The Lesser of Two Evils for Diversity in School Education?

Stereotypes and role models typically begin to be forged starting with early childhood. In their fight against gender stereotypes and traditional roles of men and women, the Sodermalm district of Stockholm has recently taken quite a radical new step: to foster the equality between the sexes, it funded the Egalia pre-school for children up to six years of age, which completely bans words like ‘him’ or ‘her’ as well as gender stereotyping games. Instead of calling the kids boys and girls, the teachers use the term ‘friends’. Toys and books are carefully chosen to avoid contact with stereotypes and even the dolls are gender neutral. Instead, nearly all the books also deal with single parenthood, homosexuality or child adoption, like the story about two childless male giraffes who find an abandoned crocodile egg and adopt it. This approach aims at broadening the assumptions about family life in favour of more diverse models. Above all, the children learn to consider different gender identities and lifestyles to be just as usual as traditional ones. Traditional fairy tales like Snow White or Cinderella are banned due to stereotyping content. The LEGO bricks are placed directly next to the kitchen so that the children won’t create mental barriers between cooking and constructing. Girls and boys, sorry: all kinds of friends play together with all the toys and when a conflict arises over the question who should play for instance ‘the mum’, the teachers will simply suggest to have more than one mum. Doubtlessly, the Egalia pre-school uses one of the most particular and drastic ways of teaching children to become open-minded and to prevent them from getting trapped in gender stereotypes. It is at the same time an effective way to improve the awareness for diversity in a very crucial state of life, while it might be a bit too strict in the way it delivers on its mission. And then: Who will help the children bridge the gap of in-school experiences and perceived out-of-school reality?
A step in the exact opposite direction has been taken by the Crown Woods College in Greenwich, London: Here, the children are separated into groups according to their performance. All pupils wear a school uniform with a tie in different colours marking the membership of the three divisions of the school. The very good and promising pupils wear purple, the less successful red and blue respectively. What worsens the stigmatisation are physical divides on the school premises. Buildings and schoolyards are divided by fences, and even the eating times differ for each of the groups! Needless to say that such discrimination leads to self-fulfilling prophecies as a result of internalised stereotype, and a class society in which pupils from one division don’t want to be in touch with the ‘others’. Diversity experts will recognise this dangerous dynamics from Jane Elliot’s famous “blue-eyed” experiment, first carried out in the late 1960s, when she successfully divided a third grade class according to eye colour and created aggression and eroding performance within hours. Just like her blue-eyed children started to tease their (former) brown-eyed friends, the pupils wearing purple ties in Greenwich today tease their blue and red wearing (former) friends.
How would the Swedish Egalia teachers approach such a situation? And why can’t we learn from history and apply (and develop) common sense in those who are our future?