In the Equality Framework, Baker et al. (2004) identifies the four pillars of equality within education: equality of resources; equality of respect and recognition; equality of power and equality of love, care and solidarity (pg, 144).
Often times, the culturally marginal are treated as ‘others’ and can be seen as inferior (Baker et. al 2004). Gender is an issue that has been discussed in all disciplines and links closely with inequality in education in terms of lack of recognition and respect. In the 18th and 19th century, men were considered intellectually superior to men. Women were socially and academically disadvantaged. Gender inequalities were clearly evident in the education system allowing women limited or no access to education. During the French Revolution in the late 1700’s, we can see gender inequality at its finest in terms of education. Émile, by Rousseau shows us the inequalities that existed between boys and girls at the time. He wanted to create the ideal woman of nature to match Emile, the man of nature. He believed the education of women should be designed according to the needs of man: ‘to be pleasing in his sight, to win his respect and love, to train him in childhood, to tend him in manhood, to counsel and console, to make his life pleasant and happy’ (Rousseau, 1762, pg. 328). According to Rousseau, the education of women prepared her for her future profession as wife and mother in accordance with nature rather than an intellectual development which would lead to economic independence (Harford, 2005). The education of a woman was mainly to support the ambitions of man rather than to educate the woman for her own ambitions. However, during the enlightenment, Mary Wollstonecraft confronted Rousseau’s views. In her writing, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), she fought for the rights of women and for importance of women to be educated. She argued that women need to be intelligent in their own right as they cannot assume that her husband will be. She hoped to ‘persuade women to endeavour to acquire strength, both of mind and body’. Wollstonecraft believed that by educating women, liberation and independence would exist. In this work, she challenges the ideologies Rousseau and other philosophers who considered women as artificial, weak, subordinate people, incapable of effective reasoning (Martin, 2001, pg. 76). Wollstonecraft also wanted boys and girls to be educated together which shows her thinking was ahead of her time. By the 19th and 20th centuries, reformed thinkers began putting her ideas into practise, with many coeducational schools existing today. Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Human’, has had an important impact on the education of women today which now provides significant opportunities for women. With equality of education for women, we can see how we live in a much more inclusive and equal society unlike Rousseau’s vision of a male educated dominance. We can see how accepting and working together has addressed many issues in terms of gender and access to education for women. Living in a more pluralistic world now, we can see how the issue of female gender has been developed and changed in terms of education over the last 300 years.
The lack of equality for teachers in Ireland is also a changing problem in education especially for teachers of the LGBT community. When speaking of equality of education in today’s modern world, we must mention and include all nine grounds of society which include sexual orientation, ethnicity, race and religion. The Sociology of Education lectures highlighted to us that when looking at equality in education we should include teachers and their unique identities, as well as children. Teachers in Ireland were and still continue to be contextualised as white, Catholic, heterosexual, middle class, conservative and female. (Canny, 2015; pg 233). However, we must begin to understand that Irish society is changing and that teachers now have different traditions, cultures and personalities. Developing equality of respect and recognition allows us to explore different ways teachers may face inequality and exclusion in their professional lives.
We must realise that the main and most important role for our teachers is to educate our children and lead by example. Our teachers need to feel included, comfortable and supported in their role, as this will impact their morale which in turn affects the children they are teaching. One group that is continually being isolated and ignored in the field of education is people part of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) group. There is a stigma placed around homosexuality although this is part of our lives nowadays. This is an area where a pluralistic approach needs to be taken to allow this group to co-exist in society, especially in terms of education. While legislation states you cannot be discriminated based on the nine grounds, sexual orientation being one, there are exemptions in place by the Employment Equality Act section 37.1, protecting the school’s ethos. This in turn allows school managements to disregard people of the LGBT community because of their private lives (Canny, 2015, pg 242). This also makes it very difficult for teachers and the school to combat homophobic bulling from children, parents and other school staff. Kissen (1996), vividly outlines the feelings and worries associated with being a gay or lesbian teacher. There is the risk of being ignored and labelled by their work colleagues and the school community, fear of being targeted by parents and/or children and it prevents them from having authentic relationships and being who they are. A lot of LGBT teachers feel ‘vulnerable and isolated’ (Gamble, 2014). Employment security is another issue for LGBT teachers. They fear they won’t have an opportunity for promotion or contract renewal. This makes them worry about their appearance and ‘conceal their identity’ because they don’t want to be identified as gay or lesbian. They may also try to ‘dress straight’ or ‘like a teacher’. (Kissen, 1996: pg 42). Symbols like freedom rings, rainbow stickers or pink triangles are a source of pride to many gay and lesbian people, yet most teachers do not feel comfortable displaying them at school (Kissen, 1996; pg. 43). As a result, people may have to put on an act for the sake of getting a job, can we really say this allows our teacher to lead by example? This oppression and living a lie definitely impacts negatively on a person’s confidence and self-esteem.
