One of the most obvious stereotypes in American society regards gender. Adults often do not think twice about dressing their daughters in pink and their sons in blue. However, as soon as young adult men and women graduate college and the male receives a higher positioned job offer than the equally educated female, these gender labels are suddenly a concern. Newman states in chapter four of his book, Identities and Inequalities (2007), "One of the most important aspects of identity that people must learn is gender. Distinctions along sex/gender lines are the cultural, institutional, even architectural foundations of everyday life. Its importance as a shaper of our social experiences is beyond debate. What is debatable, though, is where gendered traits and behaviors come from" (p. 109). Gender stereotypes have always been a problem, and even as some parents might work hard to avoid the stereotypes, (such as the parents of the twins in the beginning of this same chapter) children will learn how boys and girls "should" act according to societal norms through other means.
However, besides this creative naming of each component, Merrill Lynch does not have a large say on what their children learn and the setting in which they learn. Preschoolers are not learning how to invest money and toddlers are not evaluating the decreases in the stock market. While children do learn how to count, they do not spend all day learning mathematics. The center is accredited under the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and follows strict guidelines to maintain this honor. The center has very limited corporate involvement and almost no advertising, except for a few unavoidable objects. The toys are seemingly appropriate for what society would consider acceptable for both boys and girls to play with. The center also cares for a very diverse population including most minority groups. All children are of at least middle class social status, considering that their parents pay the private center a considerable amount for their services. Despite, this "developmentally appropriate" family center (by NAEYC's standards), children still fall into the preconceived gender roles of American society.
Most toys do not appear to be gender specific.
Two gender specific computer games found in the classroom. Computer games labeled as "for boys" and "for girls".
The second area of examination is how teacher and adult behavior influences the identity that children habituate. The heteronormative society has followed a constructionist approach about how girls and boys should behave. Newman states it plainly in his book, "Because gender-typed expectations are so ingrained, parents are often unaware that they are treating their children in accordance with them (p. 111). When a person is use to behaving in a particular way, it is often hard to realize that their behavior may not be the most appropriate. For example, in the classroom at MLFC, it is common for teachers to make unconscious judgements with their words and actions. When a child walks into the room for the first time of the day, a teacher often will make a suggestion depending on their gender. If the child is a girl, a teacher might suggest that they draw a picture of a princess or make a card for their mother. If the child is a boy, it is common for the teacher to suggest that they build a tall Lego tower. Although, boys might enjoy drawing, and girls might enjoy building with Lego's, gender stereotypes are reinforced because teachers have the idea in their head that each gender has a particular preference toward one activity than the other.
Teachers' actions, as well as verbal cues, are also part of the influence of gender roles as well. I have noticed that teachers in the center tend to yell at the boys and remove them from activities, while they give girls more warnings and use calmer voices when a child is disruptive. This enforces the stereotype that boys are more physical and unable to talk things out or control their physical behavior.
The last point I would like to discuss from my evaluation of MLFC is the way that advertisements impact the children in the classroom. According to Giroux's article in the collection Gender, Race and Class in the Media (2003), "Schools are being transformed into commercial rather than public spheres as students become subject to the whims and practices of marketers whose agenda has nothing to do with critical learning and a great deal to do with restructuring of civic life in the image of market culture" (p. 173). Schools are becoming giant billboards for companies selling various products to easily influenced children. As long as companies are willing to give funds, schools advertise their products in reciprocity.
Although advertising is a bigger problem for public schools, some private schools are falling “captive” to corporations as resources are traded for “billboard” space. Considering the close attachment between Merrill Lynch and the family center, it is expected that at least inferential messages would be advertised (Merrill Lynch is not owned by any media giants however, and is a large global entity.) However, the center is seemingly “ad”less; walls are blank except for child art work and important bulletins, that at most, bear the logo for “Bright Horizons”. As for toys and games there are only a few consistent brands that appear in each classroom. Lakeshore, Discount School Supply, and Scholastic are the main companies that toys are purchased from. However, each classroom is not limited to purchasing their toys from these manufacturers. While favoring some companies might seem like a marketing plot, it is difficult to say that play dough from one company is sending different messages than the play dough from another. In fact, most toys are removed from their original packaging and place in a plain basket so that the company which created the toy is unidentifiable by children. There are even a few center rules that limit advertising. For example, books, toys and games that have name brands such as Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, Barbie, and Sesame Street are not recommended for teacher purchase.
While classrooms appear to be essentially free of company involvement, advertising does sneak in. A company called Hatch supplies computers and internet safe desktops for preschool, kindergarten, and employee use (http://www.hatchearlychildhood.com/ ). Computers, mouse pads, and desk tops all display the Hatch logo. As far as I know, Hatch solely supplies developmentally appropriate toys for early childhood curriculum. Most of the computer games also sport their logos before children play them. Analyzing each program would take a considerable amount of time, though might yield interesting results.
Besides the Hatch influence on the computers, the only other possible advertising influence comes from food services, which is provided by Sodexo. Snacks such as Rice Krispy Treats and Tropicana Orange Juice are used frequently in the classroom. I did not find much information on which companies Sodexo is linked to but it does provide more than just food services. Different branches of Sodexo have been questioned on their nutritional values. Several children in schools in Chicago received food poisoning from burritos distributed by Sodexo. (The food in Eickhoff and Travers/Wolfe Hall are products of Sodexo and a sore topic among The College of New Jersey residents).
While the center is not as affected by companies as greatly as some other schools, the way advertising affects children is inevitable. Children love to bring in their Transformers magazines, talking dolls, and Hot Wheels. Daily children wear Spiderman and Disney Princess shirts. Advertising seems to sneak in through all the cracks. The impact of advertisements and companies are illustrated in the play of children. Whether they set up a Friendly’s ice cream parlor in the dramatic play area, or play Power rangers on the playground, the influence of advertising is unavoidable and affects a child’s perception of who they are and how they should behave.
Toys are removed from original packaging and placed in baskets without any logos or brand names.
Walls only show children's work and important bulletins. Advertisements are not to be found.
Standard puzzles and games are used, popular name brands are avoided.
My analysis of the childcare center showed that even though the center was free from gender specific toys and marketing, the children in the center were well aware of what is expected of boys and girls. Identity development and gender stereotypes are learned by children through a variety of means. Even in a developmentally appropriate center under NAEYC guidelines, constructionist views slip through the cracks.
Bright Horizons (2008) Retrieved May 20, 2008, from Web site: http://www.brighthorizons.com/
Dines, G. & Humez, J. (Ed.). (2003). Gender, race, and class in media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Hatch (2008). Retrieved May 20, 2008, from Web site: http://www.hatchearlychildhood.com/
National Association for the Education of Young Children (2008). Retrieved May 20, 2008, from Web site: http://www.naeyc.org/
Newman, D. M. (2007). Identities and inequalities. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Toys R'Us (2008). Retrieved May 20, 2008, from Web site: http://www.toysrus.com/
Walker, T. (2002). Who is Sodexho? Retrieved May 20, 2008, from LabourNet UK Web site: http://www.labournet.net/world/0209/sodprofile.pdf