Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Freedom of Speech

Just before Christmas I shared a post about gender issues - the original post was about males and females - but the dialogue soon expanded to that of transgender and more...

There was issue taken with whether this was appropriate to "teach" in ECE ... and there were discussions about this... but what came forth was that when it boils down to it, we all want to create a better more open, more accepting world - what was at issue was the "teach" in the sense that it was a formal lesson about transgender. Not one of the people speaking for transgender awareness mentioned formal lessons, but more about creating an atmosphere of acceptance where transgender is part of the norm rather than something different... ie that children do not grow up thinking that transgender (and other minority groups) are different but  simply people that have a different approach in life
yes I used the word different in both descriptions - but my intention is to explain that often different is seen as deviant, not like us... while we all know we have different thoughts from one another, we have different occupations, we have different approaches to life - but that we are not lesser for that.

Just about all the people who had misgivings about transgender in preschool changed their mind about it when given an explanation about how it could be done... not by formal lessons, but by creating open learning spaces, where children and educators could talk freely and openly without judgement... and also for the educators to be aware of their own prejudice (in all areas of life) and to attempt not to spread that prejudice but to allow children to form their own opinions (this is a really hard thing to do, as we are not always fully aware of our own prejudices, or how they manifest through words and actions - exploring and talking abut them is an excellent way to discover this... and hence the reason why transgender is one (of MANY) topics that ECE and all educators need to reflect on... not to create lessons, but as part of creating a democratic classroom where all are valued.

Back to the dialogue in the facebook group... there was one person that was never convinced, and found arguments against everything that was presented, including sharing youtube films of research stating that there was no need for transgender rights and no need for feminism.
It got to the point where some people were messaging me saying that he cannot be a real person/educator but that he was a troll promoting extreme right wing propaganda...

This discussion happened over a course of a few days... and in the end I started talking with my husband about it... who as a researcher (professor) told me about some excellent studies about the fact women were not being paid the same amount for the same job, or being valued in the same way as men (something this person had said and "proved" with a youtube film was a fabrication and that men and women were being equally paid).
So I shared the research in the group, to which this person then said that it was bad research... I mentioned this to my husband... my husband reacted by saying that this person was being irresponsible by saying things with such authority when in fact he did not know what he was talking about.

My husband and others repeatedly said I should ban this person from the group. This is something that really goes against everything I believe in... I think we should be able to discuss and have differing opinions, and that people should not be banned because they think differently.

I did some digging to find out who this person is... was it just a troll, or was it a real educator? I managed to find a person who knew this person and could confirm they had been trained as a educator and what level of education they had... below mine, and well well below that of my husbands. This is not to say that you need to have a lot of education to be a smart person, but it does give you more experience of understanding the difference between bad research and good research, it gives you the experience to have read more papers on an academic level of critiquing them, rather than just reading to gain more insight (keeping that critical thinking approach of course just not quite at the same level)...

So having had this researched challenged in the way it was i challenged the research that had been presented by this person as having a political agenda and were written/presented by people connected to politics)... I also said I was unable to continue the discussion because I was taking time of to be with my family for Christmas... I literally had just picked up my daughter at the station as she had returned from the other side of Sweden for the school holidays (and yes my daughter does highschool/A-levels on the other side of Sweden as it is one of the few places in Sweden that does marine biology special educational course - so I miss her a lot and my priorities are my family)

Then it got personal... I was accused of trying to defame this person (because I had questioned the evidence that had been presented, in the same way that this person has questioned the evidence I had presented) and that I was a typical left leaning person who bails out of a discussion...

I like to consider myself a non-political person, because seldom do these politicians speak for me... and to be honest I can't vote... I have lived too long in Sweden to be able to vote in the UK now, and my UK passport will not let me vote here in Sweden... I have no political voice...
So my voice I use for humanity. Not left, not right, but what I feel can help people value each other better... this I do through exploring how to support children and adults to be better listeners, about exploring what is a democratic classroom, what is democratic learning/teaching, and also to listen to the histories of people who feel they have been treated badly by the education system and also society, and try to think about how can we make this world a better place so that people no longer have to tell these histories?

This person made statements like women hug children too much, there is an educational institution where there are more men than women so the whole female inequality argument is false, that there are only 1% transgender people in the world so there is no need to talk about it... (my arguments that 1% of the world population is bigger than many countries' populations went ignored... and that it is more than the percentage of people that suffer from cancer worldwide... ALL people need to be seen, and need to be valued and given the treatment they need - whether that be medical, or being treated with respect)...

In the end I banned this person from the group.
I felt awful.
I was literally shaking.
My husband tried to comfort me by saying this person was not worth getting so upset by...
I pointed out that I was not upset by this person... in the discussion I had learned many things... I have learned more about the population of the world, of the percentage of various minority groups, I have learned I want to spend more time exploring what is identity... and also the meaning of other words...  The reason I was upset was the fact that I had done something I did not believe in... I cut off this person's freedom of speech in the group. I found it hard to reconcile with that.

I have not really been online since then. But I have been reflecting more and more about what is FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
I have come to the conclusion that it is simply NOT being allowed to say whatever you want... that it comes with responsibility. That it means you are giving others the freedom to express their opinions with an open mind... and this person was not doing that. This person was driving an agenda not participating in freedom of speech.
The rules of the group are such that you need to come to each discussion with the aim to learn from others, that you come to them with an openness, that there is no need to agree but there is a need to learn to understand the other point of view.
This person was not doing that...
On several occasions I pointed out that this person had now encouraged me to look deeper into a topic I had not considered before... this was not the case for this person who repeated the agenda over and over again to force the point... the sad thing is that this person is very articulate, so that if you are not well read in research yourself this person would be very believable... and this was a major part of why I banned.
There was no willingness to learn, there was only the agenda which could possibly misinform others, and that looking at the history of this person's participation in the group there was only activity in gender issues to rally the aforementioned agenda that feminism, transgender etc is fake news. (at the same time saying yes, these people exist - but placing them in a void in the sense that despite the fact they exist we should not talk about how they are treated - because that is fake news too).