How can teachers be honest and look after children who are part of the LGBT community if the can’t speak out themselves? What kind of role models can teachers be if they ignore issues like homophobia in the school? Homophobia is defined as ‘the fear of being labelled homosexual and the irrational fear, dislike or hatred of gay males and lesbians’ (Minton, 2008). Homophobic bullying is linked to prevailing negative attitudes towards people of non-heterosexual sexual orientation (Norman et al. 2006). A lot of children in Ireland, in both primary and secondary school, face issues relating to homophobia and homophobic bullying on a daily basis. According to Glen, the word ‘gay’ is the main term of abuse used within schools. (2009; pg. 22). Studies have also shown that 80% of Irish teachers knew about verbal homophobic bullying taking place within the school and many do not address the problem. Common reasons were parental disapproval (18%), a lack of experienced staff (17%) and a lack of policy (16%). When schools allow a culture like this to develop or ignores bullying based on sexual orientation, they are failing to give students a safe place for learning (Lodge & Lynch, 2004; p.42). It is crucial to make specifically respond to differences and diversity in school’s ethos and policies as this sends an important message to all students, including children of the LGBT community, that they are important and equal members of the school and will be encouraged and supported to develop to holistically and to their maximum capability.
The issue of the loss of childhood is also an area of change in terms of education. Parents have less power over their children since the introduction of technology. As we know the term childhood has had different meanings at different periods of time. In the book, Centuries of Childhood (1960), Phillippe Aries argued that, ‘the idea of childhood did not exist’ in the middle ages (p 128). Children began work at a very early age and were seen as ‘mini-adults’ with the same rights, duties and skills as adults. The law made no distinction between children and adults with children facing severe punishments, just as adults would. Aries also examined art work from the time period, from which he argued that children appeared ‘without any characteristics of childhood’, they were adults drawn in smaller scale. The paintings show that both children and adults were dressed in the same clothing while working and playing together. However, Jean- Jacques Rousseau transformed our thoughts of children and childhood. The central aim of Emile (1762) was the freeing of children from the tyranny of adult expectations and to allow them to develop at their own pace. He believed in the importance of nurturing different stages of children’s lives through developmentally appropriate e activities allowing children to be treated as a child rather than ‘miniature adults’. He believed in the importance of physical activity for children, that children should learn from their immediate experiences and interests and should learn through investigation. People nowadays still debate whether childhood is better or worse, with many interesting arguments from both sides.
Some of the arguments from people arguing childhood is better now include improved healthcare, reduced infant mortality rates, the extension of time in which children are in full-time education and the development of legal rights for children.
Arguments that childhood is worse now include that there is obesity and health problems among many children, increased rates of depression and mental health problems, increased pressures on children and young people to ‘succeed’ and also damage inflicted on many children due to the break-up of their family.
