Teachers here avoid referring to one another as male or female by adopting the gender-neutral personal pronoun "hen"—meaning "they" in Swedish—as an alternative to the gender-specific "hon" and "han" ("she" and "he"). They also abandon "mummy" and "daddy" and refer to both as "parent"; use "fire-soldier" instead of "fireman". In the classroom, staff address individual children with their names instead of "him" or "her," and use "friends" to address groups of toddlers.
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Gender equality is enshrined by law in the Swedish education system, thanks in part to the first national curriculum for preschool in 1998. By 2012, the Swedish government had spent 110 million Swedish krona (almost $13.1 million) on promoting equal rights in schools. Nicolaigarden, a taxpayer-funded institution, is among the most radical examples of the highly egalitarian country's efforts to engineer equality between the sexes. But the law did not set out exact methodologies on how to achieve this, leaving places like Nicolaigarden to figure out the answers themselves."For us, the starting point was for staff to film each other to observe how girls and boys react to each other, who did not always conform to gender stereotypes," Wilkstrom explains. "We also researched how young children reacted to behavioral patterns displayed by animals. For example, when we asked children aged three whether they [thought] the duck at the front of the line with its partner and baby ducks trailing after them would be male or female, the answers were about 50/50.""However, when we asked the same question to the same group of children two years later, there was a staggering difference: The majority thought it was the male at the front of this line, not the female."The staff went through the process of re-evaluating gender stereotypes by jotting them down in a circular diagram divided into three categories: Colors, emotions, jobs and hobbies.
Girls here read lines by a prince and boys can play the beautiful princess.
"Should I maybe take the children from their parents at birth and turn them in to gender-neutral indoctrination centers where none other than gender experts themselves can have contact with the children?" she writes in an article for the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. "Several studies show that the different roles we take on are genetically determined, a biological fact to benefit over thousands of years of evolution—probably for us to survive."
I think that there might be a fear among some people that… we will rob their child of something. We only add. That is how we see it.
Wilkstrom also explains that the school and its staff "are not trying to preach some propaganda" and that they are doing this "in the spirit of inclusion.""It's important for these children to start questioning what it means to be male or female, before ideas start to cement," she argues passionately. "Why is it that a woman who adopts a stereotypically masculine job is seen as a success [more] than a man who adopts a more feminine job, such as a nurse? Why should it be that women wearing blue is never questioned where as a guy wearing pink might give off certain assumptions?""[But] if girls want to play the princess and the boys want to play the prince, they can do so too. That's why we like to cross out that line in the middle of it—no one should have to make a decision based on assumptions."
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