Sloan’s bizarre rant exposes broader conservative disdain for ECEC

What began as a short, strange and fairly callous blog post by Judith Sloan on “dim-witted” educators from “second-rate universities” has reached national attention thanks to the author’s appearance on ABC’s Q&A.

It hardly seems worth going into Sloan’s lack of apology, or indeed evidence for her assertion. The point of the article, assuming it had one, was surely to generate publicity for Sloan herself – wholly successfully.

I posted a fairly light-hearted and “snarky” response to the blog on Friday night, which was written less out of frustration with her view of my work than by confusion as to the frankly bizarre content.

But it’s worth taking a slightly more serious look at her published thoughts, as they showcase the fairly common conservative or right-wing perspective on early childhood education.

Sloan’s inclusion of the term “Stalinist straight jacket” is telling. The notion of universal access early childhood education (ECE) for all children is a direct attack on conservative “family values”.

The conservative argument is essentially that the best place for a child, any child, is in a stable home with Mum and Dad (certainly not two Dads, or two Mums, but we’ll save that for another entry).

Anything outside of that, particularly when it is run or funded by Government, is a left-wing form of social engineering, designed to produce Little Leftists. Coincidentally, the “second-rate Universities” Sloan casually mentions are also often accused of being Socialist-factories.

Now the view that children are better off with a loving Mother and Father (and more usually the Mother) is a deceptively simple one, and any arguments for and against are usually run with high emotions on both sides.

Proponents of universal access to ECE argue that it provides a level playing field for all children, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. These two viewpoints represent the nerve that Sloan hit on (with no regard to subtlety).

Those who argue, like myself, for universal access to high-quality ECE programs with highly qualified teachers and educators are usually hit back with the same arguments.

“So you’re saying that you can only be a good parent if you have a degree?” “So you’re saying if I don’t send my child to childcare I’m making them stupid?”.

To be clear, as I so often have to be, I am certainly not saying either of those things. Do I believe that high-quality ECE can be of benefit in the long-term to children? Yes.

But I never attended childcare when I was a young child. I still did well in school, have a University degree (admittedly not from one that would meet with Judith Sloan’s approval) and have a great job in a sector I love.

My parents had no degrees in early childhood education, but helped set my brother and I up to work hard in our studies (primary, secondary and tertiary) and in our work.

However, I was extremely fortunate to have two well-educated, stable and loving parents with no mental health issues or disabilities. I was given every chance to be successful.

But we are part of a society where not every child has those same opportunities. Some children will grow up in challenging and disruptive environments, where their parents are suffering immense challenges of their own.

Advocating for universal access to ECE is about ensuring that any child, no matter the circumstances of their home life, can be given the same head start I was given.

Such a system would mean that any child could even have the opportunity to attend a first-rate, Judith Sloane-approved University!

Individually-focused learning through fun and play, targeted work on social skills and developing a love of learning can be of immeasurable benefit to young children. These are the focuses of the “Stalinist” National Quality Framework (NQF) for Early Childhood Education and Care.

The main document we use to support children’s learning, the Early Years Learning Framework, actually encourages children’s learning to be unique, individual and contextual to each child and their community. It asks educators to consider diverse perspectives when supporting children’s learning.

About as far away you can get from teaching every child to think and act the same. It almost makes me wonder whether Sloan bothered to check it out all.

The NQF is also there to ensure children’s health and safety – surely a reasonable ask when you consider that the latest figures show that over a million children are now in some form of ECE program.

Ireland’s loose system of regulation and minimal oversight has resulted in terrible outcomes for children, and is rightly coming under increased scrutiny.

Considering that we have a similar system of lowly-paid, overworked and as evidenced so clearly by Sloan also a disrespected workforce of educators and teachers, tight regulatory controls are an absolute necessity to ensure children are safe.

ECE is not about replacing parents. It’s about recognising that supporting young children to reach their potential can have significant benefits to society as a whole, including lifting families out of generational disadvantage.

These arguments will never convince conservatives like Sloan, who instinctually see any Government work with children as the worst form of socialism.

But for people like myself, dim-witted or not, our work with children is vitally important. All children deserve the best possible start in life, and I will continue to advocate for the work do.

