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Achtung Baby by Sara Zaske, Reviewed (slate.com)
140 points by okket 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments

I can testify to this. My poor kid was shocked at how rigid the US high school was (after being in a German system), how he could get in trouble for having hints like matches, and how unhappy and stressed his classmates were (and how little they had — he didn’t yet know that “freedom”is a reflexive talisman of American identity). In Germany, as the book review says, even Nursery school kids have access to knives, hot glue guns, splinters, etc. 8 year olds who can weld aren’t uncommon.

But those are symptoms of a philosophical difference. Kids learn very strict rules about behavior (stand behind that yellow line next to the U-bahn! Only cross the street with the light!) and are trained (it’s the only word for it) on how to ride a bike safely and follow the traffic laws. Then, given a framework, they have a lot more freedom than in the us...but the framework is quite rigid. In the US kids don’t even learn how to use cutlery, much less how to weld, somtheir world is, ironically, more circumscribed.

I was in Germany this summer. My friend and I went to visit her parents. Her parents wanted me to see a historic town nearbye. We got in the car. The father drove down the road at 190 kilometers per hour. The other cars were also going fast. I saw cars at an intersection make turns, in front of other cars, that I would never do in the USA, because I would never trust the other drivers to behave correctly. But in Germany the drivers are very well trained.

My friend got her driver's license in Germany when she was an adult. It was very expensive and she had to go through several courses. She had to prove that she could drive at night and during the day, and in a dense urban center, and also out on the highways, away from any cities. She was given multiple tests. It was a serious training effort.

This is the paradox of the American emphasis on freedom. The attitude tends to be juvenile. The American mindset, at its crudest, is something like, "You got to give me a car, man, because I'm free, man, I've got freedom, so give me a the right to drive man, authority sucks, man, the government sucks, I'm free so I can drive, you can't stop me, man." So the drivers are untrained, so the government responds by treating all drivers as if they are badly behaving children.

In Germany the attitude is "We (the government) will train you very well, and then we will trust you to be adults who can make wise choices."

One thing I never saw in Germany: cops hiding behind trees, hoping to catch people who were speeding. Traffic cops are very common in the USA, but basically unknown in Germany, since the major highways don't have speed limits.

Another thing I noticed in Germany, where there is a speed limit, people drive that limit, and not 5 kilometers above the speed limit. The drivers make the assumption that the government must have had some good reason for imposing a speed limit.

> One thing I never saw in Germany: cops hiding behind trees, hoping to catch people who were speeding. Traffic cops are very common in the USA, but basically unknown in Germany, since the major highways don't have speed limits.

You won't see them much on the motorway, since for most of it there isn't a speed limit, but radar controls in towns and rural areas are somewhat common.

> Another thing I noticed in Germany, where there is a speed limit, people drive that limit, and not 5 kilometers above the speed limit. The drivers make the assumption that the government must have had some good reason for imposing a speed limit.

You'll literally only ever see that when A) the driver is some old person driving carefully, or B) the area is common for radar controls, or has radar traps installed. The unwritten rule is to drive 10km/hour faster, according to the speedometer, than the speed limit allows, which works out to ~5km/hour over the limit, due to the way speedometers are calibrated.

The autobahns do have limits that change dynamically from "infinite" to "some value less than infinite" due to weather, construction, congestion, accidents, etc.

And there are speed cameras in some of these stretches. I have nasty collection letters from Hertz and Avis to confirm it.

> The unwritten rule is to drive 10km/hour faster, according to the speedometer...

Absolutely. Traffic light timing even takes that into account. Kind of unrelated, sometimes I'm puzzled about how many drivers are eager to be first at the next red light and wait the longest.

Yes. When I lived in Germany (circa 1996-2001) this was very noticeable. Germans, at least West Germans, talked about speed cameras the way Brits talk about the weather.

It wasn't until I (American) spent many years living in Europe that I really came to appreciate the effect that the order of foundational moral values has on the nuts and bolts behavior of a given society.

France puts equality above all else, and therefore you get "Frenchness" (we are all/should be equally French) above all else, with the accompanying discomfort with competing identities and fixation on the single correct identity.

America, as you correctly described, places freedom on top. It took me a long time to see how putting freedom on top of the stack leads to an insecure and juvenile culture.

And Germany, after the war, it put human dignity on top. This is a quiet, non-ostentatious value to organize society around, that does not advertise itself. But it is very good at quietly producing whole, confident humans.

> because I would never trust the other drivers to behave correctly. But in Germany the drivers are very well trained.

This is the true value of proper education. [1] [2]

And this holds in general for all aspects of education, not just school or driver's license.

I never got the "freedom to be stupid" attitude of certain countries.