This is a very different post for me that usual.
BUT I feel so strongly about the fact in ECE the foundations of each person is formed. If we create an environment where we value all people then these are great foundations for children to build their learning on and form their own opinions and hopefully learn to treat and value all people with respect, even those that are different from themselves, belong to a minority group etc - that we focus more on the similarities than the differences, at the moment I feel that there is more focus on the differences than the similarities... and that makes it harder to connect.

Freedom of speech is not simply the right to say whatever you want... we all have social responsibility... and one person's freedom to speak should not come at the cost of another...
this is why I have struggled banning a person... but there again this person was shutting down the speech of so many others with the words, phrases and links being provided - so for the sake of the group's freedom to express their ideas in a safe environment, one person was removed. Not all people with the same opinion as this person, just this one person who had the agenda to shut others down.

When working with young children I want to help them learn how to listen to each other, how to value the opinions of others, how to learn to understand why others might think differently from themselves. Working philosophically with children really helped this part of their social interactions and had an enormous impact on their play... there was more time for play and exploration and the learning that occurred through that. The children supported each other, built on each others theories, learned together, were amazing at conflict resolution because they also listened to the other side and not just from their own perspective (and this goes so much faster when both sides of the conflict are doing the same thing not just one of them). If one of these children was bullying the others by not listening, by saying that they had the only right answer and by providing evidence that others could pick holes in and yet the non-listening made it impossible for the child to be self critical - then I would take this child aside and learn more about why they were not interested in the opinions of others, I would play games that would allow this child to explore their listening abilities etc etc...
sadly I am not in the position to do this with adults that have a pseudonym facebook-name and clearly lives far far away from myself.

Yeah, I think I will struggle with this for a bit longer - but the dialogues that I have had with others about this situation (some of which followed the discussion) all support my decision.

Below are some quotes... some are there as part of sharing my thinking, and some are there to remind me that I need to keep on reflecting and thinking and working with myself to be a better educator and person.

I actually talked about this day with my children today... this was taken on Bastille Day in a small village in France... my 2 year old son knew that when there was dancing his sisters liked to dress up in swirly skits or dresses - and so he wanted to do the same... we had talked there would be dancing at Bastille day - so on went a skirt - and the three of them proudly danced in front of the whole village to live music - every eyebrow was raised because I had allowed a young boy wear a dress... luckily none of the children noticed, they were far too busy dancing.
My children have had that kind of freedom from us as parents to explore without judgement or fear that a skirt will change him... its just a skirt... he is who he is skirt or no skirt.


  1. Dear Suzanne,

    a lot of soul searching at the end of the year. I'm sure you did something that needed to be done. It is not OK to spread more disinformation in a community of educators in their search to provide a better education experience for the children they are working with. What I have enjoyed in the communities I followed online in the last year is this constant striving for insight en supporting one another in bringing out best to education. Not providing a platform for those who willingly spread prejudice and misinformation seems to me a civil duty. Thanks for taking that step for many of us. Have a healthy and happy new year.

    1. thank you... it was far from easy to come to this decision... but it is so important that we create spaces of freedom, openness, equality and respect... and not platforms of hate and prejudice.

      thank you for your words

  2. This was a great reflective post. Thanks for writing down your thoughts. I was not in on the Facebook discussion so I am writing with very little knowledge of how it transpired. I can imagine, though, that the person's intention was not to engage in dialogue to listen, but to engage in the dialogue to manipulate others to only see that person's point of view. Children censor others all the time when they feel like they are being manipulated and being forced to play by rules someone is using to dominate play. Censor may be a strong word. What they do is stop playing with that person, which is kind of a natural consequence censor.

    1. yes, children do censor by not playing... although even that can take time, I have seen children try and try again to make a play situation work...
      a lasting memory if of a child who used tears to get their way... and it worked with the child's parents and with most of the children too.
      I remember one child's frustration with these tears, sick of always having to assimilate to the crying child's will. The child simply threw (the soft) toys at the crying child and shouted "I can't deal with you anymore, have them and play on your own"...
      The crying child stopped crying and looked in shock... then looked at me, searching for sympathy... I looked back and simply said "this is what I have been trying to explain, the crying will not always work for you, others will get tired of it" - as I had been trying to support this child to find a different strategy to solve problems.
      The child stopped using tears to manipulate others... only when tears were needed to convey hurt or sadness, as part of real emotions. Children really do teach children... we are adults are mere guides...

      I wish adults learned in the same way...

    2. that is a great example. It may be easy to combat manipulation when you know it is manipulation. Sometimes adults/teachers are manipulative without recognizing it. I remember my son coming home from grade school one day declaring that, from this point forward, he was a vegetarian. We were surprised but said that if that is what he was going to be we would honor his wishes. We later found out that the teacher had brought in an animal rights activist to do a presentation on animal cruelty with graphic videos and pictures. I really had no problem with that, but there was no countervailing point of view presented. And that is what I had a problem with. Not only that, by presenting only one side of the argument, no matter how noble, the teacher and presenter were in essence telling these 2nd graders what to think. There was no effort to have the children construct their own questions and thus their own knowledge. In a way it was a kind of hidden brainwashing or manipulation. We do not want to tell children what to think. And we do not want children to please us by thinking the same way we do. Rather, we want children to know how to think on any given subject. Does that make any sense? Sorry for the tangent. It should not take away from your brilliant post.

    3. it makes complete sense... what we want is for children to be able to make their OWN INFORMED decisions.