Is Gender Neutral the New Colorblind?

Faithful reader and friend, Em Em Li, has asked Moxie to comment on the NYT article where a pre-school in Sweden has become famous for referring to students as “friends” rather than using gendered pronouns. They’ve even created a word, “hen,” as a gender-neutral personal pronoun.Read it here.

Swedish School’s Big Lesson Begins With Dropping Personal Pronouns

Moxie’s 2 cents:  While the school’s motivation stems from trying to boldly break gender stereotypes, it is problematic to refuse to acknowledge that gender and sex do exist, matter, and shape who we are.  The harder question we need to ask is, “what do people who have the same gender have in common?” It comes back to the issue of equality vs. difference that gender scholars have been debating for decades. If we know men and women are not the same, but we think they are equal, how does that play out? The answer? No one knows; it’s complicated. But we need to keep asking the question, not moving toward a “post-gender” society.

It sounds like this school is asserting that men and women, male and female, are just the same. I appreciate their desertion of texts such Beauty and the Beast (which I just found out is the spring play at my school–yikes), and adding stories where women play many roles, men are sensitive, families are complex, and the hero is deconstructed. We need more, much more of that to broaden our narrative of what men and women are like. But in these stories, there ARE men AND women. To say that gender doesn’t matter does violence to both genders. I fear that being gender neutral is akin to being color blind. It’s not possible, nor is it constructive to pretend to not notice someone’s race. I would argue the same is true for gender. What do you think, Em Em?

For further reading check out these related articles

World Cultures is…

After an activity where students practiced teaching each other key concepts for the first time, I had them debrief. Just for fun, I threw in a wild card. Here are a few of their responses to “World Cultures is…”

World Cultures is fun, confusing, and awesome!

World Cultures is one of my favorite classes, My world cultures teacher is my favorite, is a hard subject that I don’t fully understand.

World cultures is something that I look forward to in a day and I learn a a lot of new material.

World Cultures is tons of fun and I really like how she teaches and that she only gives homework if necessary.

A place were you further expand your knowledge of the word and use it in everyday problems. Plus you learn more about real things like the world. It is different from math I love math , but it is so different you use it everyday.

World cultures is a good way for me to learn about what our world is like, not just where things are, but that too.

World Cultures is challenging but I get AH HA moments sometimes when I actually get it.

World cultures is interesting because you get to discuss things instead of listening to the teacher all day.

World cultures is BALLER

World Cultures is fun and exciting. I learn something new everyday and Mrs. [Moxie] will help me understand things that are complicated for me.

World Cultures is really interesting and fun. It is very hard, and easy at the same time, I can rely on this subject for very little, or no homework at all. It is awesome, and very interactive, and you do not know what is going to happen next.

World Cultures is open-minding and brain-bending. It makes me think about things I wouldn’t think about.

Privilege Activity

Privilege Activity: I’m in Philly for a People of Color Conference, and yesterday we learned about this activity in a seminar. Reading through these statements helps me to see how much privilege I have, and how all of the “hard work” I’ve done has only been a small factor in getting me where I am today. 

Purpose:  To provide participants with an opportunity to understand the intricacies of privilege.

Time:  1 ½ hours

Materials:  none needed

Facilitator Notes: 
This is a powerful exercise and should be thoroughly processed.

1. Participants should be led to the exercise site silently, hand in 
    hand, in a line.

2. At the site, participants, can release their hands, but should be 
    instructed to stand shoulder to shoulder in a straight line without 

3. Participants should be instructed to listen carefully to each sentence, and take the step required if the sentence applies to them.  They should be told there is a prize at the front of the site that everyone is 
    competing for.


If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back.

If your primary ethnic identity is American, take one step forward.

If you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If there were people of color who worked in your household as servants, gardeners, etc., take one step forward.

If you were ever ashamed or embarrassed of your clothes, house, car, etc. take one step back.

If your parents were professionals:  doctors, lawyers, etc. take one step forward.

If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one stop back.

If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to avoid being judged or ridiculed, take one step back.

If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, take one step forward.

If you went to school speaking a language other than English, take one step back.

If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step forward.

If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.

If you were taken to art galleries or plays by your parents, take one step forward.

If one of your parents was unemployed or laid off, not by choice, take one step back.

If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward.

If your family ever had to move because they could not afford the rent, take one step back.

If you were told that you were beautiful, smart and capable by your parents, take one step forward.

If you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were encouraged to attend college by your parents, take one step forward.

If you were raised in a single parent household, take one step back.

If your family owned the house where you grew up, take one step forward.

If you saw members of your race, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation portrayed on television in degrading roles, take one step back.

If you were ever offered a good job because of your association with a friend or family member, take one step forward.

If you were ever denied employment because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were paid less, treated fairly because of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were ever accused of cheating or lying because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you ever inherited money or property, take one step forward.

If you had to rely primarily on public transportation, take one step back.

If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were ever afraid of violence because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were generally able to avoid places that were dangerous, take one step forward.

If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, take one step back.

If you were ever the victim of violence related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If your parents did not grow up in the United States, take one step back.

