What is gender pedagogy?

2010-01-12 11:54

Gender pedagogy, interpreted as the study of teaching from a gender perspective, has long been a subject of research. It was not until after the turn of the millennium that this concept was spread under the name of pedagogy with a focus on gender. What, then, is gender pedagogy? And how equal and gender-conscious are preschools and other schools in Sweden?

Ewa-Christina Westerberg-Sandgren, university teacher in pedagogy at Umeå University, and also lecturing on gender and equality, regards gender pedagogy as the study of processes that shape us. Her claim is that gender pedagogy should be part of daily work.

– It scares me to see that teachers can believe that children will become equal only by doing certain exercises. Thematic days must never replace consistent reflections on gender.

Since 1969, the Swedish government has stood up for equality in school. Their appointment of the Delegation for Equality in Preschool in 2003 made the issue of gender equality central also in preschool. In spite of the government’s efforts there was, with the exception of a few projects, an insufficient number of activities on gender equality in the work with children, says Hillevi Lenz Taguchi, lecturer in pedagogy at Stockholm University, who is now a researcher and supervisor in the project Förskolan som jämställdhetspolitisk arena [Staging gender equality in preschool].

– While working with issues around democracy and participation one might well believe that the work is promoting an equal world. Super-radical things happened in certain preschools in the 70s, 
although most preschools were uninterested or ignorant when it came to seeing the connection between pedagogy and gender, she continues.

Schools and preschools are dissimilar

Present preschools and schools approach gender and equality differently. In Lenz Taguchi’s opinion, this depends on different corporate cultures and contrasting views on how children and youth develop an identity. The preschool is a flat organization, used to receive new directives and put them into practice through its teams.

– Preschools were introduced as a stage of change in people’s conditions and as a means of constricting a classless society. Members of staff see themselves as important agents for changing society through the children, and they are receptive to new theories, says Lenz Taguchi.

School-teachers work on a more individual basis than others, where children’s learning and development of an identity are not regarded as questions of integration, she argues.

– Equality has been a non-existent question at school. There are fantastic pedagogues, who often perceive themselves as marginalized, despite the support from the government and researchers. And it makes no difference that schools are peopled by women as they are based on male academic norms.

Lower degree of equality for older children

Inga Wernersson, Professor of Pedagogy at the University of Gothenburg, observes that it seems that the older children become, the lesser the time spent on their education.

– The school’s obligation to try changing the roles of gender was clearly expressed in the second curriculum of 1969 for elementary schools. Though being toned down, this curriculum was kept in the 80s and 90s, and there are only few things concerning its goals that have been modified since then.

The present overall curriculum distinctly shows that teachers are to work actively towards equality, but in Wernersson’s opinion, the syllabi for individual subjects are, in this respect, insufficient instruments.

– Only the syllabi for Swedish use the concept of gender, and equality is a distinct goal in no other subjects than home economics and domestic science. As for other subjects, the concept of gender is vaguely mentioned or excluded. If you are a teacher lacking a genuine interest in equality work you cannot find anything in the descriptions of subjects that would help you out, she continues.

Work on gender pedagogy was previously directed at children’s emotional development in extending their repertoire of features across the boundaries of gender – a viewpoint based on the view in developmental psychology that girls are essentially different from boys, argues Lenz-Taguchi. In her view, it is rather the content of knowledge, the ways of working, and teaching materials that are gendered, thus affecting how children perceive and create an identity.

Schools are concise, intense mini versions of society. A future challenge lies then in making teachers consider school subjects as gendered instead of always focusing on the child’s sex, as if the problem would depend on this question alone.

“Teachers are left in the lurch”

In 2007, Ewa-Christina W-Sandgren examined course textbooks within a field of knowledge that was central to the teacher training education. She found no literature on LGBT-related issues, and only a small leaflet about equality.

– Teachers are left in the lurch. Being good at working with issues of gender issues, sexuality or ethnicity should not be optional. How can we secure everyone’s right to democracy? This is about making the right choice and of dealing with situations as they arise. Only then will it be possible to make a difference as a teacher. Only then will we be able to discuss gender perspectives, says W-Sandgren.

Author Inga-Bodil Hermansson Hässler
Source Extracted from the magazine Gender Research in Sweden 2009.
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