I turned to close the preschool gate the other day and looked back to see what my three-year-old son was up to.
And this is what I saw: His teacher in a laughing jog, leading a pack of toddlers in a full sprint. A few weeks ago I saw this teacher sliding on the ice (safely) with the kids. And somewhere in there, I came to pick up my son to find the same teacher lost in a mountain of pillows, laughing kids all around piling on.
Good teacher, huh? Oh, yeah, one other thing. The teacher’s name is Sven (not really, but he is a guy).
There have been three male teachers at the preschool in the past 18 months, and all three were great, even if not so energetic as Sven.
The last thing I want to do is say that my son needs Sven because he is a man, because only men would skate on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. That’s ridiculous. It’s probably a function of youth as much as anything else.
However, most of the other teachers — even the young ones — do not slide on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. Sven does.
We live in Sweden, and before you think this is some paean to socialism and progressive Scandinavian values, it’s not. Sweden is pretty bad at recruiting male preschool teachers, at least compared to neighbors Norway and Denmark.
And this isn’t about male role models either. Well, it is, though not so much. See, I was home with my son on paternity leave for more than half of his life before he started preschool. He knows lots of dads. His grandpa babysits him when we are home in California. He doesn’t need guys.
But it’s nice.
And it’s good for society. I push paternity leave pretty hard because I think it’s important for mom, dad and baby. But challenging gender roles should not stop at the preschool door, and it should not just be about getting my daughter to see princesses in a different way or letting my son wear pink mittens.
This is from a Gloria Steinham interview in 1995:
The way we get divided into our false notions of masculine and feminine is what we see as children. And, if, as children, whether we’re boys or girls, we’re raised mainly by women, then we deeply believe that only women can be loving, nurturing, flexible, patient, compassionate, all those things one needs to be to raise little children, and that men cannot do that, which is a libel on men. Of course men can do that. On the other end of it, they mainly see men in the world outside the home, or being assertive, aggressive, so they come to believe that women can’t be assertive, achieving, aggressive, intellectual. And that’s how we get our humanity? We’re deprived of our full humanity.
This won’t change easily, I know, but it should change (and here is an excellent report for deep reading on how to make it change. The report includes the best ever description I’ve read of why boys and girls and not driven by their sex, but by their gender roles:
Gender and sex are closely linked, in so far as one’s biological sex will determine which gender role (male or female) society will expect one to play (Dejonckheere, 2001).
Oh, and about the whole sexual predator thing, that overarching fear seems to be missing here in Sweden when it comes to guy teachers. I couldn’t tell you if the crime rates are lower here, or whether Swedes have more or less missed the crazy, anxious panic that American parents have been whipped into the past couple decades.
Nope, here men don’t become preschool teachers just because men don’t become preschool teachers. But I’m sure glad the dude running my son’s class chose differently.