If your parents told you you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward.


Ask participants to remain in their positions and to look at their position at the site and the positions of the other participants.

Ask participants to consider who among them would probably win the prize.

Suggested questions for processing are:

1)  What happened? 
2)  How did this exercise make you feel? 
3)  What were your thoughts as you did this exercise? 
4)  What have you learned from this experience?5)  What can you do with this information in the future?

Art Journaling and Hope

Hope begins when the memory of what was becomes a longing for what is to be restored

–Jan Myers The Allure of Hope 

This morning, I “art journaled” for the second time. I think two years ago, I would have scoffed at this concept. These days I’m a bit more open to cheesy things. Just a bit. Still mostly closed. I’m a words person. When I go to an art museum, I find myself busy reading the descriptions on the side rather than taking in the visuals. I want to stretch myself to think and express myself in images.

We often hear people say, “I’m just not creative.” I have probably said that many times in my life. But in fact, I’m creating things all the time; teaching is a beautiful form of creation.

What’s cool about art journaling besides the product is the process. In a room full of others working on their own images, we get ideas and work with others to move in and through our own hearts. Part of me wanted to be alone in a room with lots of paints and supplies, but I soon began to see the beauty having others around to help me when I was stuck, to show me techniques, to think through the deeper significance of a simple image. It speaks to my tendency to hole up inside myself and work alone, and it encourages me to move out in faith with others.

See my first attempt below.

Pretty good for a “non artsy fartsy” person, right? What do you think it means?  I’d actually like to know…

Why the Communism?

Ever wished you could be back at school, but without the awkward lunch room/locker room/school bus situations? If so, you should check out the Khan Academy. Sal Khan has videos on pretty much everything (although lacking in the area of history a bit).

I found this one on communism. If you’ve never read Marx’s Communist Manifesto, this is a nice little crash course. Khan’s political leanings are clear, but he does a great job mapping out different types of government and how communism came about, how it works, and where several modern nations stand today.

Why the blog?

Today in a workshop we are discussing why we blog and should we have students blog? These are hard questions. Our facilitators have asked us to do a sample blog on any topic.

1. Why do I blog?

It started during grad school for me. There’s only so much discussion you can have in class, and learning about race/gender/class was new for me. I had a lot to say and a lot to process. Also filtering it through the gospel was essential. I found I needed an outlet. It seems there is some audience for it, but then again, maybe it IS just egocentric. I do wish that more people would respond and comment to encourage more of a dialogue. How can I adjust my writing to evoke thoughts from others? Some of my friends think that I am the expert on these issues, and maybe I need to do a better job expressing that I’m certainly not. I’m working all of this out bit by bit, and never fully or perfectly.

I also think it’s helpful to respond to what I’m reading/thinking/listening to instead of simply being a consumer of ideas. This is what I want from my students, so I need to model it.

2. Should students blog?

My gut reaction is an emphatic yes. But it’s complicated (much like race/gender/class). How do we organize them if all teachers want to have a blog? How can students create a digital portfolio that will track their progress and process throughout their classes and through the years. I think it can be so valuable, especially as we seek to integrate disciplines. Mostly I want kids to learn and share…over and over. Be participants in their learning. Be actively engaged. Be curious. Do research. Hear from each other…

I have a feeling it’s going to be a crazy exciting year.

The “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” when talking about race

I spent the last week learning at a diversity seminar for independent school teachers. As someone who talks/thinks/learns about race often, this type of thing is my jam. I’m not really sure how to process all that I learned in the space I have this week, but I think writing will help. I began creating a list of how to talk and think about race. As the faculty reinforced this week, the language is essential.

It seems the hours closest to waking are often the most fitful. Today, I woke thinking about race. Thankfully, I awoke in my own bed after a week sleeping in a boarding school dorm with no AC (It was in Northern Massachusetts, but still).

Our daily awakening is an easy metaphor for what happens when we see something we have never seen before. We go from unconscious to conscious. Sometimes it is abrupt and sometimes it happens as a long progression. Learning about race and privilege has been both immediate and gradual for me. This week was like a splash of cold water during a REM cycle. 

So here are some do’s and don’t’s!


  • Use the terms “white” or “European-American”; “black” or “African American”; Latino; people of color to describe people’s race

  • Be specific about what you mean when you say “Asian.” ex: Chinese American, Indian America, Korean American since the term “Asian” can refer to over sixty different ethnic groups

  • Seek to gain understanding about your unconscious biases–everyone has them

  • consider your unearned advantages if you are a member of a majority group

  • seek information and invite conversation


  • Use the term Caucasian, Oriental, Negro, or Mulatto

  • Describe a single person as diverse. ex: “we have four diverse people in our class.” Use instead, students of color

  • Perpetuate stereotypes. Since race is socially constructed, it is inaccurate to make generalizations based on race. ex: Black women can’t drive. Even if you whisper it, it’s harmful, even if it’s a compliment it’s harmful. ex: Asians are good at math

  • Glorify colorblindness (When has the inability to see ever been positive?)

  • Remain silent “As a society we pay a price for our silence.” –Beverly Tatum