UK head teacher prompts outrage, heated debate after revealing her school ban on ‘sexist’ expressions like ‘boys and girls’

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A UK primary school headmistress has kicked off a storm after revealing that she has instructed her teachers not to use a number of “sexist” phrases, including ‘let’s go, guys’ and ‘boys and girls’.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, who heads the Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham, told the Good Morning Britain show on Thursday that students as young as three are taught to reject the use of the banned expressions by holding up posters.

The program – which has stoked fierce debate among parents – rewards the two students who flag the ‘best’ instances of such usage with certificates at the end of the week.

“If our boys and girls grow up and in school we don’t challenge this sexist language and boys are told, ‘man up’, ‘grow a pair’ and ‘boys don’t cry’, it’s very damaging for them…abusers later on potentially, or bullies, will also use this fear,” Hewitt-Clarkson said.

Children at a primary school have been taught to reject the use of “sexist” language by teachers. Phrases banned include “man up”, “grow a pair” and even “boys and girls”. But should we really be teaching toddlers about sexism? pic.twitter.com/ZLhzVSm0z3

— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) April 29, 2021

“Fear is the biggest weapon that abusers have and if boys are told, ‘boys don’t get scared’, ‘boys don’t talk about their feelings’, then where are they going to go when they are afraid and they are frightened?” she added.

“Fast forward a little bit to when the children are older just to see why this is so important because it’s a tiny part of a huge jigsaw,” said Hewitt-Clarkson, who had previously said that there was a thread tying tragic outcomes like the murder of Sarah Everard to casual ‘banter’ and the examples adults set.

When asked how the school handled the resulting issues in addressing students in a classroom setting, Hewitt-Clarkson said that the preferred greeting should be “good morning everyone” since that does not create a gender divide and includes people who might not identify as either sex.

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Journalist Nana Akua, who was also part of the show, called the move “absolutely ridiculous” and warned that “we’re creating a generation of wallflower kids who are listening for an offence.”

Noting that the “context of language” was important, Akua told Hewitt-Clarkson her “energy is in the wrong place.”

Social media users were divided on the school’s emphasis on gender identity and inclusion with as many supporters defending the program as important as there were critics who called it unnecessary.

Describing it as “absolutely ridiculous”, one person, a primary school teacher, tweeted, “Let kids be kids. They grow up too fast as it is.”

Another user, identifying herself as an academic, said Hewitt-Clarkson was right since “we do segment” others based on lessons learned early on.

Actually, she’s right. I’m an academic, I’ve used “hi guys”, “hi folks” and I’ve honestly never considered this before. So actually I will now make much more of an effort to use folks from now on. I hadn’t even considered this. Because as we get older we do segment based on this.

— Julie Mc 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 (@W2jmf1) April 29, 2021

A number of users suggested she stick to teaching students “reading, writing, arithmetic and also how to be kind” instead of “any of this other stuff.”

Why not the teach the kids reading writing arithmetic and also how to be kind that's it, you don't need to teach them any of this other stuff!!! just teach children to be nice to each other that's it!! pic.twitter.com/GcBmoRX0dc

— Rãï Šun (@Sahadatu77) April 29, 2021

The majority of users agreed with the need to “phase out” some phrases like ‘man up’ and ‘grow a pair’ but called for “balance and some common sense”. Some also expressed concern about the long-term effects of the program.

We live in a world where some people are offended by the phrase ‘Ladies & Gentlemen’. I’m all for some phrases being ‘phased out’, but a healthily balance is needed and some common sense. It’s going too far the other way which is actually damaging

— CrystalPanic (@kdmm1000) April 29, 2021

I understand teaching kids that all sexes can play with dolls or cars etc, but I think we're jumping way too far on this "sexist" language without any idea or case studies to suggest we're not causing harm further down the road.

— Klaabu (@doormaus) April 29, 2021

But some denounced the program as evidence of “brainwashing” and “stifling freedom of speech” in schools, while others said the problem lay with the English language.

Stifling freedom of speech should be a crime. This is brainwashing. Schools don’t reprimand for swearing or blaspheming which is far worse.

— Westopinion (@Westopinion1) April 29, 2021

The problem is English Language. Only English and Turkish do not assign gendered pronoun and cases in discourse. English denotes everything as Male with few satisfactory gender neutral alternatives, Learning non-gendered language early is the best solution and avoids confusion

— Cecilia Is Smart 💎 (@ceciliaissmart) April 29, 2021

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