While words do not by themselves define our identity; it is by words that we attempt to grapple with notions of who we are. Biological nature, for example, may be one place to start. Traits of contentment, cholic, intemperate, patient, loving and even angry and punitive arise usually from the mouths/observations of others, usually beginning with our parents. However, embedded in those attributions and certainly less “visible” and “known” are the intimate and essential attitudes, beliefs, world views, and moods of the person “framing” the behaviour of the baby.
Naming “mama” and “dada” and “spoon” and “dog” and “up” and down” begin to flow from the babies’ mouths and as the process of language development ensues, “body language” becomes integrated into the full “communication process” of the young child, as does the capacity of parents/custodians to “read” the needs, moods, wishes and pains of the baby.
While there is always a question of the precision, accuracy and verification of the “truth” of both of these symbols of communication, there is usually some degree of agreement between baby and parent, allowing for amendment and adjustment if first responses do not seem to satisfy. In each of these exchanges, a pattern of relationship norms and expectations between the two parties takes shape, inevitably revisited, adjusted, amended and deepened in their character with each moment of encounter. Similarly, each of the participants is adjusting his/her perceptions, attitudes and expectations based on the integration and assimilation of the new impressions of the encounter.
It is such a dynamic that attends to each of the encounters between humans of all ages, genders, belief systems, ideologies and the purposes attached to each encounter. Care givers, like mothers, for starters, provide immediate models and messages of the nature of the universe for the child, as do fathers, however at variance the two models may be. Lessons about how to drink from a sippy and then a real cup, toilet training, the impact of crying, and extending to the skills of tying shoes, table manners, and later, the many complex skills surrounding the “socializing” in nursery schools, kindergartens and school classrooms.
Not only is guidance about how to interact with things and others embedded in these exchanges, but also more abstract “principles,” “beliefs,” “attitudes,” “rules,” and “expectations of the adult are being conveyed to the young child, most of these being transferred from a virtual unconscious perspective. We do not normally actively consider questions of “political philosophy” or “dogma” of faith, or “career expectations” in these very early “exchanges with our children. Nevertheless, with or without our conscious awareness, these basic seeds are being implanted in the mind, body, spirit and soul of the young child. So to the extent that we are conscious of and committed to any specifically articulated nugget of belief, social and cultural norm such as our attitude to money, food, cleanliness, tidiness, reading, music, dance, laughter and compromise, these coded messages are being formulated, and then transmitted to the child by the adult.
Typically, fathers’ identification with their sons, and mothers’ identification with their daughters shape many of these early exchanges, as do parental tones, smiles, eye contacts, and auras, most of these latter, without a conscious recognition and acknowledgement by either parent or child. Some typical cultural memes, or norms, also find themselves Even the atmosphere inside the home and the conversations between parents provide additional “cultural” evidence of the ethos of this “world” of the child.
No doubt many readers, if they are still here, are rolling their eyes about the patently obvious and irrefutable platitudes above. However, while perhaps obvious, the early development of the child, and not merely the special needs child, is a critical piece of the business of the society and the culture. It is not another of the many “domestic” files like cleaning, laundry, cooking and meal preparation. These issues can no longer be relegated to the “family” or “life” sections of the dailies, nor to the TVO or other public television outlets. How parents raise their children, feed them, read to them, discipline them and even dress them are significant to the evolving development of the culture. And the political “hands-off” of public institutions, especially provincial legislatures, (in Canada, family issues, education and language are the purview of the provinces) can no longer be justified. We can no longer tolerate a political discussion and debate about the nature of our classrooms that reduces the issues in the debate to numbers of teachers and number of students in classrooms, and the occasional “sex-ed” controversy about which specific pieces of information and issues of judgement are appropriate to which age group.
Questions about tolerance of and access to cell phones in classrooms, for example, should not need to be mandated by a provincial regulation. And while corporal punishment deserves legitimate relegation to the educational museums, there are other “social and cultural norms” about how to monitor, regulate and development comportment of children to agreed principles, behaviours, attitudes and rules. And the issue of ethics as it is applied to both parenting and public education needs to be revisited and reconsidered from a far more elevated and demanding perspective in the public arena. Men have, traditionally, withdrawn from any discussion of family or classroom ethics, leaving the “field” primarily to female parents, members of school councils, coaches, principals and teachers in their respective classrooms. A over the last two or three decades, school boards in Ontario have veered nearly over a cliff in their hiring practices in the elementary panel, by hiring and preponderance of female instructors and principals. There is no argument about the effectiveness or the professionalism of women teachers or principals. However, the “ethics” of basing the proportion of authority figures on the proportion of gender representation inside the school would impose a rough 50-50 assignment of both men and women to these positions.
Young boys, regardless of their preferences for the arts, athletics, science, math or technology, need male models in the front of their classrooms as urgently as young girls need women role models. The fact that the public debate has virtually ignored this slide into “normality” (perhaps as an over-compensation for a history in which most principals were men), illustrates the abandonment of the fathers, uncles, grandfathers from the issues of the classrooms and the spending of public monies in the complex and highly determinative process of learning, education and child development.
We need men to contribute ideas like a very old one that sought the preparation of all classroom teachers as “researchers” in the formal academic sense of that word, so that all classrooms would thereby incorporate the opportunity to become learning labs. Such a shift in teacher training, prompted, nurtured and fostered by both mothers and fathers, of all political stripes, would dramatically and permanently shift the ethos in many classrooms, the motivation and excitement of many teachers and principals, the deeper and more sustaining relationship between public classrooms and the faculties of education, psychology, leadership, and ethics. This initiative would not, or at least should not, offend the many female teachers and principals already working in public classrooms. In fact, conversely, it would shift an emphasis on “proper, politically correct” expectations to a more relevant and operative perspective that examines how children learn, what new teaching/learning research applies to each classroom, and how new approaches might flow from the classrooms in both urban and rural communities.