You can't explain that to somebody who never experienced it, but once you are used to it, you'll miss it immediately once there is a lack of it.

To put a perhaps bad analogy, this is like having no running water, but having the "freedom" to buy 10 different sorts of bottled water to use for showering.

[1] I'm not saying that the German educational system is perfect, or even remotely the best in Europe. But it is so much better than in most other countries.

[2] And "proper" education of course includes critical thinking and rudimentary evaluation of information sources. And also I don't mean narrow-minded pseodo-critical thinking, but being able to see through those as well.

Good points!

One little addition:

> Another thing I noticed in Germany, where there is a speed limit, people drive that limit, and not 5 kilometers above the speed limit. The drivers make the assumption that the government must have had some good reason for imposing a speed limit.

I guess the fact that the limits are higher also has some influence on this?

I remember a Dutch engineer telling me that when they increased the speed limits years ago the average speed sunk and it was hypothesized that it was (IIRC) because as the limits became more reasonable more people decided to just follow them.

> I guess the fact that the limits are higher also has some influence on this?

See the other comments on that people definitely go above posted speed limits, but limits are also not necessarily higher.

Cities are 50kph (30mph) with residential areas often at 30kph (20mph), outside of cities the limits are 80-100kph (50-60mph). You get a lot of 100-120kph (60-75mph) sections on the Autobahn where the otherwise _recommended_ speed is 130kph (80mph) which is when BMWs will be overtaking you at twice that speed on the left lane.

> I remember a Dutch engineer telling me that when they increased the speed limits years ago the average speed sunk and it was hypothesized that it was (IIRC) because as the limits became more reasonable more people decided to just follow them.

I'd assume they meant "rate of speeding violations went down" versus "average speed sunk". The problem with measuring the effect of speed limit changes is that so many things change over the timeframe of the measurement - better vehicle safety, change in traffic rate or overall transportation preference (increase of cyclist in the Netherlands)... studies on this topic are manifold and they all seem to come to rather different conclusions.

The same effect was observed in Poland, when the speed limit on the motorways was increased to the highest in Europe(140km/h, or about 90mph). Vast majority of people on the motorways don't drive at the limit, because most cars are just not comfortable at this speed. If you drive a modern MB or Audi that is designed for cruising at 90mph - sure, that works. But a 1.2L Civic? It's really loud and not stable at all at those speeds. So whenever I drive in Poland, even just doing the limit, not above, I overtake almost everyone in the right lane. Obviously, there are still people going much quicker than the limit(200km/h or 120mph is not uncommon) but in general it got rid of the issue of people sitting right at the limit or slightly above it, at least on the motorways.

As someone driving on the Autobahn daily, the notion that even the majority of drivers drive the speed limits is laughable. Going 5-20 km/h faster is the norm.

Well, I’m not sure. I’m driving it once a week and usually I overtake most cars going 20 km/h above the limit, even those that have passed me before with 200 km/h

According to my German teachers, Germany makes extensive use of electronic speed cameras that can be moved around and left unattended. You don’t get pulled over; you get a ticket in the mail. It would be inefficient to waste officer time on speed traps (Americans do this because speed cameras are politically untenable).

I gathered that in the US, traffic stops are used to also check people if they have any outstanding warrants or fines, so that officers can arrest them if need be.

Which is weird, I mean just show up at their doorstep or seize their income or something, but then, it's the US so idk.

>Nursery school kids have access to knives, hot glue guns, splinters, etc.

Maybe this has something to do with the school getting into big trouble when something does happen. I mean we have all heard of legends of the cat and the microwave oven. I guess companies and organizations just get sued over ridiculous things in the US?

You said it better than I can, I'll just add another observation:

I grew up in another European country.

We were allowed to roam around quite freely, keep knives (we even collected and made our own) and even practice with the air rifle since we were kids.


- we were taught the gun rules so thoroughly that I will still get annoyed when I see people waving guns around, even in a movie

- for the longest time my dad refused to buy toy weapons, and to the degree that we managed to get hold of one we were not allowed to point it at others, making it kind of useless.

- and yes, there were rules for the knives as well

My experience was pretty much the same. My parents had no problem with me owning toy guns, but if I pointed one even in the general direction of another person, I got a stern lecture.

My mother, who was a police officer (now retired) brought her gun home on a few occasions, and by that time all the stern toy-gun-lectures had sunken in so deep I found myself reluctant to even go near the thing, e.g. to pick up something lying next to it. Later, I found out that the gun had never been loaded while inside our house. Did not even matter really, I would not have touched it even if I had known that.

