Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"You Would Have To Move To Bimini"

Recently, Andrea Leadsom, member of the British Parliament and environment secretary, raised a ruckus when she said:

". . . (L)et's face it, most of us don't employ men as nannies, most of us don't. Now you can call that sexist. I call it cautious and very sensible when you look at the stats. Your odds are stacked against you if you employ a man. We know paedophiles are attracted to working with children. I'm sorry but they're the facts."

People I know in the UK are up in arms and many folks have alerted me to these comments here, via email, and over Facebook. I suppose they're seeking my reply as a man in early childhood education.

When I was first offered my current job, I requested a meeting with one of my mentors, Tom Drummond, who I wrote about last week. I had several questions for him, but the most pressing one is this: "What do I do if someone accuses me of being a pedophile?"

His answer was concise and it's the one I in turn offer to men who have asked me this question over the years: "You would have to move to Bimini." I didn't press him any further because I knew exactly what he meant. Any accusation would end my career. I would have to leave. Period.

I don't agree with the specifics of what Ms. Leadsom said, but she was expressing a widely held belief that even the most open-minded of us often share, even if it is deeply buried. Honestly, if I were choosing a teacher for my child and one of them, no matter how wonderful, had that taint about him, I'd stay away. Not so much because I believed the accusation, but because it would be an unnecessary risk for me to take on my child's behalf. Now this would be true no matter the gender of the teacher, but I also know that Ms. Leadsom was expressing a statistical truth that men are more likely to be sexual predators than are women. Of course, the percentage of men who are pedophiles is exceedingly small, but if a man has that accusation hanging over his head, no matter how capricious, he really has no choice but to move far away. He will always be the one about whom others whisper, "Did you hear . . .?" It's not fair, but it's true.

And so that's how I've done my job for the past 15 years: knowing that any person at any time, well-intended or malevolent, can make it all go away with just a few words. Tom is right in that it would do no good to fight it or to deny it or to take someone to court. My continued employment, in a very real sense, is at the whim of anyone who walks through our doors.

I rarely think about it and I don't even like discussing it. When people ask, and they do, I give them Tom's Bimini line and try to let it end there. Yes, our school's policy, one that I support for the protection of both children and adults is that no adult can be alone with a child unless it's her own. If a child needs help in the toilet, for instance, I have to find someone to go with me. But that's about it. I still hug kids, hold them on my lap, grapple around with them, and do all the things a loving adult does with children because that's part of the job description.

Many years go, the mother of one of my students confessed to me that she had never told her father that her daughter had a male teacher because she feared how he would react. I know of many places where the male staff are forbidden to change diapers, and many other places where teachers simply aren't allowed to touch the kids or have such restrictions that any physical contact is superficial at best.

Ms. Leadsom is grotesquely wrong in her assertion that the "odds are stacked against you." The odds are exceedingly long that any given man is a pedophile, but she's right in that some of these men work for years to gain a position of trust in order to have access to children. It's sickening and sad that the rest of us are therefore suspect, but that's the way it is and there is little anyone can do about it. I have learned to live with it on my shoulder for every minute of every day, knowing that at any given moment I might need to pack my bags for Bimini.

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Eleanor said...

This is sad and I know why some men don't go into early childhood or just teach 'higher up'. In my experience as a teacher it has been refreshing and memorable working with the few male teachers I have. My daughter has one currently and he is great. So important to have a balance (yin and yang) in any work place and learning institutions...well life really.

Tom Shea said...

I have worked with and for children under five for over 40 years and, thankfully, I have never had to consider moving to Bimini. I encourage men to work in what is the most important part of every child's development - growing brains and bodies from 0-5. As for changing 'diapers' (nappies in the UK!)... I have yet to meet ANYONE male or female who likes that particular task - equally I have yet to meet any of the team who refuses. Any parents who question why we would use men to change diapers are met with the same retort, "would you let your husband get away without changing a nappy"... That works!

There are lots of reasons why more men, caring, capable and compassionate don't go into early years work.... Bigots is but one of them.... Tom, how about's us looking at the other ones... Tom x

Jen said...

I am reflecting on how, as a woman, I can offer a 7:1 child to adult ratio in a single adult environment within a family child care setting. As a teacher, I was told to keep my door open when working with a child 1 on 1, but as a care provider it is just the children and me. Changing diapers and clothes, toilet learning and explicit instruction on penis pointing while peeing. The trust that is put in me in my role is a rare example of female privilege.

Kena said...

My girls have always had male and female caregivers, and while you cannot 100% eliminate the what-ifs, you learn to trust. After all, while pedophiles are predominantly male, abuse of all forms comes from all genders.

Honestly, I don't want to rank the trauma of sexual abuse versus the trauma of shaken-baby syndrome or the trauma of cruel treatments like sitting for hours in solitary confinement (all of which are real risks too, even with female caregivers).

And I feel that we lose so much more by excluding men from early childhood education than by risking the infinitesimal risk of a bad one slipping through the gates of procedures and parental instinct.

greyhoundgirl said...

I understand the feelings, though I am a female. Many years ago as a young teacher and an out lesbian I had a parent report me to DCF and the state licensing agency for "not being a good female role model". I often felt like I was being watched more carefully than other female teachers. Unfortunately male teachers often do need to be more careful about being alone with young children where no other adults can see them, etc. in order to lessen the odds that they can be accused of abuse. I'm sure the cooperative nature of your center is also protective; parents get to know you and see "up close and personal" what you do each day. That builds a level of trust that may take longer in another setting.

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