In a liberal district of Stockholm, Sweden, a controversial type of social engineering is taking place at the "Egalia" preschool, where thirty-three kids between the ages of one and six are being taught in a carefully-designed environment meant to discourage gender stereotypes.
At the school, staff try to scrub language of specific gender references like the pronouns "him" and "her." ("Han" and "hon" in Swedish.) Instead, they use a genderless, fabricated word, "hen," which is found in certain gay and feminist circles. Blocks and Lego are strategically placed next to a toy kitchen, so as to discourage any artificial mental divisions between cooking and construction. And the school places an overall emphasis on tolerance of others, with classic, gender-role-stereotyping fairy tales replaced by children's books revolving around single parents, gay couples, and adopted children.
Compared to traditional schooling, this may appear strange (and the language thing is definitely weird), but it's hard to argue with the promotion of equality. And non-traditional forms of education like Montessori and home schooling seem to produce bright, successful adults. I don't see it as a place that will only crank out tomboys and metrosexuals like so many sausages. And the dolls the children play with are anatomically correct.
But some people see it differently. Jay Belsky, a child psychologist at UC Davis said, "The kind of things that boys like to do — run around and turn sticks into swords — will soon be disapproved of. So gender neutrality at its worst is emasculating maleness." And blogger Tanja Bergkvist, who's been a major critic of the school, says there's nothing wrong with different gender roles as long as they're equally valued, and calls the school an example of "gender madness" in Sweden.
Egalia's Director, Lotta Rajalin, while not denying the biological differences between boys and girls, stresses that those differences "don't mean boys and girls have different interests and abilities. This is about democracy. About human equality."