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By Dorothy W. HewesGo to page: 1 2 3 4
Although fathering has become recognized as a vital element in the lives of young children, few men work in preschool classrooms. If we consider that "ECE" now stands for Early Care and Education, this historical perspective provides some clues about why we still have a sex role division between the care of young children and their education. In 1620, Pilgrims we honor at Thanksgiving settled in New England so that they could practice their own religion. Their Geneva Bible became a determining factor in our male/female relationships. In Genesis, God told Eve that Adam should rule over her. This meant that the colonial father was a surrogate for God, manager of the household's financial affairs and dominant over all those living within it.
When colonial ministers established the basis of today's educational system, they incorporated the teachings of Martin Luther. After breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church in the mid-1500s, Luther had advanced the radical idea of public schools for both boys and girls. He also started translations of the Latin Bible into other languages so that everyone could gain salvation. In 1642, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law requiring families to teach their children to read. They had to be literate when enrolling in the first public schools that opened five years later. Fathers were given major responsibility for teaching them, with lessons usually starting by age three.
The Bible also said that to spare the rod would spoil the child. Discipline was of critical importance. Whippings were both a reinforcer of education and an indication of loving concern. If a boy got a whipping at school, his father might give him another when he got home. Although discipline was strict, evidence of paternal caring can be found in journals and letters. Cotton Mather, a colonial minister, wrote in his diary that "When the Children at any time come my way, it is my custome to lett fall some Sentence or other that may be monitory and profitable to them." However, corporal punishment was the dominant method of parenting. John Witherspoon's 1802 "Letters on Education" were typical, emphasizing absolute authority over children. "Since the rod is the evidence of love, what is said of our Father in heaven, 'Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.'" It was not until 1892 that Kate Douglas Wiggin predicted, "It seems likely that the rod of reason will replace the rod of birch."
Parental roles and teaching methods began to be modified after educational leaders visited Pestalozzi's Swiss boarding school between 1805 and 1825. They observed male teachers conducting a program that alternated lessons and games, with children encouraged to explore the natural world and to discover things for themselves. (Our preschool "science tables" date to this period.) Curiosity was encouraged and there was no corporal punishment. Importation of his system opened the doors for women teachers when some of America's first normal schools were opened by Pestalozzi's advocates.
The label of "Farms to Factories" has been applied to the period beginning around 1830. During the previous two centuries, most families shared agricultural duties or lived in small towns. As the middle-class developed, fathers became preoccupied with making money and establishing businesses. Mothers began exerting more power inside and outside their homes. Relaxed religious views and improved literacy for girls, together with cheaper printed materials, brought about a "cult of true womanhood" through magazines and guidebooks. Mothers could take time for outside activities without losing their virtues of "piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity." However, another class of Americans had developed as the population grew through immigration and reproduction. There were now pockets of extreme poverty in the expanding cities, with entire families working in the textile mills and other industries.
It was into this altered environment that the kindergarten was introduced to America in the 1860s. After observing Pestalozzi's methods, Friedrich Froebel had opened a boarding school for boys and girls in 1816. His 1826 book, translated as Education of Man (although he had used a German term that included both sexes), described a method of learning through self-activity. After he became concerned because children entering his boarding schools were lacking in preparation, he developed the kindergarten in which children aged three to sevenlearned through play. It introduced such elements as blocks, circle time, and sand tables the basis for our early childhood education of today. That first "institution for the training of little children" opened at Blankenberg, in what was then eastern Germany, in 1837. His partners were his wife, his brother, and former soldiers who had become his friends in the war against Napoleon. Observers wrote that they were all much loved by the young students. One indication is Froebel's coat, in the museum located in his boyhood home, with its "Captain Kangaroo" type pockets that were repeatedly pulled loose by children hanging upon them and then stitched back with threads that don't match.
In our consideration of sex roles, however, a critical point came early in Froebel's plans. He respected women's abilities, perhaps because his minister father had enrolled him in a girls' elementary school instead of the one for boys. When Froebel could not interest fathers to support his plan, he turned to mothers and other women. At the formal opening of the first kindergarten, in 1840, he appealed to "German Wives and Maidens" to establish an institution for the training of governesses and teachers. From that point onward, Mothers Clubs and kindergartens with training classes began their spread across Europe. Disaster struck in 1851 when a government decree closed the Prussian kindergartens on the pretense that Froebel was an atheist and a socialist. It is generally agreed, however, that the main concern was his preparation of women teachers. Even with the overwhelming support of Germany's major educational officials and organizations, the ban continued until 1860. Froebel died "of a broken heart" in 1852,
but his widow and others continued his work.
Elizabeth Peabody, the eccentric Bostonian who opened the first English-speaking kindergarten in 1860, carried out her "crusade" for the next 20 years. Her version of the system, taught by women, was carried out through dictated and structured lessons. She warned that salaries were so low that kindergarten teachers must be "above mere pecuniary motive" as they worked with God on the paradisical ground of childhood. Christian service meant that women became volunteers in kindergartens and men contributed financially to their projects. By 1880, many of the 400 kindergartens in the United States were their "caring" programs in poverty areas, often in settlement houses.
Although Peabody's dedication was important, a more authentic kindergarten methodology became known in America primarily through German immigrants who had fled the country after an aborted revolution of the 1840s. Some demonstrated his egalitarian sex roles. For example, John Kraus had been a friend of Froebel and Maria Boelt้ had studied with his widow. They met after coming to the United States and married in 1873. A major contribution was their co-authored Kindergarten Guide, published in 1877. Together, they operated a New York Seminary that graduated 1,200 kindergarten teachers before closing in 1913. In a letter published in Peabody's Kindergarten Messenger, in a presentation to the National Education Association and at other times, Kraus emphasized that both men and women should teach young children. In kindergarten classrooms across America, however, women teachers survived on meager wages or were volunteers because breadwinner husbands approved.
The feminist campaign to get voting and other rights to women had little effect upon paternal responsibilities and maternal submission. A parallel movement, the development of domestic science in the 1890s, was designed to dignify homemaking. It evolved into college home economics departments, where most preparation for ECE teaching still takes place and students are almost always female. The late 1890s and early 1900s also saw the emergence of several professions related to families and young children, including child psychology. As Hulbert has pointed out in Raising America, male experts of the 20th century became purveyors of enlightened parenthood. They developed the skills of mothers but reduced fathers to amateur status. For example, the four million copies of the U.S. Children's Bureau bulletins distributed between 1914 and 1925 were for "the average mother" but didn't mention fathers at all. Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care became a best selling guide for mothers after its first edition in 1946, but it was not until 30 years later that he began to include fathers as parents.
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