DiT website because we will be posting those details in the near future.

Until then, please leave a comment so that we can read your responses to this scenario. Here are some questions to consider interacting with each other and the author (Dr. Wayne Serebrin, from the University of Manitoba) about:

  1. Are my views “outdated”?
  2. Was I worried Sam would be placing the weight of “adult”—or at least older children’s and adolescents’ concerns—on the shoulders of young children, who in my view should be living their childhoods as fully as possible without adult constraints (Dunne, 2011)?
  3. Wouldn’t they, as young children, be just as “repulsed” by a drawing of a female and a male character kissing?  
  4. Or was I really more worried about Sam? Did I fear for her that the highly “school-involved” parents in her community would revolt against her intentions to take risky pedagogical steps that would go further than a critical exploration of gender roles, discourse, and diverse family compositions?  In the context of her early years classroom, what did Sam actually mean by children’s sexual conceptions and misconceptions?
  5. How would you respond to this scenario?


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