This article was originally published on the New Matilda website.

Judith Sloan on Q&A

Judith Sloan appeared on ABC’s Q&A program on Monday, as was asked a question about her comments on “dim-witted” educators from “second-rate” universities.

Her “defense” of the comments is certainly worth a watch.

Sloan is clearly unapologetic, and as her comments were clearly designed to provoke a response and raise her own profile this is hardly a surprise.

What’s sexism got to do with it?

Well, we can at least find some small reason to thank Alan Jones.

The most recent episode of Q&A featured the Minister for Early Childhood Education Kate Ellis treated with derision and disrespect by her three male fellow panelists –and arguably also by the host, Tony Jones, who allowed the Minister to have her answers regularly interrupted and denigrated.

Without the uproar of Alan Jones’ recent comments regarding Julia Gillard, and a climate where this casual sexism is now being increasingly highlighted, this may have been just another episode where a female guests’ opinion was treated as less important than those of the men on the panel. Same old, same old. Another brick in the wall.

Thankfully, the shameful antics of Piers Ackerman, Christopher Pyne and Lindsay Tanner have been rightfully highlighted by a general public who have been forced to confront the serious undercurrent of misogyny still in place in Australian discourse.

So Alan Jones can at least take a bow for causing so much uproar that we are now actively seeing the treatment of women in the public sphere for what it is – a serious problem.

I am not here to defend Kate Ellis. She is accomplished, intelligent and perfectly capable of dealing with the schoolyard antics of three bully boys.

am here to defend the member of the audience, and those she eloquently represented, who asked Minister Ellis a question about the staffing crisis in Early Childhood Education and Care (childcare).

ECEC is facing a dramatic staff shortage at a time when new regulations have been put in place to improve the quality of care and education offered to Australia’s children. This is a critical and serious issue.

A key factor (yes Christopher Pyne, not the only factor but a significant one) is the shockingly low wages of those who train to educate young children in ECEC settings. As I have discussed before, this is due in no small measure to the perception of the role as “women’s work”.

As Fair Work Australia ruled earlier this year, there is still a large inequity in pay rates between men and women, particularly in the community sector – a sector that is still seen as “women’s work”.

Although ECEC wasn’t a part of this ruling, it is a extreme example of the inequity – women make up 97% of the workforce and are hugely undervalued in the community for the work that Early Childhood educators undertake.

But when this issue was raised on Q&A, rather than allow Minister Ellis to respond and engage with the Early Childhood teacher who had raised it, she was smugly and cheerfully talked over by Ackerman and Pyne.

Now, this will of course by shrugged off as the “rough and tumble” of politics, and no doubt Minister Ellis has (and unfortunately will) endured worse. But for the person who asked the question, and those like myself who support her, it is yet another casual example of the lack of interest and respect for the work we do.

Educating and caring for young children would still be a challenging and difficult job even if we were paid like Government MPs. Despite what one elected representative would have us believe, it is not enough to just “do it for the love of it”.

If the panelists were serious about challenging notions of sexism and misogyny in the community, and within education specifically, they would have had an actual debate about the issues.

There could have been a lively debate about the Coalition’s plans for ECEC (beyond simply rolling back the regulations). We could have discussed the Government’s increase in funding to the sector, but the lack of impact that has had in reducing staff turnover.

The idea of having that debate was exciting to those of us who tuned in to Q&A on Monday night. Our voices don’t often get heard, and the debates are usually only about fees and waiting lists. This could have been a wonderful opportunity to actually engage with the substantive issues facing the sector.

Instead, because childcare is “women’s work”, and also because the Minister with responsibility for the sector is a woman, it quickly degenerated into farce. Early Childhood Education and Care has always been the victim of this casual sexism, and it will take a concerted effort on the part of our leaders to change that.

So a big round of applause for Lindsay Tanner, Christopher Pyne and Piers Ackerman. I hope you felt your cheap, political point-scoring was worth ignoring and undermining the serious issues that face the Early Childhood Education and Care sector.

The passionate Early Childhood teacher who asked the question deserved a lot better than that.