Sweden is really good at gender equality. This kindergarten is an example of why.

Gender madness starts when you let skeletons do the dishes.

Dolls ride dinosaurs into battle, dump trucks haul colorful bracelets, and fire-breathing dragons loom over wooden train stations.

This is what an average day looks like on the playroom floor at Egalia, a kindergarten in Stockholm, Sweden.


Kids play at Egalia in 2011. Photo by Fredrik Sandberg/AP/Scanpix Sweden.

Egalia is a place where gender neutrality is worked into every level of learning. Including, yes, the toys.

Sweden is often held up as an example of gender equality; the World Economic Forum rated them as having the fourth smallest gender gap in the world, after all.

In 1998, the government passed an amendment pushing for more gender-neutral practices in schools. Lotta Rajalin — a preschool administrator — took the idea and ran with it. In 2011, she and a group of colleagues opened up Egalia.

Walking in the door, you might notice some simple changes. Toys are de-segregated, for instance; dinosaurs, dolls, and motorcycles all end up in the same bin. The books lining the walls are more modern tales rather than old-fashioned stories of knights and princesses.

The biggest change is probably in the teachers themselves.

Egalia has made a point to hire more male teachers. They're careful not to tell boys to "suck it up" after a fall or tell girls it's not appropriate to be rambunctious — expectations they themselves admit to harboring in the past.

Even the language they use is different. In the Swedish language, there are two typically used pronouns: "han" for "him" and "hon" for "her." But when it comes to jobs and roles, Egalia has also embraced the somewhat more obscure gender-neutral "hen."

They also make sure this linguistic care extends to group activities as well.

"We don’t say, 'Come on, boys, let’s go and play football,' because there might be girls who want to play football," school coordinator Frida Wikström told The Guardian. "We say 'friends' instead because it puts yourself on an equal level."

The school isn't trying to get rid of gender. It's gender-neutral, not gender-blind.

A pair of "emotion dolls" at Egalia. Photo by Fredrik Sandberg/AP/Scanpix Sweden.

Critics have labelled the project as "gender-madness," accusing the school of trying to brainwash the kids into a genderless homogeneity. Egalia's not trying to do that. Gender is an important part of people's identities, and the kids are free to embrace those differences.

But it's also true genders can come with a lot of baggage. Science shows that pretty much as soon as kids understand that different genders exist, expectations and stereotypes start to creep in. When teachers and other adults talk, kids listen.

When teachers change the way they talk, kids change too. A small study from Sweden's Uppsala University hints that while Egalia's kids were just as able to categorize different genders compared with other kids their age, they were also more likely to play with kids of different genders and less likely to assign stereotypes.

Gender is a complex subject. We still have a long way to go socially and even more to study. But when it comes to just letting kids play the way they want, without stereotypes bearing down on them, that seems pretty sane.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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