Professor: Small Preschool Chairs are Sexist, Problematic, Gendered

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An Australian professor argues that small preschool furniture is “problematic” and “gendered,” in a recently published academic journal article.

In an academic journal article published earlier this month, Professor Jane Bone of Monash University in Austrailia argued that preschool classroom chairs are “problematic” and “gendered.”

The article argues that the small chair is a contentious and ambiguous artefact, which is taken for granted in early childhood settings, but also problematic when considered from different perspectives – an apparatus that both supports and betrays the body/ies that are in contact with it. Chairs, as objects that furnish human lives, can also haunt those lives and give contradictory messages of power, comfort and suffering. Now and to come, the chair is a trace, a symbol, an instrument of torture and object of desire.

Bone focuses primarily on the experience of adult teachers, who she claims are forced to deal with these “instruments of torture” on a daily basis in their preschool classrooms.

“In my first intra-active encounter with the small chair, I felt that it talked back to me about the preschool as a workplace that is gendered, feminsed, child-focused and ultimately disempowering,” Bone wrote.

It is unclear what Bone has designated as her mission. To further distort her message, she includes a passage about “dead white males” haunting preschool classrooms: “In early childhood education, ghosts are always present. In terms of theory, early childhood education is haunted by the dead white males who still whisper their theories in the classrooms of the present, and inhabit thoughts and conceptualisations about children and their lives.”

Bone finishes by explaining that small preschool chairs remind adults that their body has transformed since it was once able to conform itself to such tiny pieces of furniture.

The body of the educator has to conform to the small chair, and one of the questions it leads me to ask here is if this is a means of keeping educators in their place and not according them their full value. It may be that the small chair also offers a way to remember childhood ways of sitting, and supports embodied knowing and affective moments. The small chair is a material sign of the shift from children always adjusting to the adult world towards child-centred environments. The small chair does its work in multiple ways. It forces a continued awareness of child and adult bodies in their similarities and differences; juxtaposes past and present; gives value to sitting over activity in educational spaces; makes the link between the chair and comfort less certain; and challenges the image of the professional educator in early childhood settings.

Perhaps instead of a 13-page incoherent diatribe that compares tiny chairs designed for tiny humans to “instruments of torture,” Bone could encourage preschools to purchase one adult-sized chair for each classroom.

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