An “educational culture” dominated by one gender will, naturally and inevitably veer toward the norms and the expectations of that gender. Football in secondary schools, for example, is one case in point. A school and board culture dominated by men will be more likely to perpetuate a football agenda, while one representing an equal proportion of men and women are more likely to be critical of such an approach, given the mounting evidence of concussion and long-term CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy) the term used to describe brain degeneration likely cause by repeated head traumas. Similarly, yet conversely, a faculty balancing numbers of men and women in a school is less likely to adopt a norm of communication that ranks language and rhetoric by colour. Designed primarily as a device to “minimize” or actually eliminate the verbal expression of male rage, such a process, by definition, objectifies and stigmatizes young boys.
Alternatively, various processes that coach children into becoming peer monitors, mediators and friends in the broadest sense of that word, and that focus on the isolation, alienation, ostracism and abandonment of “different” children (the extreme poor, the racialized, the challenged, the over-weight, the fragile and shy young boy, the bully, whether male or female, the uber-rich, or the member of an unfamiliar faith or ethnicity) and the many options open to all students to participate in the process of authentic integration of those children, both short and long term, merit serious consideration and implementation, monitoring and realigning.
Education, as an authentic extension of the family, demands the active, willing and creative contribution of both mothers and fathers, both in the specific curricular implementation and importantly in the establishment of a respectful culture, based on both masculine and feminine perspectives, attitudes, beliefs and processes. And men can and will only grow to appreciate both their own children and the kind of school and classroom they inhabit, on an intimate, and not necessarily interfering manner.
Another ethical tenet to which we all pay lip-service in many of our communities in North America is the fundamental tenet of most faith communities:
always treat others as you would like them to treat you
In part number 5, we noted the conflict between men and women regarding sexual activity, and the need for more men to respect the “NO” of their female partners. Similarly, we also mentioned the too many cases of women who, having willingly and eagerly entered into a relationship, then revert to vengeance when that relationship terminates. The premise, “it takes two” too often becomes part of the detritus of the marriage. “No Fault” divorce, obviously may cover the distribution of matrimonial assets, and the potential for an agreement on “shared” custody; it clearly does not account for the private, silence, secreted vengeance of offended and victimized women who perpetuate their version of “pay-back” on their former spouse often for the rest of their lives, and certainly for the length of their children’s education and development.
Perhaps the Christian faith has a potential, if ignored, guidepost that could serve to mediate both of the male and female attitudes of disrespect and blame and judgement above. In Ronald Preston’s chapter “Christian Ethics,” in “A Companion to Ethics” edited by Peter Singer, he writes these words:
…the distinctive feature of Jesus’ ethical teaching is the way it radicalizes common morality. For instance, there is to be no limit to the forgiveness for injuries, not only the ground that it will win over the offender but because it corresponds to God’s forgiveness for us. Similarly love of enemies is enjoined not because it will win over the enemy (although of course it might) but because God loves his enemies. There is to be no restriction on neighbour love. Anxiety is the surest sign of lack of trust in God especially anxiety over possessions. So far from motive not being important provided the right action is done. Jesus was penetratingly critical of the self-love of ‘good’ people and it is clear from many passages in the gospels that he thought bed people to be not nearly so bad as the “good” thought them. Underlying all this teaching lies the fact that Jesus was a man of faith (trust). Faced with the ambiguities of existence he looked at the weather, the sun shining and rain falling alike on good and bad, and saw it as a sign of the unconditional goodness of the creative power of God. A sceptic would have drawn from the same evidence the conclusion that the universe is quite indifferent to moral worth, Ion this respect Jesus is an archetype for his followers….
His ethics is very different from an everyday ethic of doing good turns to those who do good turn to you: that is to say an ethic of reciprocity. This is invaluable as far as it goes. Social life requires a level of mutuality on which we can normally rely. One of the perils of international relations is that governments have not sufficient confidence in their relations with one another for mutuality to be relied upon. However, in our lives as citizens we do usually count on it. Some people behave better than the rule of reciprocity requires. Some keep it exactly on a fifty-fifty basis. Some get by with a minimum of co-operation. Some who do not even do that are likely to end up in prison. Jesus goes much deeper, explicitly warning against loving only those who love you, ad saying that there is nothing extra-ordinary in that…He goes beyond the world of claims and counter-claims, of rights and duties or something owed to others…. Jesus calls for a certain flair in life, a certain creative recklessness at critical points….The thrust (of the teaching of the Beatitudes) is towards a self-forgetfulness which results in an unselfconscious goodness. Writers on spirituality often call it disinterestedness. Jesus spoke severely against self-conscious goodness…In the allegory of the sheep and the goals the sheep are unconscious of either their goodness or of rewards. The rewards Jesus spoke of cannot follow form the direct pursuit of them. Indeed consciously to pursue disinterestedness is self-defeating. One cannot pursue self-forgetfulness. (p. 95-6)
The complexity of Christian ethics, the state which paradoxically follows a “non-pursuit” premised on an unconscious disinterestedness, seems so far removed from the STEM, male dominated, profit-and-extrinsic-rewards-driven, job-relevant, human-reductionistic, instant gratification culture in which we are currently impaled. And contemporary masculinity is, if permitted and recognized by the millions of men on the planet, regardless of our faith community, might like to be reminded of his “creation” in the image of God. And even the churches themselves, have either forgotten or lost sight of the complexity and the magnetic appeal of such an ethic.