Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Challenging the Notion of “Gender-blind” Classrooms

Let the media storm begin. A preschool in Sweden, Egalia, has decided to eliminate the words “him” and “her” and begin referring to students as “friends.” The purpose of this change is, according to a teacher at Egalia, to inspire children to be “who they want to be.” I respect the school’s commitment to allow their students freedom and individuality, but I do not think this is the best approach. In light of the recent media frenzy about Storm, the famous gender-neutral child, I do have a problem with creating classrooms that are “gender-blind.” It reminds me of the term “color-blind” some educators cite to combat racism in their classrooms. This is a poor approach since it does not acknowledge the wealth of knowledge students’ differences can bring to a classroom. Also, these differences can cause students to have strikingly different experiences in the classroom. To assume that treating each student the “same” would solve inequalities in the classroom is foolish, and I think an injustice to each student. TIME's article describes that another reason for this preschool’s decision is to fight the unfair advantage boys get in society. So calling a child “friend” instead of “him” or “her” is going to give girls an advantage against unjust structures of power in Swedish society? Wow, that’s a lot of pressure!

Instead of liberation from gender roles, this decision may confuse children and rob them of ways to define themselves. I support breaking down stereotypes in the classroom because I think teachers and the classroom environment are strong manipulators of gendered behavior. For example, at the preschool I volunteered with last semester their was a fairy tale day where the girls dressed as princesses and the boys were required to dress as princes. In an effort to open up possibilities for the students, the educators at Egalia may, in fact, be limiting the children’s exploration of what it means to be a boy or girl. While I am often on a crusade against labeling children, sometimes we need labels to better understand ourselves.

I respect the methodology behind the educators’ use of "him" and "her", but gender is an elusive concept, and as I’ve asked in a previous post, citing a clip from Modern Family, can anything or anyone truly be gender-neutral or “gender-blind”? Even if we try to accomplish this, are we all victims of the society in which we live? Can meaning only be made based on the labels of "male" or "female" we are given at a young age or maybe from birth with the blue and pink blankets? I would like to think "No"!


The label for this image of Annie Lennox on Google was "Androgyny is Cool." Is the prospect of gender neutrality now a trend that models and celebrities want to jump on the bandwagon of?

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