Can't speak for everywhere in the US, but I know growing up in the 70s kids with knives and air rifles wouldn't have been an outrageous thing. Friends of mine had knives (scouting, for one), and others had air rifles. "roaming the streets" brandishing knives might not be the language I'd use to describe my friends growing up, but it wasn't uncommon. That was only 40 years ago.

When I grew up in the 1980s, I had knives and very powerful air rifles. Kids used to have a lot more independence in the US.

I've been noticing this as well after reading these comments. I'm starting to think the current environment we're regarding kids and weapons is a newer phenomenon, probably as a result of all the school shootings and other mass killings.

My son was taught how to handle military style guns at a UK school by dedicated staff who were former members of the Army - they took handling of guns, training and physical security very seriously.

The United States use to teach rifles at the grade school level. Basic marksmanship and safety. Then the left came in and decried the violence. We no longer have that class. At the same time casual gun owners don’t teach their children either. Sad at the loss of life. Perhaps the left is right: we need to allow the government total control since we are all inept.

It's probably rather uncommon in schools. But I know quite a few parents who teach their children to shoot guns at a local rifle range and take them hunting when they're old enough. Which seems reasonable. Enough people are probably uncomfortable with guns that having it as part of the school curriculum in many areas would be controversial. And there are plenty of opportunities for families that want to teach their children gun safety and marksmanship.

American education can be characterized by a gradual removal of all uncomfortable and controversial things from the curriculum. Eventually, all that will be left is the theory of learning, rather than any actual learning.

RIP: Woodshop, metal shop, automotive classes, electronics labs, marksmanship, Home economics, cooking...defense against the dark arts...

I'm not sure how much of that is about controversy though some of it is. I expect part of it is that classroom teaching doesn't require special equipment like a machine shop does. There's also probably an increased emphasis on subjects that are perceived as directly relevant to college admissions testing etc. especially among the demographics of parents who are most likely to have the loudest voices around school curricula.

To be clear, I agree with you. High schools in particular should have more hands-on coursework as well as practical skills related to personal finance and statistics.

Yeah, they're not all controversial. I added "uncomfortable" because some of those activities like shop are physically difficult.

I can't help but feel that somehow, the dilution of this physical curriculum is somehow a result of the old equality of outcomes vs equality of opportunity debate. It is as if someone perverted the idea that working with your hands as an occupation paid less to meaning that we shouldn't teach it, and therefore everyone will get paid more. I'm not sure that there is a causal link there, but it seems that way to me. Now, we have a dearth of skilled tradesman and we have to hire immigrants with the right skills. (source: have multiple friends/family members in construction, cabinetry, etc.)

I don't disagree with any of that. I'm sure there's an element of "Why is my precious being made to take trade school classes when he could be taking a class that will help him get a better AP math score and into a better college?"

I honestly don't see what's wrong with doing it at school (mind you this is possibly an unusual view for the UK) - I was taught to use a metalworking lathe and how to handle concentrated sulfuric acid at a (very modest) high school and I know far more people who handle guns regularly than do either of those.

Was marksmanship ever part of the mandatory curriculum? I didn't think so even back then. Marksmanship as an extra-curricular activity was probably more common 50 years ago, but from what I can Google, some high schools still have marksmanship clubs (usually under the guise of the JROTC).

The biggest issue I can think of with shooting ranges honestly is not "violence" or danger of accidents, but the problem of lead exposure -- a problem that people were a bit less aware of back in "older times", and a particular problem for developing children. Given some reports I see (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9117191) I personally would not be comfortable with a school shooting range that doesn't try to mitigate this risk.

This is manageable with the use of bismuth bullets. I know that in the bay area several shotgun ranges require them.

Provided someone steps up to help with the cost, Ruger’s ARX avoids led. http://blog.cheaperthandirt.com/ruger-arx-ammunition-wicked-...

    “freedom” is a reflexive talisman of American identity
well said.

Apologies for the daft question, but what kind of "freedom" are Americans referring to when they say "freedom"? Here in Scotland there is a certain fondness for the term (e.g. in a certain movie but really from the rather splendid Declaration of Arbroath) - but I think most people appreciate that this is all in reference to a war 700 years ago that doesn't have much relevance to our current political situation.

I think in the US you have more freedom if you take it. It's easier to start a business, it's easier to live an unconventional lifestyle (in Germany it seems difficult to just build a house in the middle of nowhere whereas in the US you can), you can live without health insurance, you can build a house the way you like it, you shop on Sundays or use your lawn mower. In Germany a lot of things are more regulated but within these boundaries you have more freedom in my view. Companies in the US often behave like absolutist kings who own their employees. You have no rights but you can leave anytime if you don't like it. You have drug tests and background checks.

So in short I think you can have more freedom in the US if you take it but the regular citizen with a typical employee lifestyle is less free.

