The Swedish preschool experiment: “gender nonconforming” one- to five-year-olds

A Swedish preschool is being celebrated for encouraging children to not conform to traditional gender roles. The teachers at Seafarer’s Preschool, which is located in a suburb outside Stockholm, are concerned that children absorb too much from popular culture about what boys and girl should be like, and want to change the attitudes of the children in their charge.

The danger is, in trying to avoid “indoctrination,” they are actually indoctrinating these kids, teaching them that their natural gender expression was forbidden:

The boys were clamorous and physical. They shouted and hit. The girls held up their arms and whimpered to be picked up. The group of 1- and 2-year-olds had, in other words, split along traditional gender lines. And at this school, that is not O.K. 

Their teachers cleared the room of cars and dolls. They put the boys in charge of the play kitchen. They made the girls practice shouting “No!”

Preschools across Sweden serve 80 percent of one- to five-year-olds and pride themselves on “gender pedagogy”. As stated on the official site of Sweden:

Gender pedagogy is increasingly common in Swedish preschools. The aim is for children to have the same opportunities in life, regardless of whether they are male or female. How? By working against gender stereotypes and assigned roles, freeing children from the expectations and demands society has traditionally put on girls and boys.

The instructors at Seafarer’s Preschool, like many others in Swedish schools, do not refer to the preschoolers as “boys and girls,” but instead call them “friends” and even use the gender-neutral pronoun “hen.”

Although they claim that their teaching method is better for the kids, there are indications that it has negative influences on the preschoolers’ behaviour. Teacher Izabell Sandburg described the change in behaviour of one of the girls at the school:

By the time March rolled round, the girl had gotten so loud that she drowned out the boys in the class. At the end of the day, she was messy. The girl’s parents were less than delighted, she said, and reported that she had become cheeky and defiant at home.

However, Sandburg insisted that the behaviour change was a positive development.  For whom?  Not the parents and not the girl involved.

Not only does the teaching encourage bad behaviour, but this kind of experimentation treats children as lab rats instead of individuals to be cared for. Wouldn’t an education not confined by the bounds of gender involve little interference with gender expression instead of actively encouraging behaviours of the opposite gender? In teaching children not to conform to gender norms, this Swedish preschool is doing these children a disservice. There is no telling what the long-term effects of this treatment could have on their identities and behaviour.

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