Sue Palmer is a former principal and literacy expert who is well-known for her book ‘Toxic Childhood: How the modern world is damaging our children and what we can do about it’. She believes that childhood is worse now which is leading to serious problems such as ADHD, obesity, bad behaviour, depression, autism and sleep deprivation. She believes that: ‘every year children become more distractible, impulsive and self-obsessed – less able to learn, to enjoy life, to thrive socially.’ (2006, pg. 14). Neil Postman is also of the belief that childhood is worse now. From his book, the Disappearance of Childhood, Postman reveals that the line between childhood and adulthood is fading and that the reason for this is communication technology. He believes the invention of childhood came from the creation of the printing press. Before the inventing of the printing press, information was passed on orally. Majority of people were illiterate, and speech was the main form of communication. Children had mastered speech by around the age of seven and were then no longer considered children. Once the printing press was invented, literacy became the great divide, with adulthood dependent on being literate which allowed parents to monitor the information being passed onto the children;
‘it came to be accepted that the child did not and could not share the language, the learning, the tastes, the appetites, the social life of an adult.’
This meant that children were expelled for the adult world, which created another world, known as childhood (Postman, 1982, p.20). This, however, began to crumble with the invention of electronic information such as the television. From television, children have access to the modern adult world as it runs 24 hours a day with hundreds of different channels. Now in the 21st century, there is even more access to technology and it is even more difficult to monitor the information the children receive. Children now have the availability of social media, iPhones, iPads, laptops, bloggers, clothing and celebrity culture at their finger-tips. Having access to this adult information brings them back into the adult world and the deleting of childhood and childhood innocence. With children wanting to be online and playing on different devices all the time, children’s levels of physical activity are decreasing which is leading to serious problems with diseases related to inactivity such as obesity and diabetes. The overuse of technology is having a serious impact on children’s education and it is import that we, as teachers, aim to tackle this problem. The diagnosis of autism, depression, coordination issues as well as many other issues are partly caused by overuse of technology and is increasing at a serious rate. Just like Aries realised in the medieval times of children dressing like adults, parents nowadays also dress their children in similar clothes that adults would wear, such as little boys in suits. Therefore, we are left with the notion of the disappearance of childhood. We understand that children know a lot more now than what they did in the past and we as teachers need to educate children on the information they receive through technology. This is a changing problem in education as children now have televisions in their bedroom, have access to the internet 24/7 and often receive unfiltered information through these sources.
Another issue and changing problem in education is the inclusion of religious education on the school curriculum. In Ireland just over 90% of schools are run under the catholic patronage (DES, 2009), however as we know this is a huge conflict with reality as Ireland is a hugely diverse society nowadays. These schools are also almost totally funded by the state (Spicer & Sides, 1996). Most parents have no choice but to send their children to a catholic school, especially families living in rural areas. The Humanist Association of Ireland believe that children from religious and non-religious backgrounds should be educated together. This would allow everyone to be included at present in denominational schools, children of different religions are being withdrawn from the classroom or are given extra work during religion. Can we as teachers consider ourselves to inclusive if we are only teaching beliefs about one religion to a portion of the class? The aim of the Humanist Association of Ireland is to keep the child’s mind as open as possible (Spicer ; Sides, 1996). They also believe that education should give people the ability to be curious and to question rather than to automatically follow the beliefs of their parents. The pluralist and multidenominational is represented at primary school level through Educate Together schools. I believe that at this time the best way forward is multi denominational schools. The aim of these schools is to expose children to all world views without inviting them to participate in any from within the school. Multi denominational schools have four key principles. They include children of all faiths, they use a child centred model, includes both genders and is democratically run. The Learn Together curriculum was launched in 2004. These schools do not require a religious affiliation. In these school children learn about religions and philosophies that they will encounter in society and develop an understanding from these beliefs (Educate Together 2004). Children wanting to attend multi denominational schools are given access on a first come first served basis unlike denominational schools who discriminate at point of entry requiring baptismal certs and proof of religion. It is my opinion that religious beliefs should be practised outside of school hours to allow children to taught by the church. Religion in schools can also cause a lot of problems for teachers especially if they do not believe in the faith. They may also find it difficult to get a job without a Certificate In RE. Teachers are currently responsible of nurturing children’s affiliation to an ecclesial community which they themselves may not be sufficiently or fully committed to. (Kieran and Hession, 2005; pg. 55). These schools are far more inclusive and allow all children to be educated in an equal and fair way. This leads to a more pluralistic society and combats the changing problem of religion in education.