Saying it's easier to do something is not the same as Freedom. Freedom is a question of what you can do, not the ease with which you can do something.

The US has really more freedom. For example, you can call your kid whatever you want. In Germany you have some bureaucrat going through a list of allowable names. There is a lot of stuff like that.

But the average US citizen doesn't exercise most of these freedoms but actually lives a more restricted life than the average German citizen in my view.

> you can call your kid whatever you want

"several states limit the number of characters that can be used due to the limitations of the software used for official record keeping." and "The Office of Vital Records in California requires that names contain only the 26 alphabetical characters of the English language. Some states (for example, Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon) allow accents and some (not always all) non-English letters in birth certificates and other documents." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naming_in_the_United_States

So, it's a long way from total freedom, but I get your point. However, you can call your kid whatever you want, the limit is simply around what you can do with official paperwork.

There is no fixed list - AFAIK you need to prove that it's a first name in use somewhere in the world, with a few exceptions. "Jesus" is one I know about, it's a valid first name in Spain but not in Germany.

That's the "reflexive" part: Americans often think of "freedom" in either an extremely simplistic way ("I can do whatever I want, whenever I want! Up yours, government! Instant gratification all the way! Free speech means I can say whatever asinine thing I want, anywhere and anytime, without giving a crap about others!") or a nationalist / jingoist way ("we have freedom and they don't! USA! USA!").

(Of course, not everyone conceptualizes "freedom" this way in the US, but it's a depressingly common approach - especially where any sort of political discourse is concerned.)

The reflexive part is that any time our personal space (emotional, mental, or physical) is threatened, it is a reflex to retaliate with "you are violating my freedom" style response.

To ideas that threaten: "You can't make me think that way, I am free to think as I want"

To feelings of discomfort: "It's a free country, I shouldn't have to feel this way"

To physical space: "this is me or my property, I can do what I want with it"

Obviously, when taken in extremes this results in polarization, mischaracterization, and ignorance. Taken responsibly, it is also not appreciably different from any place with a bill of rights. To americans, I would level the criticism that we use it as a crutch and an excuse, more than an ethos, as evidenced that most appeals to freedom are also appeals to the value of self interest.

I'd argue that the term itself is left intentionally poorly-defined.

That's a large part of Antonio Gramsci's concept of cultural hegemony: A special type of agreement, in which the person who's agreeing doesn't necessarily understand what it is with which they're agreeing.


The notion of "rugged individualism" you'll often hear touted ... is in fact a political slogan produced by Herbert Hoover in 1928. This is highly evident from its Ngram trace:


If you look at the early discussion of the term, you'll find much of it is critical. H.L. Mencken speaks of the "curious conception of rugged individualism. It would be much more appropriate to speak about our rugged collectivism."

And yes, it's also true that "American Individualism" predates the term, though the latter is by far the more prevalent today, and both can be traced to what is essentially corporate propraganda.


Emma Rothschild (yes, one of the Rothschilds) makes the explicit point that Adam Smith's "liberal philosophy" was one of material liberty, that is, of an abundance of material wealth at the individual level, which allows for a freedom of actions without catastrophic consequence. Several recent modern commentators have noted that the chief characteristic of poverty is a lack of choice: if there's only one way to do things right, without consequence, you have no freedom.

Which may not be much by way of an answer, though it is an endorsement of the question.

> Then, given a framework, they have a lot more freedom than in the us...

You're dealing with two (probably incompatible) types of freedom.

The freedom you're talking about is the freedom a parent has to leave their kids in a room with a turntable because their children know not to play with things that aren't designed to be toys because they may be delicate and could break.

The freedom you're comparing it to is the freedom a child has to put their hands on a turntable and scratch from an infinite number of rhythmic possibilities to create a new, dynamic form of music where there was previously a single, static form before.

And while you could amend the framework and make a bunch of edge cases for historical shifts in thinking, you cannot make a framework that leaves room for the future shifts because we don't know what those are yet.

> 8 year olds who can weld aren’t uncommon.

Did you really mean welding? I know some 8 year olds that can solder but I've yet to see one that could weld and I only taught my eldest to weld when he was 13 or so.

They did not have matches for chemistry class? I certainly did in the 6th form (last two years of school) in the Uk

Much the same could be said about native Norway in comparison to the US or UK. There is a documentary about identical twins from China. One ends up in Norway the other in the US. They meet many years later. You see quite radically different child raising. Norwegians focus on independence and freedom for the child. The Americans focus on lots of grownup controlled activities.

My feeling is Norwegians focus on independence while Americans focus on ambition. Americans are more focused on their childrens enrichment and making them perform.

I notice e.g. from American relatives how much earlier they get school work, tests and academic work. Norwegian childhood is more play and social interaction oriented. We focus inteaching children self control.

