Date of Award

2018

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Child Development

Abstract

The goal of this study was to explore gender beliefs of teachers in Orthodox Jewish coeducational early childhood programs and give voice to their experiences and viewpoints. Concurrently, a feminist poststructural and queer theory lens was utilized to uphold Gorsetman and Sztokman’s (2013) claim that Orthodox Jewish schooling is fraught with messages and discourses that inhibit “educating for the divine image” (p. 30). This study maintained the need to examine gender consciousness within Orthodox Jewish schooling to promote inclusion and equality.

As young children actively engage in gender construction, teachers play a vital role reinforcing and/or challenging norms and available discourses. Research suggests that early childhood educators generally support gender equality and exploration yet are often unaware of their role in promoting heteronormativity relying on gender as naturally developing (Cahill & Adams, 1997; MacNaughton, 2000; Davies, 2003; Blaise, 2005; Hogan, 2014; Warin & Adriany, 2015).

The 15 teachers interviewed described gender differentiation as inevitable, simultaneously affirming the values of individual difference and the “the classroom is for everyone.” Heteronormativity regulated teachers’ potential reactions to children, particularly related to boys cross-dressing and “multiple mommies.” However, differing perspectives persisted revealing uncertain parameters in the role of the teacher within Orthodox Jewish education, highlighted by a described lack of gender dialogue within schools. The gendered ritual roles within the Shabbat (Sabbath) party and davening (praying) time were relatively

unquestioned guided by religiously influenced gender beliefs rooted in traditional or “God-given” differences and values of the idealized family. Teachers, though, described how these experiences within Orthodox Jewish life are more flexible and varied than instituted in the classroom. Some standard classroom ritual practices and individual teacher’s choices and concerns differed from Orthodox Jewish norms revealing conflicting notions of the classroom as “its own world” or a reflection of a perceived monolithic Orthodoxy. Navigating multiple often contradictory beliefs about children, gender, Judaism, and teaching was a shared experience with some varying approaches.

Implications of this study suggest rethinking gender in the Orthodox Jewish early childhood classroom to incorporate more intentional gender flexible practices and discourses best achieved via greater critical self-reflection and school-wide dialogue.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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