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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.

However

- 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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js8E6C3ZnJ0

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:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=rugged+individ...

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.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=American+indiv...

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




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