When I came to the US I was surprised how out of controll American teenagers are. They don’t seem to function without lots of rules and regulations. They don’t seem used to regulating and controlling themselves.

I think this creates a society were nobody fully trust each other and compensate with lots of strict rules.

E.g. American police seem a lot more authoritarian than police in nordic countries.

Your sociological explanations may be accurate, but it’s probably worth noting that very low police:population ratios in the US combined with a gargantuan supply of unrestricted handgun possession in the hands of the populous is also a strong contributor to bunker mentality from the police.

[Edit: I see that Norway has a similarly low police:population ratio, so that observation isn’t really relevant for comparisons with Norway or the rest of Scandinavia. My error!]

Also, Norwegian border patrol agents seemed pretty damned authoritarian in my experience, so my personal contact with law enforcement doesn’t match yours for the respective countries. /end anecdote

Why do you consider the police:population ratio in the US "very low"? It seems it's pretty much middle of the pack, and arguably on the high side for Western Democracies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependen...

Those numbers are state level police numbers.

Aggregate numbers for actual officers on a beat are quite different for large countries.

Most of Western Europe (according to the studies I’ve read) have significantly higher numbers of police in the community.

To answer your larger question: Humans don’t respond well to small probability high negative outcomes. One common theory in criminality is that we want to optimize people’s sense that they’ll be caught, and then give smaller, more certain punishments. Basically, ideally we’d have many more police, many fewer prisons.

>Later that year, Sophia and the rest of her Kita class take part in a gleefully parent-free sleepover. A sleepover! At school! For a 4-year-old!

German here, can someone explain to me what's weird/bad/uncommon about this?

It's still supervised.

In North America any adult that is not the parent is a potential kidnapping rapist, doubly so if they're male.

In Canada, child services were called on a mother of three for letting her children play outside in their fenced backyard while watching from the window.[1]

Humans aren't equipped to really comprehend a 24-hour global news cycle. Things that are common and deadly are deemphasized and things that are rare are raised to panic inducing levels of fear. Dangers to children get extra attention.

[1]: https://www.ctvnews.ca/mobile/canada/manitoba-cfs-will-not-e...

>In North America any adult that is not the parent is a potential kidnapping rapist

But the adults at the sleepover are the same as the adults that watch the kids during daytime :/

>In Canada, child services were called on a mother of three for letting her children play outside in their fenced backyard while watching from the window.

When I played in the sandbox my father could not see me from the house. Just our dog, and the dog would watch me :) So if he saw the dog he know I was ok.

We don't deserve dogs.

> In Canada, child services were called on a mother of three for letting her children play outside in their fenced backyard while watching from the window.

If I did not know any better, I would be tempted to read that as satire. Ensuring a child's safety is obviously one of the most important duties of a parent, but there is such a thing as common sense.

When I was a child (German, in case it matters, born in 1980), we were given a lot of freedom to go where we wanted (within reasonable limits, of course), as long as we followed a few simple rules. Mostly, don't go alone, tell the parents where you go and when you will be back. So there was always a certain degree of parental oversight/control, but it did not really feel that way. In hindsight, I think it was important that these rules were applied fairly. Breaking them usually meant we got grounded, but as long as we kept our part of the bargain, we enjoyed a lot of freedom. At least after we learned about safety in traffic, which both my parents and the elementary school spent a lot of time on.

> In North America any adult that is not the parent is a potential kidnapping rapist

That suspicion is there against many single dads too.

This is true elsewhere too though. There have been a number of cases in NL, one involving a day care employee having raped over 80 children (some infants); after that a huge amount of male day care employees were fired. Similar story with a swimming instructor.

Here is a list of common parenting fears in the US, pretty much a collection of unlikely scenarios:


But what about the real stuff, like I'm afraid my child will grow up without the ability to make good choices? I'm afraid my child will inherit my own fears? I'm afraid my child will not come to me when they need help? But these fears don't sell advertising on TV shows about abduction or pricy childcare centres and schools. The US is so deregulated and underfunded that it's a system of businesses doing anything they can to slowly tug at your wallet, which seems to have lead to the current day environment of fear.

It’s not weird. Kids in the US do this too. The article is written by an author who doesn’t seem to get out much: she’s extrapolating her experience to stereotype the entire American experience, when really she only knows about her experiences in San Francisco. “Europeans are better” is a genre of writing that’s usually done by a generally frustrated left wing, upper-middle class white woman lamenting how “bad” their lives are in the United States after about 10 minutes of experience with something foreign and sufficiently “socialist.” It’s classic confirmation bias: the person’s preexisting beliefs (that America is “worse”) are validated by some experience with a non-American system.

