I've long subscribed to the theory that everyone is entitled to have an opinion and to express it freely. I'm a great believer in individuality, in the diversity of experiences and therefore views that develop as a result of this, and in the right to express an opinion as we believe it. Each to their own and all that, right? But lately, my beliefs have been challenged. In the early childhood education space that is my workplace, I am increasingly troubled by expressions of views that can only be described as cringe worthy, and are Simply. Not. OK. Exhibit A - "David" - who replied to a recent post on an early childhood Facebook forum in response to the question "what would you do if you found out your colleague was gay?" that he would be disgusted. Or Exhibit B - "Sarah" - who responded to a different post on a similar forum "do you think it's OK for an educator to wear a Burqa" with "she should take it off at work in case it scares the children". Apart from the fact that the questions should never have been asked in the first place because they are in and of themselves discriminatory, a number of other educators posting on both of these threads challenged these views, eliciting the same response from David and Sarah.... "well I'm entitled to my opinion." And here's where my position on respecting the views of others waivers, because actually - David, Sarah, no you are not entitled to these opinions. Not as early childhood educators, not in this sector, not when you are in the privileged position of impacting on the lives of very young children and families.
As early childhood educators, we are mandated to adhere to the requirements of the National Quality Framework, which includes Australia's first nationally approved Early Years Learning Framework. One of the key tenets of the EYLF is Belonging. It requires educators to think about how we support children to develop a strong sense of belonging in our centres. Contemporary research tells us that this sense of belonging is developed through building strong relationships with children, families and communities. Through these relationships, a sense of belonging and in turn strong self identity is developed in children. If we are genuinely committed to this requirement of the NQF, as we are legislated to be, then there is absolutely no room for opinions that exclude. Exclusion and belonging can never walk hand in hand. So I ask you David, what of the child whose parents are in a same sex relationship; still disgusted? Because this opinion that you feel a sense of entitlement to will impact on that family, and therefore that child whose sense of belonging is the business of your work as an educator. In Australia, our LGBTI youth have significantly poorer mental health and significantly higher rates of suicide than other Australians, with discrimination and exclusion being the key causal factors contributing to this appalling statistic. And it is opinions such as yours David, which contribute to this statistic. You may think that this is drawing somewhat of a long bow, but it’s not, because your work as an educator influences young children in their earliest years when their brain is developing so rapidly. And its also opinions such as yours Sarah, that contribute to the ongoing sense of alienation of young Australian Muslims, who, according to a recent report from the University of Melbourne, feel increasingly excluded because of the relentless questioning of their "Australian-ness".
So are we really entitled to an opinion, even when it may be offered without rationale or thought? I used to think that any perspective was worth something, if only to critique and consider another world view. However I don’t believe that there’s room in the early childhood sector to entertain opinions that exclude. There should always be space for professional development and education that can support educators to see the impact of their views on practice and to demonstrate change. So for the David’s and Sarah's amongst us, the opportunity for self reflection and and learning is now, and it's a requirement of your role as an educator.