Hannah Baynham invited Sara Bloomberg, Terri Hennessy and me to develop a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on ‘The Inclusive Classroom: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in the Early Years‘. The course will introduce concepts related to gender and sexuality, unpack what it means to be an inclusive educator, explore how to facilitate an inclusive environment as well as consider ways to support families in creating an inclusive community.
What I most value in this course is the personal and diverse storytelling that runs throughout. You will hear a wide range of stories and lived experiences of educators, children and parents who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community, but you will also hear from allies sharing their journey on how they cultivated practices of allyship and solidarity with their LGBTQIA+ kin.
In the spirit of storytelling, I would like to share my own story (which you will hear in part in the MOOC). When I hear folks question the need to address this topic in early childhood, I am always reminded of my own childhood, and how as a four-year-old I vividly remember having feelings for other boys. I did not have the language for or understanding of what I was experiencing, but over time I somehow realised it was unacceptable. With this growing realisation of what was acceptable, I tried to find ways to be ‘normal’ and to hide who I was. It has taken me over twenty years to see that being queer is okay, in fact, it is liberating.
One of the key moments that helped me embrace my sexuality was in the ‘Supporting Diversity in Early Years’ module for the Foundation Degree program at the Montessori Centre International (Unfortunately this program is no longer available as the organisation has decided to move in a different direction). Penny Johns was the module tutor, and she had developed an activity for the cohort to explore feelings of being marginalised. In this activity we had to organise ourselves based on our identities (gender, race, ethnicity, class and so forth). Penny invited us to organise ourselves into categories in order to explore feelings of being a minority as well as feelings of being the dominant group. When it came to sexuality, all the students (including myself) went to the ‘straight side’. But then I looked over on the other side and saw Penny, with a bold smile…unapologetic… It was a transformative moment for me, a moment where I sensed enormous courage and strength.
I share this personal story to emphasise that LGBTQIA+ children and adults exist all around us. I often wonder how the story of my life would have been different, if I had an early childhood educator, primary or secondary school teacher or an education system that celebrated difference. I hope the MOOC will enable adults to create early childhood spaces and homes where LGBTQIA+ children feel safe, accepted and celebrated.
Sid Mohandas is a former Montessori educator and teacher trainer, who is currently doing his doctorate at Middlesex University investigating gender in Montessori spaces using feminist ‘new’ materialist theories. Sid is the founder of The Male Montessorian and Montistory projects. He is also a guest lecturer for the Master’s program module Interrogating Policy and Practice for Social Justice at Middlesex University.