I’ve lived extensively in both Europe and the US and it’s interesting how preexisting assumptions get confirmed when you first start living in a new place, but given enough time, you quickly realize that what you thought was “better” really isn’t. It’s just different — with different advantages and disadvantages.

Every few weeks there’s an article that suggests we either need to copy the European school system or the Korean/Chinese one.

This particular author seems to be projecting her own Tiger Mom ideas into most of the country, but I think helicopter parenting is highly regional, and has been different at different times. In more rural areas, among working class or lower class kids, parents were generally less intensively involved and kids have more freedom relative to suburbia IMHO. I was born in 71, and pretty much from age 7 I can remember saying bye to my mom after getting home from school and going out to play all day by myself with no oversight.

It is tru these days America d are more paranoid of sex predators, because our news media has hyped up crime over the last two decades and made everyone scared, of course there is some truth to it because crime statistics are generally higher here than in Europe, but again, it’s very regional with rates fluctuating between the safest European levels and looking like Honduras in some spots.

Americans do send kids for overnight stays, typically during summer in camps. I sent my kids away for two weeks to sleep outdoors under the stars, with no tech allowed for example. But it usually isn’t run by schools, our schools are too afraid of being sued or protested by parents these days to do anything.

Here's a revolution that actually starts at home. Government policy aside, Americans are free to follow much of the German advice if they choose. Treat your kids as if their lives are primarily theirs, not yours. Let them take risks (for themselves, not others) and bear consequences. Exult with them when those risks are successful. Above all be a role model. This is all really easy to contemplate, but very hard to do because it is isolating. In my suburban parenting experience, we are a competitively paranoid nation. So many people raise their kids as if they're in the twin towers and they are totally going to know when to press that elevator button to get out safely. We do not have to be that way.

You can find people pushing back against this in America. My daughter, for instance, attends a Sudbury School, where the kids make the rules and decide how to spend their own time:


She loves the school, and in my opinion it's been great for her. But almost everyone I describe the school to finds it terrifically weird and frightening.

The biggest reason people think this kind of thing is scary? They're remembering back to highschool when they had to march through math while being taught by people who barely understood it. They know they never would have done it without having been forced, and that idea kind of leaks backwards to early education.

There's a mythical "self-driven and exploratory" math education out there, but the cold reality is while essentially anyone would be able to supervise a journey through colors and counting only very few have even seen what's good about math. (Moreover, what small fraction of them would be willing to teach teenagers?)

This, to a lesser degree, can be found in the United States, if you can find the right place. I know because I speak from experience. I raised two sons in a community that allowed them exercise personal freedom and benefit from a scholastic experience similar to what is discussed in the article (I have not read the book). Ours is not the only such place, as I have friends who have found them as well.

Kids get to school on their own from all over town, by bike, bus, or walk, even in the early grades. Summers are pretty much a cacophony of kid activity until 10PM (or later). No one thinks twice about kids being out on their own.

My sons regaled me of stories of setting things on fire in chemistry class, field trips where kids fell in the creek (termed Lessons in Hypothermia), and the cool tools available in jewelry class, of all things.

It would seem to me these communities are smaller (10-20K) and politically progressive. Ours has a tax just to fund schools. You have to have a town that is willing to invest in the children and can attract good teachers. Even the non-secular people are fairly progressive as well.

I couldn't really have asked for much better living in the United States. Both sons are off to college and happy as can be, so I am grateful they got the community upbringing that they did.

One of the things that might be considered a drawback is preparation for the "real-world." When my oldest went off to college he had a difficult time adjusting to people. The lack of self control, respect for the law, willful ignorance, and just plain meanness, was surprising to him. It makes it difficult to try and nudge him to experience the greater world at large.

Another drawback is expense. The cost of living is high. A house here is fully $100,000-$150,000 more than a similar house in a town 15 miles away. This creates a dichotomy where families want to live here, but often can't afford it. Low to mid income housing is a politically hot topic.

i don’t think “politically progressive” is a determinative. The DC suburbs skew extremely left, by are oppressive as hell for children. Some parents recently got CPS sicced on them for letting their 8 year old walk less than a mile to school.

While I'm sure there are lots of politically progressive places that are problems, I can't imagine having a community similar to ours without it. We're an island of progressive surrounded by numerous similar sized towns that are decidedly conservative and have more community problems and are less attractive academically. But they're less expensive to live in, too.

> While I'm sure there are lots of politically progressive places that are problems, I can't imagine having a community similar to ours without it.

There are a number of traditionalist conservative intentional communities doing much the same things. It's kinda like with homeschoolers: the left-wing & right-wing homeschoolers end up doing many similar things, and are different from the mainstream public-schoolers in similar ways.

Homeschooling is pretty bifurcated too.

I was homeschooled and my parents gave me a lot of freedom in learning and play. They definitely weren't helicopter parents. We had the cops called on us many times by people who wondered why we were roaming the streets during school hours. (We had already completed our work for the day. That was the deal.)

I spent hours playing in creeks or racing bikes in neighborhood woods.

But there were other homeschooling families we knew who kept their children cloistered and firmly under parental supervision. Those kids grew up with a very different experience.

I am very curious what town you live in. We are looking for a place to move with our young children.

Ashland, Oregon.


It's a very welcoming community.

Thank you. We took an exploratory road trip to check out Corvallis and Eugene two years ago, and we stopped in Ashland and did have a very nice time at a park there. We hadn't actually considered the town, I'd assumed it was very conservative for some reason.

You wouldn't be blamed for thinking that. The entire Rogue Valley is fairly conservative except for Ashland (and to a lesser degree, Talent).

I was doing that from age 4 1/2 in the UK

May also be of interest: A short (12 mins) documentary about a school in New Zealand where are no rules during recess.


The last 15 seconds is brilliant.


A young girl gets stuck up a tree, and asks for help which is (kindly) denied, the caretaker watching from a distance. She gets herself down, and promptly climbs up the tree again. The childhood we should all have!

Here is also a nice short (11 mins) documentary about a kindergarten in Denmark, also from CBS Dateline.


On the other hand, in my experience(and I welcome German people to chime in and dispel this notion), German child raising is very hands-off and devoid of any warmth. Yes, kids are given a lot of freedom, but are also expected to keep to their own devices vast majority of the time. When the parent comes back home, they don't think about doing activities with the child - quick chat about how is school, and then don't bother me for the rest of the evening. And it's not bad parenting or parents not caring - the people I met genuienly expect kids to be able to occupy their own time and the notion that they need family support apart from the material one is almost slightly weird to them. From my observations, it results in people who are fantastically independent and confident, but who can also be emotionally distant to everything.

Again, this is just an anecdote of my own experience.

Yes, as a rule of thumb, we live through emotionally starved childhoods which causes us to become emotionally detached automatons whose only joy in live is producing cars and occasionally waging war against France, which is always good clean fun until you guys decide to show up.

Kidding aside, I think there are two problems with your interpretation: For once, if you rank acceptance of emotional display on a scale going from Russia to America, you will find us somewhere close to Russia. Here, typical American displays of friendliness ("I'm so happy to see you!", "you guys should totally come over to our place sometimes") are grossly inappropriate, and in some areas (customer servic[1]) they border on being sociopathic, as long as isn't meant literally. But this is just a cultural difference, not something that hints at emotional damage. Russians can laugh, Germans can be friendly and Americans can be reserved or grumpy. It's just that there are huge differences in terms of the social setting in which those things are deemed acceptable.

As a second note, there are obviously very diverse approaches to parenting in Germany as well as very differently skilled parents. There are caring and loving parents as well as emotionally distant narcissists. I'm very uncomfortable with you attributing such things to a culturally determined approach to parenting instead of looking at individual factors. What you can actually do is looking at how things like independence, discipline, athleticism and so forth as well as individual practices like spanking are valued. Some of the results might be very surprising.

[1] The story about German customers calling the police because they were feeling stalked by wal-mart employees trying to help them with bringing their groceries to their cars is legendary.

>I'm very uncomfortable with you attributing such things to a culturally determined approach to parenting instead of looking at individual factors.

You should thank God you aren't American...it seems everyone else thinks they know exactly what makes us tick, and (as in this thread?) aren't shy at all about making sweeping generalizations about us.

Germany doesn't export it's culture, it exports mostly its products. Contrary to the USA that exports its culture wherever it can. So it should not be a surprise that 'everyone else' thinks that they know what makes Americans tick, it's just that their picture is going to be centered on whatever Hollywood wants to radiate rather than actual reality.

That said - and having spent a good bit of time in the US - there are quite a few things that Hollywood unfortunately portrays quite accurately.

I am not American, so I don't understand the American approach either :P As for the rest - hence me pointing out twice that this is my personal experience with german parenting.

I love this comment

Parents not spending a lot of time with their children does not mean they are distant or emotionally unavailable.

I have always felt this hands-off approach does not mean my parents do not care or that it annoys them to spend time with me. If I had a problem or question, they were always there for me. But it felt like they respected my privacy and boundaries and trusted me enough not to get into trouble.

In my experience, the hands-off approach takes a back seat very quickly when you break the rules or get into trouble.

> German child raising is very hands-off

Yes. TBH, it takes quite a lot of restraint sometimes :-)

> and devoid of any warmth.

No. Anecdotal, of course, as I can really only speak about my family and close friends.

Our parenting is full of warmth, in two ways.

1. we interact a lot with the kids: I don't usually go out in the evening, because when I come home from work, I belong to my kids. We'll build Lego, or play with cars, or fire up Spotify and dance like loonies. I also haven't watched TV in... IDK, 2 years maybe? (Nothing philosophical about it, I just have better things to do, like playing Lego)

but 2. we give warmth also in the form of trust and safety. We show them that we trust and rely on them to figure their own stuff out. This may seem standoffish, but it's the opposite: we prove to them that we trust them, but provide a safety net if they get in over their heads. E.g. if I work around the house, I'm busy, and my sons know that now is a bad time to disturb me. On the other hand, I encourage them to steal my tools (say, a saw) and do their own "work", and teach tehm how to use the tools if they can't figure it out by themselves. I'll of course watch them from the corner of my eye, but I trust them to learn by themselves, and not to saw their heads off or ruin anything of value in the process.

> the people I met genuienly expect kids to be able to occupy their own time and the notion that they need family support apart from the material one is almost slightly weird to them.

Well, yes, I expect my children to be self-sufficient (to an age-appropriate degree). And they are happy to be, because they know they get the attention they need, just perhaps not right now (see: all my evenings, or fun weekend outings).

If you visit German friends and observe them interacting with their kids (or not), I assume there's an agreement within the family that this is a time to not disturb the parents while they entertain their guests. So you don't get to see that other side, it happens after you leave.

> From my observations, it results in people who are fantastically independent and confident, but who can also be emotionally distant to everything.

I suspect this is an American misinterpretation of social interaction (I'm guessing you're American). You see, Americans feel over-the-top to me. A meal isn't "good", it's "fantastic", a holiday isn't "pleasant", it's "amazing". There's nothing wrong with either style, of course, it's just different. So if you're used to the more exuberant American style, perhaps the German way feels cold to you, even though in reality the same sense of warmth is conveyed to those who know to interpret it.

> I suspect this is an American misinterpretation

The OP isn't American, and was speaking from personal experience.

This might be true for older generations, but I would say it's less for young parents today.

My in-laws were apparently quite cold/distant to their kids, but my parents were not, and I try not to be either ;-)

As a rule of thumb, the parents of our baby boomers were a generation of repressed, damaged, emotionally and/or physically violent wrecks who demanded absolute respect and obedience for suffering through a war they themselves started. All that without being aware of the irony in the slightest.

You would like to look up which the years of baby boomers were and how old their parents must have been. They certainly did not start the war; they suffered from it. I am of the baby boomer generation, my father was 17 at the end of the war.

My parents demanded respect. That's a good thing, imho. Otherwise, I enjoyed a freedom kids nowadays can only dream of. I never felt any lack of love from my parents.

Well, it's a failed attempt at translation. "Baby Boomers" is not really a term that is used very often. I was referring to the generation that was born during the war or in the immediate aftermath.

> My parents demanded respect. That's a good thing, imho. Otherwise, I enjoyed a freedom kids nowadays can only dream of. I never felt any lack of love from my parents.

Well, that's the problem with painting a whole generation with one brush: For a lot of individuals, it's not representative. 0

To be honest the parents of the baby boomers would have been old enough to suffer through and fight the war, but wars tend to be started by the older generation who hold the political power.

This might be unrelated, but your description reminded me a lot of the music video for Winter, a song by German goth/rock band Unheilig. The distant family is a standard trope, but I thought there was something particularly Germanic about it in this video.


This isn’t just a German thing. I think Americans are in the minority expecting adults to play with children. I’m south asian, and growing up, my parents were warm and loved me, but they never played with me. As I tell my daughter: “grown ups don’t play with children.”

I don't think that's generally the case. In Germany the number of children in a family is relatively low and parents tend to have a lot more attention to this child. Quite often one parent doesn't work full time. Grandparents also like to be involved.

Germany had a war / depression / huge conflict in the 50th.

We spend lots of time with my parents: Hiking, holidays etc.

Although written from a us mother's experience I suspect there are echoes for many cultures. "My year of living Danishly" by Helen Russell (sans Child) covers much the same experiential situation for a British couple in Denmark for instance.

One thing I would like to point out is that this is rather an European thing than specifically German.

Aside from playing with fire in school many of these experiences were my own and were the norm.

Another article comparing a geographically huge country of 323 million people consisting of varied ethnic backgrounds, to a country a fraction of the size, population and diversity. Compound this with the fact that at least 62,985,134 Americans are clueless, vapid morons. Comparing how those idiots raise their children to anyone else on earth isn't going to reflect well on the U.S. as a whole, regardless.

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